By now you’ve heard about yesterday's blackout. Some of the biggest websites on the Internet blacked themselves out (to varying degrees) to raise awareness about the SOPA and PIPA bills being debated in Congress. These bills seem, at face value, to protect intellectual property by granting the government sweeping powers to block sites that benefit from pirated or stolen material. However, as is so often the case, the devil is in the details.
The problem is that the bills were written by some combination of lawmakers (who don’t have the technical knowledge to frame the problem correctly) and entertainment company lobbyists (who have a particular incentive to make the law as sweeping as possible). The resulting material clashes with other laws, demands a threshold of compliance so high that no social media company can reasonably attain it and perhaps even violates constitutional free speech principles.
Of course, we shouldn’t kid ourselves into believing the blackout signifies corporate America (even the Silicon Valley version) taking a stand against Big Brother. They are simply avoiding any danger and liability that might come back to bite them should anyone use their sites to host pirated material. Free speech is just one small plank in the platform that companies like Google, Wikipedia and Reddit are standing on.
For the Christian, then, we are presented with an interesting dilemma. We desire justice, and this bill seems to promote justice by punishing those who would steal. Yet we also desire freedom and oppose giving unreasonable levels of control to the government, and this bill seems to take freedom away. We desire a healthy business environment for Internet companies, and opposing the bill seems to help in protecting that. Yet we also desire a fair business environment for artists and writers in the entertainment industry, and opposing the bill can seem to challenge that.
Situations like these highlight two things Christians claim to hold dearly, but too often forget. First, they highlight the need for ethics. Though the Bible teaches excellent standards of right and wrong, our modern-day situations are complex enough to sometimes enter gray and uncertain territory. In those moments, the ability to be clear and prepared in choosing right from wrong is essential. Life will not always present easy choices. Instead, many of the choices we face are gray area vs. gray area, so when we do find a moment of clarity our ethics had better be at the ready.
Second, they display our need for wisdom. Consider the story of Solomon and the two mothers. When he suggested cutting the baby in half, it was more than a clever trick. His deep knowledge of human tendencies allowed him to expose the charlatan and name the true mother. His pursuit of truth, coupled with his understanding of right and wrong, allowed him to make the right choice in his role as king.
You and I will face many, many complicated issues in our lives. As citizens, part of our calling on this earth is to participate in upholding good and helpful laws, laws undergirded by a healthy ethical system and wise knowledge of truth. My hope is that in carrying out that calling, our good judgment and desire for truth will help point the world back to Christ, around whom ethics are centered. When you decide which side of an issue like SOPA/PIPA to stand on with all the wisdom you can muster, remember that it is one small act of worship to your true King.