This morning I awoke to a question from a member of a biblical study group I’m involved in. The person asked if any of us wrote books on biblical criticism, no matter how light-hearted, and if those of us who did, felt the need to use a pseudonym or used our real name. The person was concerned that no matter what she had to say on the subject, biblical studies has the potential to bleed into family, friends and career. Say the wrong thing, and you risk losing any of these things. So should you use your real identity? Or a pseudonym?
I started thinking that this also applies to politics. While less damaging than criticizing religion, you surely can lose in the realm of friends, family or career if your writings/conclusions differ from others. Especially if those others are not welcome to something they hold sacred that you just took apart.
Well here is how I answer this. Here is why I think you should use your real identity when writing about any topic, especially hot button issues.
1) I put in the work. I want the credit. I’m proud of my work and want it attached to me. Should anyone (my kids) upon my death decide they want to compile an anthology of my essays or otherwise, why make it difficult for them.
2) Using my own identity encourages others to do so too, especially when they see the sky hasn’t fallen for me for doing so.
3) Using false identities grants some subjects (biblical studies, politics) a privileged status they doesn’t deserve. No idea is above scrutiny. Physicist don’t do this. Medical doctors don’t do this. Astronomers, biologists, Roman historians, etc don’t do this. Using your real identity will help normalize hot button issues and lessen stigmatization for future researchers and commentators.
4) If you’re telling the truth, even if in the future you’re honestly mistaken, you should never be hiding from what others may not like about it. You cheat yourself and your own conscience if you do.
5) When I read opinions and essays from a pseudonym, I’m immediately suspicious. What is this person hiding? They have nothing to lose if they are spreading false information. Using a real ID forces investment for the author and offers a chance for proper rebuttals.
Engaging in hot issues means you probably will lose some friends and family along the way. As Jon Ronson said in a round about way, the way to survive on the Internet is to be bland and just talk about ice cream and cats. Well I’m not interested in being bland. I say, without any apologies, as long as I’ve stayed truthful and honest and not mean spirited, then good riddance. If the information is factual and someone chooses to disengage and I mean, like check out of my life, then we probably had a lot less in common than previously thought. And, quite frankly, that opens up doors for others who can be more open to discussing such topics. Why trap yourself in with friends if you have to hide from them? And why bother with family members who only want to harass you? You’re born into it, you don’t have to live with it.
Now, despite what I said, I understand food needs to go on the table. So if you’re truly in danger of losing your job or means of support, then you have to do what you gotta do. Also, it could cost you more than relationships. For instance, a Muslim in some places in the Middle East risks actual death for criticising her religion, I can understand in such circles staying hidden. But that just means for me, relatively safe in the West, it’s best to be as open as possible if only to show it’s possible and give hope to those who cannot. Yet.
So unless you’re risking foreclosure and death, I say, use your own identity. Give yourself the credit. It forces you to be as honest as possible because your credibility is on the line. It’s a self-checking mechanism.
Go forth. Talk about the hot stuff. Normalize it. No idea is sacred. Everything is up for debate. And the more you do it, the less the idea will be untouchable. Think Galileo. Be like Galileo.