Given the rise, at least within the once-popular press, of the mantra of neo-atheism and secular fundamentalism, the Mediterranean remains a refreshing option for those of us who, to use the terminology of the newly fashionable, still believe in "fairy tales."
It is easy enough, after all, to dismiss the Christian story in such vulgar and casual terms from the comfort of a fashionable latte salon in Toronto or the newly pretentious cappuccino corridors of Calgary. It is quite another to stand just outside the forum in Rome and view the prison in which the likes of the apostles Paul and Peter were imprisoned. Or to gaze from the Acropolis in Athens at Mars Hill, where Paul evangelized or the grand theatre where his message to the Ephesians was proving so persuasive the silversmiths ran him out. The list goes on; real people, real history.
People who live near the sites where Christ's evangelizing disciples told His story and paid the price by, in almost all cases, dying tortuous deaths without flinching from it, do not put Christian history casually into the category of "fairy tales." This is the domain of modern pseudo intellectuals who eschew rational debate by—based on no evidence whatsoever—insisting the entire story was simply "made up" (the faith that it takes to believe in a conspiracy of this size and complexity is breathtaking). In contrast, whether they embrace Christianity, Islam, or any faith at all, those who live among the physical evidence do not doubt for a second that Jesus and his followers walked this earth so effectively that the Romans and others amused themselves by butchering those who embraced their truth by the thousands for generations. And still, the faith thrived, almost as if there was some truth so profound within its core that eventually even those who sought to eradicate it found its pull irresistible. Those disciples, those converts, those first generations were there/here just as certainly as were Augustus, Julius and Hadrian.
I can accept that people may, on an intellectual level, have difficulty embracing the resurrection. One can understand how some note the similarities between pagan and Christian cultural traditions and raise their eyebrows at the political structures of religious institutions and passionately debate meaning and theological interpretation. What boggles the mind is the refusal to accept some fundamental historical truths. One may choose to believe that those who shared the company of Jesus suffered some form of group psychosis that, as a small group, they were able to spread like a virus. But whatever one's doubts about the verity of their inspiration there is no doubt that they saw what they saw and were so overwhelmed and inspired by it that they travelled the known world to tell their story. Furthermore, they did so in such a believable fashion that they—and hundreds of thousands of others—died rather than abandon their mission or their beliefs.
Perhaps this is North America's great handicap. Its history is brief, its cities are too often built on commerce alone, with cathedrals, temples, synagogues, and mosques sprinkled here and there and, increasingly, pushed into industrial parks on the physical and cultural fringes of our aesthetic where they lay unseen and unheard, stripped by commercial hubris of the presence needed to nudge the modern intellect and inspire its spirit.
Buried, hidden, the truth is easy to avoid, easier to deny.