Cyberspace as the New Areopagus?
In Redemptoris Missio no. 37, John Paul II referred to media as “the first Areopagus of the modern age.” Historically, Areopagus pertains to a place in Acropolis, Athens where the council of elders used to meet.7 By the time of St. Paul when he was publicly proclaiming about Jesus (Acts 17:22-34), Areopagus had developed to be the cultural center of the learned people of Athens—an influential and powerful council that resolved matters of the criminal courts, law, philosophy and politics. In Acts 17:21 we read “Now all the Atheneans as well as the foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing something new.” The council invited Paul to explain what they called his “strange ideas.” Paul made a speech to them and converted some of them including a member of the Court of the Areopagus.
Areopagus, therefore, can symbolize a place of encounter and transformation. Cyberspace is the new Areopagus where like Paul, we too can proclaim the good news or be transformed in our encounter with an “other.” Jim McDonnell notes that in most of the Church documents on communications from 1970 to 2005, the focus had been on communications media as simply a tool or means of evangelization.8 Later Church documents, however, would begin speaking of the new media as digital space or the digital arena or the web “as an ambience to inhabit.”9 The Areopagus, thus, seems to be a good analogy for cyberspace as a site of cultural transformation.10 Mc Donnell cautions, however, that the analogy with Areopagus, which represents a forum for ideas, is limited in the sense that it does not capture the reality that cyberspace is also a market place, that is, conditioned by market forces and where news are transmitted for profit.