Monastic walls

Thank you, Mr. Turner.

He was my freshman high school history teacher. He emphasized ancient Greek and Roman history, and the world of medieval Europe.

His lessons stressed the pivotal role played by monasteries in the preservation and continuity of Western civilization. The truths of classical antiquity made it through the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, thanks to obscure clerics - men of learning, wielding the forces of light against the illiterate barbarians sacking Rome.

In trying to make sense of the Balkans today, I am often struck by the medievalism of the place. In our cover story (right), some of the voices of reason speak from the sanctuary of medieval monasteries - points of light where reconciliation can begin.

Almost everything that might have been known and preserved by those ancient monks laboring over handwritten manuscripts is now accessible online. With a few keystrokes on my computer, my den at home or cubicle at work becomes a sanctuary of learning.

The recent spate of hacker attacks on major Web sites is but a variation of barbarians at the gates of civilization. Only today, rather than Viking ship or Mongol pony, they make their raids over telephone lines or along the cable wires that connect TVs to the servers of the large Internet portals we traverse in cyberspace.

Cable TV and telephone companies want to link everyone to the Internet (and bill us monthly for their efforts). But just as automakers can't sell a car without seat belts, Internet providers must build the fire walls (the cyber-equivalent of monastic walls) around their service, so that cyberbarbarians do not "sack and pillage" the major Internet portals.

Somehow, I think Mr. Turner would like that analogy.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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