POPE FRANCIS called the Internet a gift from God. Too much? Shouldn’t the credit go to Al Gore? Or the Pentagon? No, the credit for it goes to God first and foremost because God made Al Gore; and even the people who built the Pentagon and those have been running it.
Indeed, God prefers to give through the acts of men (women of course are included and account for most good deeds while men account largely for salaciousness). I mean those acts, in particular, that reflect however faintly, the goodness of their Creator; thereby giving to Him the glory that suits Him most: His own.
God, said the German theologian Pannenberg--just in time for me to read him and include his ideas in describing the role of Cory Aquino--does intervene in the affairs of men by acting through men in history and by the supererogatory benign reactions and generous initiatives of good men like unto God both in the face of adversity and in the teeth of evil men like unto the Devil.
So it is with the Internet; a device invented for evil or, okay, for preemptively stopping the evil of a Soviet first strike. But it was principally invented to make the conduct of war more comprehensive; its destruction more coordinated; and the command and control of weapons and men of destruction more unfailing and simultaneous.
But, as with everything created by God, be it directly with His hands or through the brains and hands of the men He made, its original purpose--enhanced communication--was God’s original reason for giving Adam someone to talk with in Paradise; which is to say human communication.
Even if, in doing so, He was admitting that the Paradise He originally made needed more work and wasn’t all that Genesis had cracked it up to be when it said that after every “day” of the “week” of Creation, He found his work “good”. Well, not quite, it appears. He made Adam as lonely as a geek sans pimples--but then there was no one else to notice his complexion before God made Eve out of his rib?
The Pope said that, with the Internet, more people can interact with more people. directly and without the mediation of other people like churchmen; or what is infinitely worse through lying spokespersons of government who are the very embodiment of evil. “Satan is the father of lies and a murderer,” it says somewhere in the Gospels. Trust me, it’s there.
By enhancing men’s capability--though not ability because if you can’t express yourself well not to say elegantly, speed isn’t going to improve your output--yes, by enhancing men’s capability to talk with each other about themselves if they need a shoulder to cry and about their beliefs when they need to share them; while, in turn, being willing to listen to others with the same needs of telling and sharing. The Pope lays down at this point the first ethic of the Internet; which is mutual respect.
“Dialogue means to believe that the other has something worthwhile to say and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions but [dropping] the pretense that our own ideas and traditions alone are valid and absolute,” said the Pope.
And that includes churchmen’s interpretation of the only infallible yet undeniably baffling trusts told by Christ in the gospels. The truth doesn’t change; Christ’s words cannot be glossed over when they are clear and hard to live with or to live by. Like his views on divorce and his obvious abhorrence of infanticide, possibly by the pill and certainly by the prong--abortionists’ device of choice. “Suffer the little children to come to me,” he said; don’t drop them in the trashcan in a plastic packet.
But sincere and penetrating, not to say expansive interpretations of what Christ clearly said must continue to be rethought, building on the best that came before, rejecting that which time has revealed as inadequate or unable to account for all the facts of the case. Indeed, for every Augustine, an Aquinas followed; and after them other theologians from Barth to Pannenberg to Ratzinger, N.T. Wright, Thomas Oden, Swinburne and the new African theologians today who see Christ--naturally as Savior--but more so as Victor over death, disease and disorder; the particular afflictions of Africa and the rest of the Third World like the Philippines. More so as Healer of bodies through the healing of their souls, as in the pre-Christian African experience. This is why Francis is appointing more Africans to the College of Cardinals: for the way Africans still see hope in Christ in the midst of Western-sponsored civil wars, genocide, famines and epidemics. If Africans will not despair of God’s mercy, how can we?
“This is something truly good, a gift from God,” Francis expatiated on the role of the Internet; though he warned that it invites the perils or missed chances of a virtual rather than the real society of men and women.
And the Internet is prone to one-sided preaching rather than reaching; a temptation to unilaterally bombard others with your ignorance and mendacity while shutting out their messages and their responses to yours.
Francis seems to believe that, to be complete, company must be more than spiritual or a meeting of minds; it must be physical; involving a touching of bodies as when he embraced the disfigured man so he could physically feel the man’s pain and he the Pope’s warmth. Still, Francis likens digital communication to “a balm that relieves pain” by sharing “and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.” I like this guy more already.
“May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects,” said Francis; nor let it be the result of spurious surveys of the unavoidable approbation of those whom you first starved and then threw crumbs to just before conducting a survey about how they felt about you.
“Rather,” said Francis, “let the light we bring others be the result of our being loving and merciful neighbors to those wounded and those left on the side of the road;” in particular, the straight and narrow road that invites speeding in sports cars regardless of the danger to the life and limb of those too weak to cross the road at the proper crossing or, worse yet, having to climb up and down an elevated walkway.
In brief, in extolling the Internet, the pope set down its moral purpose--interconnectivity--and the moral limits of interconnectivity; which is that the strong must not use it to drown the truth about the weak or, worse yet, to threaten those who do not own mainstream media not to speak out if they don’t want to risk prosecution under an anti-cybercrime law.
Of course, God did not need to wait for His creatures to invent the Internet. He could have created men with the ability from the start to read each other’s minds. But that would have eliminated the virtue of trust, which is necessary because of the inability to read another man’s heart or pierce the opacity of another man’s mind to get at his true intentions. This gives to each of us at best a 50/50 chance of avoiding disappointment and betrayal.
The Internet is as close as God will let us go to divine another man’s purpose from that man’s unceasing and traceable chatter; in the course of which the man will surely tip his hand and reveal his true nature and intentions--unless he is an unfailing sarcastic.