The Cross and the Web
As technology develops and society devotes itself to consumerism, entertainment and virtual reality, the idea of a God who became a man, who was executed in the most horrible way and then rose from the dead, appears increasingly unreal. What can a martyr’s death and the promise of eternal life have in common with a reality that we experience through our screens? Obviously we are not as close to religion as our forefathers were; they were totally immersed in their tradition and had not begun to climb the modern tower of Babel – the Internet – where we meet every opinion, every religion and every sin. But maybe our era is closer than ever to the time in which Jesus lived – an age which allowed the seed of the greatest religion in the world to grow. The Internet and other modern means of communication and transport correspond to the unprecedented security prevailing in all parts of the Roman Empire. For the first time in history, individuals and letters (ideas, in other words) could travel from one end of the empire to the other. With their discipline and efficiency, the Romans built roads, crucified robbers and eradicated piracy. Despite the dangers that still existed, Paul and other apostles could convey God’s word far from Judea. Also, they could send the epistles which are part of the foundations of Christianity. Aside from security for travelers, the Roman Empire also offered fertile ground for the seed of the new religion to take root. For hundreds of years before Christ, the old gods had been losing their power, they had withdrawn from direct involvement with humans who now felt that they were at the mercy of demons and unfeeling Fortune. The older, dark religions and various new imports from Egypt and the Near East provided some promise of protection and resurrection through faith. The empire might have provided unprecedented security, but life remained difficult, full of danger, pain and despair. The message of love and hope that Christianity held out to all without exception – whether citizen or slave, man or woman, rich or poor – and which transformed pain and sacrifice into eternal life, found fertile ground in the hearts of many. And beyond some sporadic instances of persecution, the empire tolerated the new religion as it did others. So, three centuries after the Crucifixion, Christianity triumphed and continued to grow right up to the present day. Christ’s message was able to fly and take root far from the hard land in which it was born because it gave people what they needed – hope and a convincing explanation of life and death. If Christ were crucified today, and if the execution were again in public, we would see it all live on television and the Internet. Instead of the gospels and epistles that were written decades after the Resurrection, the world would be filled with blogs the same day, with witness accounts, analyses and comment. The believers and the skeptics would pop up in their multitudes on Google and cross swords in Wikipedia. The rest of us would go on with our lives until the time that the message would come to each one. The story of religions – their birth, their growth, their withering – is the story of society and the individual. What counts is not the era or the medium but the message and our need to hear and accept it. As long as we get it – whether it comes from a bloodied apostle, our tradition or a search engine.