Intellectual Sifting: Get Real – A Lesson for Shroud of Turin Studies
In May of this year, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic, wrote these blurbs, as part of a larger essay, in his Daily Dish blog. These few, extracted and collected, are something to think about as we struggle to understand the mystery of the Shroud of Turin. For me, they are keepers. They help to keep the ghosts of old catechism at bay. For those unfamiliar with Andrew Sullivan, he is British; lives and writes in the United States, mostly about politics; is somewhat conservative and is a very outspoken Roman Catholic.
. . . No modern Christian, it seems to me, can claim the literal inerrancy of the Bible without abandoning logos. No educated Christian today can deny that the scriptures we have – copies of translations of copies of copies of oral histories – are internally and collectively inconsistent, written by many authors, constructed in specific historical contexts, reflecting human biases, and supplemented by several other gospels that at the time claimed just as much authority as those gospels eventually selected by flawed men centuries later.
. . . There is no single authoritative text, written by one God, word for word true. There is a much more complicated series of writings designed by many men, doubtless under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that help us see some form of the figure Jesus through languages and texts and memories. I think the character and message of Jesus are searingly clear and distinctive even taking into account that daunting veil through which we are asked to see.
. . . So we are left in search of this Jesus with a fast-burning candle in a constantly receding cave where we know that at some point, the darkness will envelop us entirely. We will catch Him at times; He will elude us at others. We will have to listen to many words he may have spoken before we can each discern the words he may have meant; we will have to keep our eyes and ears open for science’s revelations about the world, while understanding that science is just one way of understanding the world and that poetry, history, and practical perspectives have things to tell us as well. The cathedral at Chartres; the long story of Christian debate and theology; the rituals and daily practices that help us stay trained to intuit the divine we cannot understand and the divine we do not always see in every face around us: these too tell us things that go beyond fact, archeology and hermeneutics.
Yes, this intellectual sifting is hard and troubling to faith; yes, it may end with more mystery than clarity. But if our faith is to be true, it must rest on something more than denial of reality. It must rest on being the greatest experience of reality.