Stations of the Cross is an ancient ritual in which Jesus Christ’s last walk to his crucifixion is re-enacted. His sorrowful meeting with his mother, the moment when Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry his cross (if a Roman soldier failed to get his man to be crucified he himself would suffer that fate), the moment when Veronica wipes his face, his three falls, his being stripped of his clothes, being nailed and dying: all are remembered and in a sense re-experienced by those participating in this ritual as they visit each station which is usually depicted visually.
In Dick’s famous novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the religion of Mercerism, the main form of worship on Earth, has as its central ritual an ascent of a mountain by Wilbur Mercer and at whom in this walk of suffering stones are hurled. Those immersed in this ritual, via Empathy Boxes, share the suffering of Mercer to the extent that sometimes they come out of their box experience with injuries as though stones had been actually thrown at them. To what extent Dick was influenced by the ritual of the Stations of the Cross, I am yet to determine but the connexion to me is clear.
One of the key themes of this great work is empathy and the extent to which it can or should be extended to animals and androids. Christ’s brutal death invites us to ponder the death penalty, human violence and the ways in which 2000 years on torture is still a reality and anit-empathic anti-human behaviour such as rape and violence and murder have not been quelled. But to meditate on Jesus’ sufferings and to find the key to greater empathy for those who suffer is worthwhile. Greater anger at those who make brutality their commerce and the danger they put themselves in of condemning their souls to hell for eternity is also worth meditating on, however unfashionable the idea of hell is.
In the Way of the Cross we also encounter petty brutalities that we are not so far from in daily life: the mocking of Jesus, the spitting at him, the wagging of heads and finger and the jokey putting out of legs to trip him up.