The Web is a wonderful thing. It puts information and research at one’s fingertips in a way that would have been inconceivable only a couple of decades ago. In fact — given my hoary old age — I am a witness: Most of us never imagined it. Couldn’t have.
But the Web can also be used for less reputable and more harmful purposes. Terrorists use it. Pornographers have made a fortune at it. Sleaze for which one would, years ago, have had to wade into the worst sections of large cities now comes painlessly and with ease to iPhones, iPads, and laptops everywhere.
Another of the negative contributions of the Web is the platform it supplies to anonymous people — often malicious people, or mad cranks, or some combination of the two — to safely defame others.
For example, two or three years ago, a pseudonymous poster who calls himself “Everybody Wang Chung” and who was, at the time, claiming to be an unbelieving and cynical bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that he and his wife would be participating in a tour that I was leading to Israel. (Her gift. She apparently didn’t know about his disbelief, or his activities on an apostate and predominantly atheistic message board) He would, he promised, provide full reports of my lies and ridiculous antics as a tour leader in the Middle East.
I was saddened by the possibility that he might actually be a bishop, and, truth be told, wasn’t particularly happy at the prospect of having a secretly sneering apostate scribbling notes for the eventual purpose of publicly deriding and mocking me while he accompanied me to such places as Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb. As the months went on, though, he stopped mentioning his impending trip, and, by the time we actually went, I had forgotten about him.
After the tour, though, somebody asked him whether he had actually gone and whether he would be reporting on me. He responded that he had, and that he would.
This made me curious. You get to know the people in such small tours fairly well; we spend virtually all day together for eight or ten long days, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I wasn’t aware of any serving bishops and couldn’t think of anybody in the group who seemed plausible as a covert scoffer. Just to be sure, though, I checked with a friend, and was able, quite easily, to determine that there had been no currently serving bishops among the men in the tour group. Which pretty well demonstrated either that EWC’s claim to be a currently serving bishop was false, or that his claim to have been with me in Israel was untrue. Or, very probably, that both claims were lies. (I’ve noticed that he often posts up a storm on Sundays — which would be very difficult for a busy serving bishop to do.)
His subsequent behavior seems to bear out my conclusion: Despite repeated requests, from those who credited his claims, that he spill the beans on my various idiocies, superstitious absurdities, and personality defects as a lecturer in Israel, and despite his repeated promises to do so, he has never, to the best of my knowledge, provided a single report or anecdote. Big surprise.
Anyway, the truth doesn’t appear to be in him. But malice does. Aplenty.
He continually launches threads in which he denounces me for things that I’ve written and/or rejoices in my forced departure from the Maxwell Institute at BYU — which, he says, demonstrates that the leaders of the Church disapprove of me. (I know for a fact that the latter claim is inaccurate.) His behavior borders on, if it doesn’t altogether cross into, obsession. And his insinuation that he has a special pipeline to Church leadership, and even to the new president of BYU, and that these people share with him their opinions of me and their plans for the future of the University, seems no more plausible than his pretense of being a serving bishop who accompanied me to Israel.
Now, though, he’s also targeting a close friend of mine. Bill Hamblin, he claims, systematically gathers dirt on members of the LDS Church who hold views that Professor Hamblin dislikes and sends it to the Strengthening Church Members Committee (SCMC) in Salt Lake City. Moreover, he says, Bill Hamblin has forfeited all credibility with the SCMC.
I’ll leave aside the laughable implication — common among certain fringe and apostate Mormons — that the SCMC is some sort of Mormon Gestapo or Waffen-SS. (For authentic video footage of two members of this mythologized SCMC, see here.) I would just like to see some actual evidence that Professor Hamblin has been doing what EWC accuses him of doing. And, of course, some evidence that the SCMC has confided its newfound distrust of Professor Hamblin to, of all people, Everybody Wang Chung.
Somebody on his message board has already directly asked EWC to share his evidence, but there has been no response.
I suppose it’s theoretically conceivable that Bill Hamblin is doing what Everybody Wang Chung claims. But Bill doesn’t seem to me the type of guy who would be systematically gathering files on anybody and sending them to Church headquarters. (Those who know him well — I’ve known him well for nearly thirty-five years, since we first met in Egypt — will immediately understand why I say this: He’s scarcely your typical “organization man,” the standard-issue “cog in the corporate machine.”) Moreover, if he were doing such a thing, I’m very confident that I would know about it.
EWC isn’t, as such, very important. But he’s indicative of an extremely bad thing about the Web: Those inclined to slander others anonymously have now been given a bullhorn of which their disreputable and cowardly predecessors could only dream.