The Prince of Peace is officially too violent for Facebook. According to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the tech giant rejected an advertisement for its online degree program in theology, catechetics, and evangelization. The campaign included an image of the San Damiano Cross, a twelfth century rood cross before which St. Francis of Assisi prayed when he had a mystical vision in which the Icon of Christ Crucified instructed him, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” The university’s social media administrator received a rejection notice explaining that the image contained “shocking, sensational, or excessively violent content.” Perhaps Christians should count their blessings that Facebook is not yet flagging depictions of Christ reigning from his cruciform throne as “fake news.”
In Facebook’s defense, the Crucifixion was indeed shocking, sensational, and excessively violent: He was arrested, flogged, condemned, made to carry his own cross, brought to the “Place of the Skull,” nailed, raised, fed gall, and pierced through the side with a sword. In the university’s defense, our civilization once considered the Crucifixion and Resurrection to be the most important event in the history of the world. Now one of the most successful enterprises in the history of that civilization deems it too sensational for public consumption.
The stand-up comedian-turned-pop philosopher George Carlin observed in 2005, “When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley.” Jonah Goldberg returned to this theme on the cover of his 2008 bestseller Liberal Fascism, which depicts a Smiley face sporting a Hitler mustache.
The new wave of censorship marks a distinct policy shift for Facebook, which as recently as 2016 defended the free exchange of ideas in a memo to employees. “Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies,” explained Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth. “Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.” In other words, we must defend liberty even though it entails risk. Freedom isn’t free, but it’s worth the cost of responsibility.
Last Wednesday, on Holy Wednesday, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg disavowed that observation. He told Buzzfeed, “This [memo] was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly.” John Adams noted in 1798 that the peculiarly American liberties enshrined in our Constitution are “made only for a moral and religious people…[and are] wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” A generation now looks upon Christ Crucified and demands that he smile. Perhaps Zuckerberg is right.