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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Theology of Internet

In his pastoral letter on 2013 World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI identifies social networks as the new “agora” and therefore new spaces for evangelization[1]. Reflecting on this letter, Bishop Anthony Fisher says that Pope discovers a new continent called “digital environment”. He commented on his Facebook page:

B16 just called social media "new spaces for evangelisation" and the digital environment "a ‘continent’ where the Church must be present and where believers must share with others the deepest source of their joy and hope, Jesus Christ.[2]"  

The Internet is the landscape of this new continent; the digital networks are its super highways and the digital content, its resources. Netizens are its citizens and its new “agoras” – the social networks – have turned in to super cities or nations. Facebook had 1.06 billion monthly active users (MAU) as of December 31, 2012[3] making it the 3rd largest nation on earth after China and India, and holds more information about its netizens than any nation state about its citizens. This new world is definitely a continent.
Whenever we discovered a continent in the past, the Church always sent its missionaries. The mission of those missionaries was to venture into those unseen lands to risk formidable challenges to spread the good news of Jesus, with great courage and faith. This will be true to this newly “discovered” continent of “digital environment”. There is a need for missionaries and missionary expeditions into this new continent.

What should be the style of mission work in this new landscape? We can only look up to Jesus, as we always do, in search of an answer. So the question can be rephrased as “What would Jesus do in this new holy land? ” 

He would have gone to Capernaum. Capernaum was the “agora”, Jesus chose to be in. There was a special significance and intent in choosing Capernaum as the major field of Jesus’ public ministry where he spent at least 18 months – half of his public ministry after his expulsion from his hometown - Nazerath. It was almost premeditated, and of course according to the Divine plan. It was THE major connecting town between Galilee and Jerusalem - the Jericho Route which the Jews preferred to avoid traveling through Samaria. Every person who travels between Galilee and Jerusalem had to touch this town.  It had the largest synagogue in the region and a Roman military post. Jesus chose to heal the servant of the synagogue official and the daughter of the centurion at the military post. He chose to stay at one of the largest houses in that vibrant city – of that of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus would have imagined that the connectivity of Capernaum will simply ensure the proliferation of His good news to reach up to the ends of the world - to Jerusalem, to Rome and beyond. The important thing is to be at the crossroads and to saw the good news, just like the sawer sawing the mustard seed leaving the Divine Providence to do the nurturing (Mt 13/31-32).

Jesus’ Capernaum strategy shall be the style of missionaries into this new networked continent of digital environment. The important thing is to be there at the crossroads, doing the right things, influencing its immediate and accessible surroundings. The rest will be taken care of by the Divine Providence, as happened throughout the history in commissioning new missions for every newly “discovered” continents and islands.

This could also be the new Areopagy of St Paul, where we need to re-interpret the “Unknown Gods” remain latent in the information explosion and to manifest the real goodness to the netizens of this continent. As always in the past, the cloud of Elijah – Mother Mary - shall guide our ways to manoeuvre carefully through these uncharted territories to produce a fertile land for the kingdom of God.  

[2] Bishop Anthony Fisher (Parramatta Diocese, Sydney, Australia) on his Facebook wall on 25th January.

PS: This is the first draft attempt, in producing a fully fledged "Theology of Internet" and related "Theology of Social Networking" and "Theology of Computing"

Jaison Mulerikkal CMI
February 2013

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