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RELIGION: Good Friday - Viernes Santo

Today is Good Friday, Viernes Santo, and thereby hangs a tale, a tale which has changed the world. Whatever we think of its veracity, it is the hinge of Western civilization. This is becoming more and more recognized. Serious Jewish historians now depict David as a cruel individual, without the compassion which Christ made central. From being an oddity, Jews for Jesus is now well established. At the other extreme of the spectrum, people used to ask if the Mormons were Christian. Now that Church is stressing the centrality of Jesus. This, I repeat, has little to do with the veracity of the Christ story. I have my own ideas, but I will not bore you with them.

Thanks primarily to SCOLA, we have been able to watch Good Friday ceremonies around the world. Europe has been largely de-Christianized, and even the Vatican ceremony was not very emotional. Strangely, the Passion story gripped Spaniards, and even more Spanish Americans, even though polls show that its importance is declining. There have been traditional ceremonies in the old cities of Spain , but it is Mexico that they have been most dramatic.

Televisa has been running a series of relevant programs. One showed American students on Spring break (Mexicans used the American term) doing their thing at Mexican resort beaches, a poor advertisement for our best and brightest" and for this country. Then came a series on young white Mexicans, obviously not poor, doing the same, only worse. Then came an account of poor Mexicans celebrating in a pulquería., drowning their misery in pulque. Finally there was a splendid tour of Good Friday ceremonies in major old Mexican cities. One of the most impressive is in the poor Mexico City district of Ixtalapam. The devotion was evident, with penitentes drawing blood with their self-flagellation. In the Philippines actual crucifixions take place south of Manila, even though the Church has forbidden them. The bloody spectacle has become a tourist attraction, telling us something about tourism.

The deep explanation is that in the history of civilization, emotion has largely been replaced with calculation, the mainspring of modern life. Go to an American airport, and people are usually in a foul mood. I shall never forget a scene at the Quito airport, where a group of simple Indians were saying farewell to one who was leaving. They were so sad that they were all crying. I felt like crying too.

A calculating society without emotion, especially without the deep compassion (not the political kind) embodied in the Good Friday story, may not survive. I fear that the whole of modern "civilization" will collapse. I hope I am wrong.

Ronald Hilton - 4/13/01