Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shrouded in Nonsense

The Full Shroud
OK, just five days after I declared my intention to "throttle back," I picked up a USA Today and it set me off. I can't help myself. I have to respond to this article: "Shroud of Turn is Real Enough," by David Farley in the "On Religion" opinion forum that appears there every Monday.

I have no idea what credentials allowed Mr. Farley to write this article except that he has apparently written a book on church relics, but the theme of the piece is that the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is -- and should be -- irrelevant, particularly to the religious people who revere it.

"One thing," says Mr. Farley, "that's rarely taken into consideration is that scientific tests don't matter. Lambast the faithful for this antiquated form of worship ... It's an exercise in futility."

Listen, I have no idea if the shroud is authentic or not -- and I won't even attempt to tackle that subject here -- but this is the kind of thinking that really fires me up. Since when should the truth of anything, especially anything related to church history and the reliability of what we claim to believe, "not matter"?

This mindset plays right into the hands of those who dismiss religious belief as being a purely subjective epistemological game we play that has no connection to the real world we live in. Unfortunately, this view is held both by critics of religion and by religious folks themselves. Too many of us have grown to accept this bifurcation that either winks and nods at religious ideas in an effort to humor the silly religious believers, or actually believes it to be a sign of our own pious spirituality. Some actually wear this distinction as a badge of honor.

Mr. Farley goes on: "If they accept the shroud as the real deal, then, in their minds, in their hearts, in their conceptions of heaven and the afterlife, it is the real thing. They will pray in front of it and it will give them happiness and relief ... And isn't that what we all want, for ourselves and for each other?"

No, Mr. Farley, it isn't. What I really want is the truth.

I do not believe Christianity because it makes me feel better about myself. Frankly, if you really understand Christianity, the central point of it is that we should feel worse about ourselves than we do. We are meant to realize that our natural state is one of rebellion -- a rebellion that we cannot put down by ourselves. Someone has done that for us -- the God-man whose image some claim to see on that shroud.

Let me put it this way. I don't think it could ever be "proven" either way but, if the Shroud of Turin is for real, that would be a fascinating, earth-shattering fact. It would be really cool. But I wouldn't "pray in front of it" and it wouldn't alter my conceptions of heaven and the afterlife. I get those from the Biblical text.

Conversely, if the Shroud of Turin is a fake, it wouldn't surprise me in the least because it wouldn't be the first, or the last, time some charlatan had tried to pull off such a scam. That said, I would be the first to shout from the mountaintops that it is a fraud -- and I would still go right on believing that Christianity is true for a host of substantial reasons.

To suggest that religious people just "pretend" that such a thing is real regardless of the evidence is to suggest that truth and reality have no bearing on our faith. That is a faith I want no part of.

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