Thought for the Day - Bishop Tom Butler

Good morning. It’s reported that Google is introducing a new privacy policy for its customers which might fall foul of European law. The plan is to make data available from one Google platform to another. So a customer’s history of sites visited during a Google search, will influence the adverts presented when the customer logs into his or her e-mail. It perhaps came as a shock to some that such agencies have such a history of all our surfing, and not surprisingly the first question which the interviewer yesterday asked on this programme was, “Does the new policy draw upon data already collected?“ The answer was, “Yes,” although it was explained how a customer could opt out of all of this, but I have to say that the procedure to be followed seemed to me to be Kafka like in complexity.

It wasn’t so much the novelist Kafka which came to my mind, however, it was Scot Fitzgerald, and to the couple featured in the film of his novel, the Great Gatsby. A garage is portrayed midway along the road between the great houses of the rich and famous and the centre of town. A mechanic with a rather flighty wife lives alongside the garage. Across the road is a massive hording advertising an optician. The advertisement takes the form of a pair of eyes behind a huge pair of spectacles.

The advertisement obviously gets inside the head of the mechanic because after one fractious argument with his wife when he accuses her of being unfaithful he drags her out and points to the spectacles – “He”, he says, “Sees everything.”

In a similar way, people of an earlier age believed that God, like some cosmic pair of eyes, unblinkingly saw everything and judged everyone. In medieval times when life was short, as worshippers came out of a church service they’d often be faced with the vivid portrayal in a wall painting of the end of time, or of the end of their time, when the books were to be opened, and all the previously hidden data was to be examined, and the judgement was to be made as to whether the destination of the individual soul was to be heaven or hell. It must have made people very thoughtful indeed.

As a child I was lucky because my mother used to have a rather different interpretation of that belief that God saw everything and judged unblinkingly. She had a more gracious view of God’s judgement which included mercy, love and support. She used to say to me and my sister as she sent us out. ‘Remember God loves you so much that he just can’t take his eyes off you.’

I hope that the outcome of Google’s change in policy will similarly be to help, rather than to hinder its customers.

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