By now most people will know something of the Ashley Madison affair. For those who don't know the story, a brief resume: Ashley Madison is an online 'dating' agency set up in Canada in 2001 in order to facilitate adultery. Its message is summed up by the simple phase 'life is short, have an affair'. It has an astonishing 37 million users and gets 125 million visits per month. In July of this year, a hacker group called Impact Team warned Ashley Madison that they had hacked the details of all their customers and that if they did not close down the site, they would put these in the public domain. The site was not closed and the information has been released. Any story that involves sex, the internet, hacking and the media is going to be well covered and well commentated on, but it seems to me that much of the commentary, whether Christian or not, is missing the point.
1. The Ashley Madison Affair shows up the Hypocrisy and Stupidity of much of our Culture – in many ways. The Toronto police warned that they are concerned about the social implications of the leaks, and suggested that two suicides 'may' have been linked to them. Police Superintendent Bryce Evans declared, "This hack is one of the largest data breaches in the world. This is affecting all of us. The social impact behind this leak, we're talking about families, we're talking about children, we're talking about wives, their male partners." Those within government, media and even the Church have echoed this comment, but they are sheer hypocrisy. There is no doubt that the discovery of marital unfaithfulness has a devastating impact and may have severe consequences. But if the police and politicians are genuinely concerned about the social and economic impact of the hack, perhaps they could take time to express their concerns about the vastly great social and economic consequences of adultery? How many lives have been ruined, suicides attempted and homes destroyed because of the sick, selfish and stupid 'life is short, have an affair' mentality? If the police and politicians are really concerned about illegal activities that will not be tolerated, why don't they make websites like AM which encourage lying, cheating and adultery illegal?
In my own city of Dundee, the local newspaper carried a centre spread analysing the impact upon us. In Dundee there were 2877 men registered with AM, and 277 women. My small area of the city was the worst – with 577 men and 63 women. I hasten to add that my name (as far as I know!) was not on the list. The NHS put out a warning that "concurrent relationships" could lead to sexually transmitted diseases.
And here again is the hypocrisy of our culture. We profess to care about people's health, yet we foster a culture in which adultery – which is harmful to physical, mental, emotional (and economic) health – is not only permitted, but in many ways encouraged. We have become so enslaved to the notion of personal autonomy and happiness, and so enamoured of the idea that that sex is a key to both, that we will only deal with the symptoms of our sickness, not the causes.
And there is the misogynistic hypocrisy as well. We are all for gender 'equality' and yet we foster and encourage a website where women are treated like sex slaves, to be bought and purchased by men. Men pay for 'credits', but women get them for free. Why? Because 90-95 per cent of the genuine customers are male (many of the female profiles are fake) and the owners will not get money if there are not enough women, so they 'buy' them by offering free credits. And the hypocrisy continues – AM also run a site called Established Men which links young female 'students' with sugar daddies. In other words, they are pimping.
The CEO of AM has the nerve to declare "It is an illegal action against any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities...we will not sit by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world." The irony is that it is AM who are seeking to impose their ideology on citizens around the world. That is how they make their money. They wish to encourage a sex obsessed, misogynistic culture in which the poor and women especially can be bought and sold by the wealthy.
2) The Ashley Madison Affair shows up the Hypocrisy and Stupidity of much of the Church. The founder of AM, Noel Biderman, seemingly does not have a high view of Christians. In 2012 he even made an offer of $1 million to the first woman who could prove that she had slept with celebrity Christian athlete, Tim Tebow. Apart from being a cheap marketing stunt, it shows the cynical view that many non-Christians have of Christians. And it turns out not without reason.
It's not just the high profile celebrity Christian hypocrites such as Josh Duggar, but the more 'ordinary' Christians as well. It is astonishing that in the US the largest group of AM customers (25 per cent) define themselves as 'evangelicals'. (atheists by contrast are apparently 2 per cent!). One wonders what their motto is – "life is short, Jesus is gracious, I'm going to heaven anyway, have an affair"?
I think this illustrates the cancer that is in the body of Christ. We have used the grace of Christ and the fear of legalism to enable a hypocritical lack of holiness. Rather than being set apart for Christ, we have lived as pagans with a Christian veneer. We have undermined the authority of the Scriptures – "Well we don't know what the Bible really says, it's not all true and a bit dated and anyway the Lord guides me through his Spirit "(i.e. my feelings). We say to ourselves, "It's ok, if I'm caught I can just play the 'don't judge me' card', followed by the 'I'm sorry, now you have to show me grace' card". We forget the Word of the Lord, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. Of course there is grace, but it is not cheap grace; of course there is forgiveness, but only for the repentant, not for the abusers; and of course adultery is not the only or even worst sin. That is reserved for spiritual adultery, where having forsaken our first love of Christ, we return to the cesspit of the world. We are, as Peter says, like a dog that returns to its own vomit, or a sow that is washed wallowing in the mud. Indeed, 2 Peter could have been written for Ashley Madison and those Christians who thought the anonymity of the internet hid them from the omniscience of God. "With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood...These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him."
Freedom in Christ is freedom to be faithful, not to commit adultery. It is freedom to love and serve our families, communities, churches and Lord, not to indulge our lusts, egos and selfishness. Maybe its about time the Church rediscovered the truth of 'life is short, prepare for eternity and live for Christ'?
Finally, Ashley Madison is a great illustration not only of the fact that one day we will all have to give account for every careless word and sinful action, but also of the falsehood of the promises of this world. It turns out that most of the men having conversations on AM are talking to people who don't exist. This article demonstrates that most of AM's female 'customers' are fake.
Men are betraying their partners for a fantasy. The devil is the father of lies and he seeks to convince human beings made in the image of God that they would be better of following his fake fantasies, rather than the truth of Jesus Christ. The Gospel hacks into his system and brings the virus of the good news. The light has come into the world. Shine, Jesus, shine!
David Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a regular contributor to Christian Today.