After the NSA revelations, is there any faith left?

In this April 21, 2009 file photo, U.S. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, speaks at … Continued


In this April 21, 2009 file photo, U.S. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, speaks at a security convention in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu — AP)

The NSA is snooping on us data mining is the fancy term but call it what you want. Bottom line is that our own government is tracking our cell phone, Internet, and email use. We know this now because former NSA employee Edward Snowden has leaked that fact, and the NSA doesn’t even deny it.

Part of me thinks that the whole story is much ado about nothing, at least insofar as Google and pretty much every other digitally-based corporation does, or tries to do, pretty much the same things. And like the government, most of them try to avoid having us know or understand just how much they are doing, and just how much of our privacy is eroded every time we interact with such companies.

Let’s face it, the very concept of personal privacy is being fundamentally redefined, and we can either adjust to it by creating new expectations and behavioral norms, or go hide in caves. But there is something different about the same invasion of privacy when it’s done by our own government.

The government is supposed to be there for us, while we understand that the companies are there primarily for themselves. That is why the recent revelations about the NSA have many people talking about losing faith in government. I am just not sure that’s a fair response.

It’s not that I am totally comfortable with what the NSA is doing. And I appreciate the feelings of disappointment and even betrayal which contribute to some people’s loss of faith. On the other hand, what if such programs were not in place and as a result, more people got blown up by terrorists, as they were at the Boston Marathon? Would we then feel a loss of faith in a government which failed to protect us?

What is this is one of those moments when even if we/our government could do it better, whatever way they go, will be imperfect a best possible response to which significant costs attach, no matter what? If we cannot maintain a faith that tolerates imperfection, then it is no faith at all.

Keeping faith — be it faith in government, God, or the people in our lives — has to be about more than getting what we always want or expect. That’s why it’s called faith. It’s not simply about having faith because we get what we want, but about the willingness to take a risk and trust in the hope of how things could be if we hang in there, as opposed to letting go the moment our highest expectations are not met.

It’s not that faith can always be kept, but it should be able to sustain some real shaking. In the case of the story of Snowden and the NSA, it seems like the people who claim to have lost their faith in our government didn’t really have much to begin with. What they had was a dogma regarding government.

They tend to be those who were already suspicious about government intrusion, and recent events simply confirmed what that previously believed. So, far from causing them to lose faith, these events actually confirmed their faith, or dogma a dogma regarding the inappropriate behavior of government agencies.

Faith is not static, and doubt is not the opposite of faith, but actually a crucial component of it. It is the ongoing tension between complete trust and measured skepticism that creates the healthiest faith, and that is what these recent events should teach us.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • pete619

    Interesting, ” it seems like the people who claim to have lost their faith in our government didn’t really have much to begin with” So the fact that our government is violating the constitution and, we know this only because a brave individual informed us, has nothing to do with my loss of faith. Your assertion is patently ridiculously. What the government (and you) are trying to overlook is the governments procurement and use of general warrants. General Warrants or, as they were called in colonial days, writs of assistance were one of the leading grievances the colonists had which lead to the American Revolution. Now, were supposed to take it on “faith” that there unconstitutional use is fine because, they say so.

  • LibertysLover

    No, not even a little bit. And when Greewald reveals even more wrong doing by big government, you statist are going to have a revolution on your hands.

  • AZH1

    I have great faith that “our” government will continue to lie to us.

  • chrisbrown12

    Notice how few Teapublicans are calling for the repeal or amendment of the “Patriot Act”? Funny that the very people who have screamed for more security and surveillance are now so meek in their defence of the measures taken by the NSA, FBI and CIA. If the GOP controlled House has any gumption they would bring in a measure to control spying and abolish the Homeland Security agency.

  • chrisbrown12

    What are the quotes supposed to mean? Are you quoting yourself?

  • chrisbrown12

    Call up your tea party congressman or woman and get them to write a piece of legislation protecting the privacy of postal and electronic communications.

  • chrisbrown12

    So call for the repeal of the Patriot Act and other justifications for government security, if your so inclined. I suppose it’s too much to ask for a little consistency in your argument.

  • allinthistogether

    Any government is only as good as the people who are working in it and monitoring and supporting those who work in it. Various people will always be involved for a variety of reasons – some for the common good, and some for personal benefit, some for purely corrupt reasons. With 330,000,000 (and rising) people in the country, there is no way we can have the same simple government that the Founders envisioned when there were less than 1% that many folks. If we want to continue to have a government that balances individual rights (as laid out in Constitution) with protections from large scale abuse by other individuals, other countries and misguided government, then the best of our citizens need to pitch in and improve the country. Angry revolution is inevitably more damaging than productive – like using a chainsaw to perform heart surgery. It is much more productive to be motivated by ambitious wisdom (even when you have to take up arms) than by fear and anger.

  • chrisbrown12

    All in this: You don’t really think that L.lover is serious. He’s just trying to turn a fake scandal into political capital. If he were serious he’d be proposing legislation. His threats of “revolution” are as empty as his analysis.

  • Hildy J

    The Tea Baggers should remember that what the IRS did to them was entirely legal and there wouldn’t be any problems for them if they were following the law. In Vietnam the military declared: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”. Now the government is saying “It is necessary to destroy your freedom to save it.”

  • ccnl1

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane’s wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

  • Hildy J

    And the NSA didn’t stop any of this.

    Funny thing – you don’t show any of the civilian deaths due to US Military action.

    Funny thing – the Taliban were muslim freedom fighters backed by the US when they were fighting the Russians.

    Funny thing – Hussein was a US ally and example we held up of a secular Arab leader when he was fighting Iran.

