Whoever said there is no such thing as bad publicity? The Ashley Madison affair certainly generated a great deal of publicity for the website over the past few days, though it now appears to have gone quiet, at least for the moment.
Just in case there may be anyone who has lost touch with the news over the past week, the website was set up as a form of dating service but with the difference that it was aimed at those who were already in an established relationship. In other words it was designed to facilitate infidelity or cheating on your partner.
Many people reading the story in the media will have been unaware that such a website or service ever existed and there may be some who regret not having known. On the other hand, there will perhaps be many more who now regret having ever come across the site in the first place.
The website promised total security and anonymity for its users so although you might experience pangs of guilt you didn’t need to fear being found out. The problem has been, of course, that virtually no company that holds personal details about its clients can offer an absolute guarantee that they will be forever safe. Even national security establishments, government departments and financial institutions cannot give you that absolute guarantee.
The result now is that hackers have released ten gigabytes of personal data onto the web for anyone to see. That covers details of more than 30 million accounts. The released information includes email addresses, names, postal addresses and telephone numbers. There may also be passwords, credit card details and emails in some cases.
Of course some people may have visited the website purely out of curiosity and never intended to use it. However, if they have left behind any identifiable information whatsoever, they may have some embarrassing questions to answer.
Apart from sleepless nights and getting into trouble with spouses, it is also possible that people who are in the public eye or who are in security sensitive jobs, for example, could be subject to blackmail or unpleasant posts via social media.
Although the company is taking vigorous action, they are more concerned about finding who is behind the hack rather than supporting those whose lives or careers could be seriously damaged by the revelations of their infidelity.
Your reaction will depend on whether or not you visited the website.
You may be fearful about the repercussions. On the other hand, if you didn’t visit the site you may take the view that visitors deserve all that happens to them. It’s amazing how quick we are to criticise and judge other people as long as we ourselves feel we are in the clear.
The bible roundly condemns adultery. God’s law explicitly states, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) and expands on that statement in a number of other references, for example,
“The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.”
Every one would be well advised to steer clear of even the hint of infidelity, so that there would be no reason for guilt or fear of being found out.
However, the bible is a very balanced book. As well as stating explicitly how men and women should conduct their lives, it also understands their frailties.
Consequently, when Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders of his time who brought a prostitute to him, he did not condemn her to be stoned to death as the law prescribed. Instead he challenged her accusers about their own lives with the words, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) When all the accusers had left, Jesus did not say to the woman, “You can go now back to your old lifestyle”. Instead, he said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
That story demonstrates the Law of God, the Wisdom of God and, most importantly, the Grace and Compassion of God.
In like manner, we should in no way condone infidelity or any other kind of wrong doing, but that doesn’t mean adopting a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Instead, we need to respond to the challenge that Jesus threw out. Only if, hand on heart, we can say we have never done anything wrong – only then do we have any right to condemn others.