Most adherents to monotheistic religions believe, to some extent, that there is an omnipotent and omnipresent entity involved in the world and their lives. In Judaism, while this concept is ever present, it comes to the fore during, and just before, the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During this time especially, Jews the world over scrutinize their behavior in preparation to repent for sins committed the previous year. In the numerous prayers associated with these holy days the imagery created is that of God sitting in judgement of each person. Before him is a ledger containing all the person’s deeds for the previous year from which he will decide if the person’s good deeds outweigh the bad, or visa versa. This idea is concretized in the Rosh Hashana greeting “You should be written and sealed” in the book of life.
One would think that with the belief that their deity is watching their every move and that he has the power to snuff out their lives if they sin, religious people would behave in perfect alignment with the tenets of their faith at all times. Of course, human nature does not function that way. Even if during the High Holidays they make an extra effort to behave, they become desensitized with the normal routine of life. Not only that, but in the reality of day to day living, people are much more affected by the thought of being caught by their fellow man than being seen by God.
Jewish law recognizes this reality. For example in the area of Kosher supervision, even the most pious restaurant owner is subject to periodic oversight. Another example is the concept of “Yichud” where a man and woman who are not married to each other are forbidden from being alone together without the presence of other people. This concept was also reinforced in the general population (prior to the advent of mobile computing) where many experts agreed the “safest” placement for a computer with internet access was in a room that is most trafficked.
A common theme in Rabbinic homiletics is to try to heighten people’s awareness of God in their day to day lives. In the 1980s clergymen were given the “gift” of personal video recorders. For the first time in human history the idea of one’s actions being recorded became very real. A person could now easily imagine that, with enough video tape, God really could record every action of man. Many a sermon was based on that idea. Yet there was little behavioral change as, let’s face it, not all that many people were walking around with camcorders.
Fast forward to the 2010s. Anyone can look into your backyard with Google Earth and they can see the color of your shutters with Google Street View. Sure, it’s not in real-time… yet, but we know that it’s just a matter of time before it will be. (And we also can assume that military satellite capability has to be far superior to Google’s.) Beyond that, a majority of people in first world nations, 70% and more in some cases, are walking around with smartphones that connect to the internet and have video recording capability. That means most of the people around you right now are walking news studios. They can take a video of you and broadcast it to the world instantly via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. On top of that, there are over 200 million bloggers out there chomping at the bit to write about anything and everything.
Whether or not you believe that God is watching your every move, whether you’re a pious monotheist or an atheist, there is now the ever present reality that someone can easily record your actions. It’s likely that if you say or do something stupid, impolitic, or otherwise blog-worthy you will be “caught”. This is true more so for people in the limelight.
Unfortunately, many religious leaders, as much as they’ve preached about the concept of being watched by God, have not grasped the reality that they are being watched by man. There is an endless flow of blog and social media posts of inane, inappropriate, and even criminal statements by these men and women who still believe that they are just talking to their own little flocks.
Well now it’s time to preach to the preachers. When you give a lecture, when you give a sermon, when you write a letter, when you teach a class, when you sign a poster – assume what you’ve been preaching to us all these years. Assume that not only God, but everyone – every man, woman and child – will see a video of what you said or a scan of what you wrote or signed. Assume that some blogger with an “agenda” is then going to further spread and critique those posts. (And for our orthodox Jewish friends, don’t assume that Sabbath restrictions will protect you, as some blogger is sitting out there ready to write up that outrageous statement you made in your sermon the minute the sun goes down.)
I’m not saying these things to chill speech or to discourage people from speaking their minds. The idea is simply to think. Think before you speak, think before you write, and think before you act. If you’re religious, make sure your behavior is something you think God would be proud of. If you’re religious or not, assume you’re acting before the entire world and not just your local cronies. Maybe if we all internalize this reality, it would actually help the world become the better place we all want it to be.