The property we stayed in during our time at Auriat was more than 250 years old.
Like the many other towns and villages we’d passed on the Massif Central, its history afforded the curious traveller, a glimpse of how much rural France has changed over recent centuries.
In the days before the industrial revolution and petrol age, places like this would have existed as rural, independent communities. Their narrow, concentric roads leading towards a church and market square, likely serving as the town’s vena cava; pumping the necessities for survival into a small but treasured commerce centre and place of worship.
Yet, as I stood before Auriat’s old, empty church on a quiet Sunday morning, and as the ringtone from my high tech, sophisticated smarty-pants-phone, alerted me to a message from the other side of the world, I couldn’t help but wonder how time and technology had effected not only small town France, but all of our lives.
Before me, stood the old world of bricks and mortar, church bells, confession rooms, and hymn books.
Behind (in my backpack), a new world was emerging. One of electronics, high speed communication, broadband and instant connection…
And it was at that moment, an idea passed through my inquiring mind: what if ringtones have become our new church bells? Calling ye faithful to their phone of worship.
Is the device we carry with us and check religiously – first thing in the morning and last thing at night – becoming our next, dare I say it, God?
Instead of gaining comfort from Pastors, Vicars or whoever else we choose for divine direction, are we now entering the age of YouTube, T.E.D or any other number of internet websites for our providential lift? Not just once a week, but anytime. Day or night. 24/7.
Is preaching from the pulpit soon to be replaced by the advent of the almighty search engine; commanding such a worldwide congregation of followers, that we’re able to find out the answers to our ‘big questions’ now – without waiting until Sunday.
As for confession time – why take a one on one with a clergyman, when you can post anonymously or, heaven forbid, cut loose on Facebook and tell all your mates the juicy goss… “Forgive me friends, for I have sinned…”
In the dawn of today’s technological age, where more than ever we seem to be living in a switched on and connected world, are smartphones, tablets, and computers emerging as our new religion?
Or, in the fresh mountain air of rural France, was I just stuck in a traveller’s daydream?
Somewhere between an old church and a new phone…