  • DigitalQuaker

    Two things. First, to quote from the article:
    “It’s not that faith can always be kept, but it should be able to sustain some real shaking. In the case of the story of Snowden and the NSA, it seems like the people who claim to have lost their faith in our government didn’t really have much to begin with. What they had was a dogma regarding government.”

    Where did he get this from? Any data to support this thought? Any poll? Anything at all, other than your non scientific observations, which sounds like they didn’t begin until after this one specific incident? No. He doesn’t provide any of that. And after working to support the government in these fields for close to 20 years I can tell you that IMO (stating it for what it is, and opinion), this guy has no idea what he’s talking about.

    Second thing:
    Who IS this guy? No identity provided, no credentials. Is he a post columnist, a guest writer, a blogger? Did he win a prize and got to share his thoughts with us? Post, PLEASE start picking it up and doing a better job. This kind of article is becoming WAY to much the norm for your limbo bar like set of standards. We DESERVE better discourse on important issues like this, issues that affect every person living in this country, whether they know it or not.

    So, after looking Brad up, I found this: Rabbi, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Interesting. I’m sure he’s a wonderful Rabbi, and probably a decent person, someone worth knowing. However, I see nothing that qualifies him to bring any special expertise to comment on this issue. Has Brad ever spent a day working in the Intelligence community? How about legal work regarding privacy issues? I would say he’s an expert on faith, but a sacred faith in the devine unknowable does not in any way map to a faith in power and authority we citizens GRANT our government. Perhaps an article on the distinction between these would be a better suited topic for this author.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Those who are motivated enough by the prospect of power to actually seize it are invariably the worst of us, and this shouldn’t be news to anyone. The more power in a person’s hands, the more mediocre, venal, amoral, and uninteresting he is. Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with history knows that this is more or less a matter of physics. The first step to becoming an adult is realizing that no government (or religion, for that matter) on planet earth takes a modicum of interest in the well-being of the individual citizen, it’s simply not in the nature of the machine or the people who run it.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Why do they need the data of law abiding citizens? Why did they hack into the computers of network reporters? Is there a rule of law that governs whether this data is collected, how the data is collected and how it is used? Bush had to get FISA Court approval. Does this administration have to do the same?

    Having this data did not stop Fort Hood. It did not stop Santa Monica. It did not stop Boston. So why are they collecting it?

    I’ve seen and heard talking points in the press to the effect of, “It’s just a bunch of meta data. It’s not like they are actually listening to our conversations or reading our emails.” Then what use is it to them.

    They are collecting the data of “millions of Americans.” Are there that many people connected to the actual supposed targets?

    I thought Obama had declared an end to the war on terror. Yet the machinery of the war is still seeing action?

    I’m just asking a few questions here.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Are you saying we should just resign ourselves to living under the rule of “the worst of us?”

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Didn’t Obama promise that his Administration would set new standards of transparency?

  • AgentFoxMulder

    And, who are you?

  • AgentFoxMulder

    How did all of these people get their positions of power?

  • archon41

    I don’t care what they say–I believe that both Snowden and Obama are outstanding Americans, inspirations to us all.

  • itsthedax

    The National Security Agency was following the Patriot Act laws established by congress and signed by President Bush.

    Most of the people who are wringing their hands over this latest flap were completely in favor of it at the time, insisting that we had to give up some of our privacy, or “the terrorists would win”.

    We, the people, are responsible for how this country is run. If you’ve changed your minds about the Patriot Act, get congress to amend or repeal it. Otherwise, you have the government you deserve.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    I don’t accept this administrations excuse of “it’s all Bush’s fault.” After all, one of the reasons Obama was elected was because he promised to be different than Bush. By “different,” I don’t think most people expected “more intrusive.”

    I agree with itsthedax comment below…in a democratic republic such as ours, we get the government we deserve because we get the government we elect into office.

  • g30rg3544

    The end justifies the means seems to be the main defense of the spying programs coming from the intelligence officials. When I was a kid growing up in the 50′s we learned that excuse was one of the main tenants of the Communists who controlled Russia and Eastern Europe.

  • itsthedax

    The Patriot Act was voted on by congress and signed into law by President Bush. You seem to be blaming President Obama for not defunding and dismantling the programs that were required by law. Are you under the impression that congress had nothing to do with this?

  • AgentFoxMulder

    No, I’m under the impression that the programs seem to have grown during Obama’s tenure. I would have thought that the man who basically ran on the platform of being the opposite of Bush, who could move congress to adopt a complete re-making of the health care system in this country, the man who seemed to be so in charge of taking out Osama Bin Laden, who claimed that he would close Guantanimo, that his administration would be the most transparent in history and declared the end to the war on terror would have some influence over a surveillance program which seems to sweep up the law abiding along with the criminals.

    And I would have expected liberals, who believed that Bush and Cheney were creating some sort of police state, would be less accepting (than they seem to be) of the have the IRS exerting political pressure on this administrations critics, the FBI grabbing up the phone records of journalists, the NSA snooping in on innocent citizens without cause and drones flying over the heads of law abiding citizens.

  • itsthedax

    And as soon as there’s another terrorist attack on US soil, you’ll be blaming the Obama administration for not having detected it.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Fort Hood, Boston. I’m not sure about Santa Monica yet since (strangely, in tis time of calling for increased bans on automatic weapons) no one seems interested in talking about that incident of men using automatic weapons to shoot people at random. One would have thought that it would renew the gun ban debate but judging from the lack of press time or interest among politicians who usually like to make good use of such incidents, one would be wrong. At any rate, PRISM didn’t stop any of that.

  • itsthedax

    So, have you contacted your congressman about repealing the Patriot Act?

  • wt_rd

    Faith in government is a crude superstition.