FROM THE EDITOR | Sharing God's Word, not spam

Many readers will recall a time, back in the mid-1990s, when we started to embrace email. It was slow back then, at least by today's standards, but still an efficient communication tool.

Soon people discovered the "CC" and "forward" functions. Then came the jokes and chain messages promising great fortunes or luck to whoever forwarded the message. Some guys in Nigeria had a great investment and "friends" were asking for cash to get out of jail in Hong Kong or Manilla. Oh, and don't vote for this or that candidate, lest he or she lead our nation to assured destruction.

We call this junk spam, perhaps in homage to the salty canned meat and a skit from Monty Python's Flying Circus. (If you haven't seen that skit, take a look. It makes sense of "spam.")

I would have thought that sending email blasts of bad jokes, political rants and scams would have disappeared over 20 years -- you know, people get bored and move on -- but that doesn't seem to be the case. In 2013, the archdiocesan spam filter rejected 20 million pieces of spam email. Yep 20,000,000. That is just one organization. The number of pieces of spam in the world each year is probably immeasurable.

As annoying as email marketing campaigns are, I get why they exist and how they are executed. I sometimes share my email address with an organization that sells its database, and my email address ends up in another. (By the way, we do not do this at the St. Louis Review. We don't give, rent or sell our database to anyone other than the parishes that help generate the list in the first place). When I get these marketing emails, I click the "opt-out" or "unsubscribe" link. Done.

Other pieces of spam -- the scams, the pornography, the wonder cures -- have become nuisances that are pretty easy to filter.

Far more annoying are emails sent by acquaintances, friends and family. Asking one of them to stop sending trash email is a bit like unfriending on Facebook. It's not intended to be personal, but people seem to take it so. I'm pretty sure an old hunting buddy has distanced himself from me because I told him three or four times to stop sending me dirty jokes and pornographic pictures. Maybe those things are so important to him that he considers them part of his identity, thus he felt personally rejected. That's unfortunate, but moving on is fine with me.

Spam is like the virtual equivalent to that guy at the party who keeps ranting about religion or politics in an annoying way that discourages real conversation. As the night goes on, his volume gets louder and his rant gets sharper. Fortunately, computers have delete keys and spam filters, both of which I use assertively. But why leave it up to me? Why are some people compelled to send spam in the first place?

I consider two key issues here: security and theology.

The fewer messages we send electronically, the less stuff there is for the National Security Administration and the private data miners to compile. I'm more more practical than paranoid, really. I'm not a criminal, but I see little reason for agencies and corporations to know stuff I intend to share with close friends. I think I'll buy more stamps.

I also consider Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In Chapter 4, he offers instructions for life, including the instruction to say only the good things men need to hear (cf Ephesians 4:29). We should apply that to email, too.

Jesus wants us to spread His Word, not spam.

Phillips is the director of publications for the archdiocese. His spam filter is set to strong.

Phillips is the director of publications for the archdiocese. His spam filter is set to strong.


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