What Ashley Madison can teach us

The now-famous Ashley Madison website marketed itself with the slogan, “30 million members can’t be wrong.” Maybe they ought to rethink that.

The site currently claims “Over 40,915,000 anonymous members!” One wonders how accurate that number is now, particularly the part about anonymity, since hackers breached the website’s security and posted almost 10 gigabytes of members’ personal data online. The company’s “Trusted Security Award” has become an embarrassment, and its claim to “100 percent discreet service” is, in hindsight, a pathetic joke.

The company also promised “100 percent like-minded people.” Turns out it’s more like 90 percent like-minded men, since nine out of ten Ashley Madison members are male. What’s more, tens of thousands of the “women” respondents in the communications the website facilitates are nothing more than computer-generated responses that geeks call “fembots.”

So what can Ashley Madison teach us, besides the fact that men can be jerks?

First it can teach us that the biggest fantasy at Ashley Madison was not about sex but about security. When will people learn? The greatest heist in history – a billion dollars stolen from one hundred banks by Russian hackers this year – happened online. If you have something to hide, don’t put it online. If you have something to protect, you better think twice before you secure it with a password like the two most common ones at Ashley Madison: 123456, followed by 12345678. The idea that there is security apart from God is a fantasy.

The best protection is a clear conscience. Secrets don’t stay secret. The day will come, as St. Paul affirms, “when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ.” Jesus himself put Ashley Madison users (and all the rest of us) on notice: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

The Ashley Madison hack teaches us something else. Plenty of people, particularly men, are dissatisfied. They are bored and unhappy. They’re looking for something to give their lives meaning and excitement, and over 40 million of them went to Ashley Madison to find it.

It was the wrong place to look. Wrong because it’s a scam. (“Fembots” – really?) It’s wrong because it’s wrong. Most of the people signing up to commit adultery once took a vow before witnesses to be faithful to their spouses until death. And it’s wrong because God has prohibited it. Remember the seventh commandment? “You shall not commit adultery.”

But Ashley Madison was also the wrong place to look because sensual gratification is not a lasting solution to the problems of boredom and broken relationships. When sex is primarily a distraction, as it is for many people seeking an affair, it’s never a solution. In fact, it is almost certain to compound the problems.

When people fail to live fully, which always includes living spiritually, the human body inevitably become a person’s primary – and, often, only – source of pleasure. And sex becomes the distraction of choice – a distraction that, even when secret, can lead to the disintegration of relationships.

Yes, 30 million members can be wrong – dead wrong. It was reported today that a Louisiana pastor killed himself in the wake of the scandal. Yet his wife and kids seem to have been quite ready to forgive him. His life might have been better after he was outed than it was before, if only he had known. If only he’d confessed.

Millions of people live with shame and guilt who could experience forgiveness and reconciliation, if they would just confess what they’ve done. Maybe their spouse would not forgive; there is no guarantee. But with God there is a guarantee: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” There can be forgiveness and happiness again.

And maybe that’s the most important thing Ashley Madison can teach us.

 

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, September 12, 2015

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