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Leader comment: Real life, true cross

28 March 2024

WE DOUBT it will last, but the admission by the Princess of Wales last week that she was being treated for cancer quieted critics and prompted sober reflections on fame and mortality. Previous decades taught that a title did not bring with it an entitlement to a happy and fulfilled marriage. Now the public is being shown that the royal family is not immune to serious illness. After several series of The Crown, perhaps it was necessary to remind “viewers” that these are not just dramatis personae, but real flesh and blood. We can imagine reasons that the Princess wished to avoid contributing to the large body of celebrity-illness videos and interviews. She should be reassured that, with only a few unpleasant exceptions, people’s curiosity stems from a concern for individuals whom they feel that they know, just as they would wish for information about a sick relative. Talk of cancer, however positive the prognosis, invariably introduces an element of seriousness into public discourse.

And so it should. The blurring of reality and fantasy, fact and fiction, is a trend that requires the utmost vigilance. Of course, advertisers have tempted the public with attractively presented lifestyles for years. Buy this product, and be like these beautiful models. What is new is that online software, now aided by artificial intelligence, allows ordinary people to construct their own fantasy worlds, so that living becomes a performing art, shared with online likers who, in turn, perform the role of friends. These blurred lives — not exactly real, not exactly artificial — do not, however, feature cannulas and catheters; and so, when illness strikes, many people are cruelly unprepared.

In contrast, followers of Christ are not exactly short of reminders of mortality. No church this weekend will take advantage of the “playful update” of the cross, however keen Nike has been to “unite and inspire” people using bars of blue, red, and episcopal purple in the new England kit. And those captivated by the search for the true cross need look no further than the wall of their nearest church. For any cross or crucifix has a truth about it that no fiction can emulate: God became human, and was killed. No colour palette or phone filter can spare believers from having to confront this truth and examine themselves in its light. “From on high hath the Lord sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them; he hath made me desolate and faint all the day. My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones” (Eric Milner-White’s selection from Lamentations). The message, so important for people to grasp, is that death cannot be avoided. But it can be defeated. Once people stop living like the immortals that they are not, they can respond to the Easter promise of a love that will see them through this life and into the next.

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