Today’s bestsellers and public speakers have so much to say about overcoming shame and guilt that I sometimes imagine, as a species, we will really outgrow it. Other times, it seems unlikely: that uniquely modern moment when you open your computer, adjust your screen, and twizzle the blinds so the light is just so. You power up Zoom and hold your breath as you let the world in.

Soon your eyes are feasting on others’ interiors, and it’s almost as if, for the first time, these other people are becoming real. They have had a home all along, you realize, and some terrible wall hangings. Or you know, whatever.

These days, we are not only peering into the homes of friends and coworkers but complete strangers, too. Since March, plebs have been granted access to celebrities’ previously obscure inner sanctums. Around that time, Amanda Hess wrote a viral criticism called “Celebrity Culture Is Burning,” about the online hordes roasting celebrities for their “tone-deaf” dispatches: “[Ellen] DeGeneres is going ‘stir-crazy’ from having to stay inside her enormous home; Katy Perry has lost track of the days she’s spent inside her enormous home.”

“[T]hey’re living in the lap of luxury,” someone else observed in response to the widespread disdain; “ordinary people” should be insulted by having to look at all this wealth when we’re watching YouTube! Today, many of us remain at home, and wishing we weren’t, and looking for people to judge: “the circumstances of lockdown have meant that celebrities are more likely to be called out.” Celebrities, seeking attention as per their jobs, are all too easily targeted.

But it’s not just celebrities, as delicious as these op-eds can be. Who hasn’t paid extra attention to where and how they were sitting before joining that virtual meeting? Maybe you’re a teacher, paranoiacally setting up your studio as a classroom; or maybe you’re a parent, peering into your college student’s sparsely furnished apartment, looking for little indications of misdoing. A woman I know works in a field dominated by men and has, on multiple occasions, informed me of all the effort she’s put toward arranging her space in anticipation of judgment which could come from any direction.

In April, an account appeared on Twitter called “Bookcase Credibility” with the tongue-in-cheek tagline, “What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you.” As Hess put it in another op-ed, “the home must function not only as a pandemic hunkering nest but also be optimized for presentation to the outside world.” She continues:

It is remarkable how quickly the bookcase has become obligatory, how easily it has been integrated into the brittle aesthetic rules of authority. … At a time when even our appointed experts rarely know what’s really going on, the veneer of respectability is always at risk of tumbling down.

Curating a background has become as imperative as curating a wardrobe. A bookcase of leather-bound classics says something very different than a sparse white wall. Slacks say something very different than pajama pants.

But in a time when authenticity is our go-to justification, we also try to keep up appearances by looking sloppy, curating just the right amount of mess. In particular, I have been surprised by how many celebrities either seem to be hiding where they are — hosting a show against a blank wall — or choosing a conspicuously drab location, the bare corner of an ugly room. Every day, Trevor Noah wears a different color sweatshirt, because who can bear to put on a suit in times like these?

One of the earliest stories in the Bible tells of a man and woman who, having done something bad, awaken to realize for the first time in their lives that they are naked. So ashamed of their bare skin, they can hardly stand to look at one another. They pluck fig leaves off a nearby tree and sew loincloths for themselves. In the evening breeze, their creator approaches and finds them hiding. He does not mock their hastily cobbled-together clothes; he asks, “Why are you hiding?” And when they tell him — “I was afraid, because I was naked” — he replies simply, “Who told you that … ?”

Why are you hiding? Many have tried to play off their virtual backgrounds as related to privacy concerns, which I don’t understand unless you have your social security number painted on your walls. We hide because we fear the scrutiny of others. But who told you that your background wasn’t good enough? Who told you that you have too many books, or not enough? Who told you that paint color was unflattering?

The same serpent who said that you could be like God also promises that you can be good, righteous, and perfect with a little self-awareness, effort, and just the right background. All these subtle expectations amount not just to fantasy but, in the end, to harmful judgment, of self and others. As Augustine once said, “Get rid of pride, and riches will do no harm.” Similarly, the background is not the issue so much as our sudden feeling of nakedness, and the shame that comes with it. We are not so different from Adam and Eve, sewing loincloths of fig leaves.

But Eden was not the end of the story, though it often feels like it was. Later on in the Bible, a different adam was stripped, shamed, and made a spectacle before an entire city. He suffered so that we would know our forgiveness and proceed through life no longer ashamed. His background was a blood-drenched cross, and his call to the Father went unanswered.