Not Believing in the absence of evidence

imageI think Andrew Sullivan got it right when he wrote, “wouldn’t that lead to mere agnosticism?”  However, I think Jillette is right about not filling in the gaps with faith if he means blind faith.

Penn Jillette, responding to Piers Morgan’s on-air badgering, thinks the two positions are connected in their Socratic acknowledgement of human ignorance:

imageWhat makes me libertarian is what makes me an atheist — I don’t know. If I don’t know, I don’t believe. I don’t know exactly how we got here, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. We have some of the pieces of the puzzle and we’ll get more, but I’m not going to use faith to fill in the gaps. I’m not going to believe things that TV hosts state without proof. I’ll wait for real evidence and then I’ll believe.

And I don’t think anyone really knows how to help everyone. I don’t even know what’s best for me. Take my uncertainty about what’s best for me and multiply that by every combination of the over 300 million people in the United States and I have no idea what the government should do.

But wouldn’t that lead to mere agnosticism? Or the conservatism of doubt?

On Libertarianism And Atheism – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast

Gravure of the Shroud of Turin by Secondo Pia to be Part of Exhibit

imageFrom the Photograph Blog:

The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection is a new exhibition at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. More than 500 photographs by the masters of the medium will be on view Oct. 1, 2011 through Feb. 19, 2012. W.M. Hunt is a renowned curator and dealer who has been collecting photographs for 40 years.

. . .

The oldest object is a gravure of the Shroud of Turin by Secondo Pio (sic, Pia).

That is Rochester, New York.

Hey, It happens: Crazy Thinking on the Shroud of Turin

imageFrom, the website of about a dozen regional New Jersey newspapers:

On the phone, RoseAnn Salanitri sounds like a nice lady. But then you go her website called “Conservative News and Views.”

There you will find prominently displayed a novel she has written titled “The False Prophet.” The false prophet in question is the pope. He’s plotting to obtain the DNA of Christ from the Shroud of Turin so he can clone the Antichrist.

Salanitri is a former Catholic who converted to a form of fundamentalism in which it is safe to assert that Noah took baby dinosaurs on the ark. I asked her whether Catholics might get a bit upset at her portrayal of the pope.

“If that’s how you want to be offended, you could be offended,” Salanitri replied. She defended her novel as being in the tradition of the “Left Behind” series popular among evangelicals, one in which the pope also leads the faithful to worship the Antichrist.

Maybe she is nice. Just because we might disagree. . . baby dinosaurs, however.

Shroud of Turin Allusions


Back in 2004, someone noticed that Curt Schilling’s right sock was soaked with blood during the second game of the World Series. He had just undergone surgery to repair a ruptured tendon. Something was wrong. As television cameras zoomed in on the blood seeping through his sock, a sportscaster commented that it looked like the Shroud of Turin. And thousands upon thousands of baseball fans wondered what he was talking about.

Back then, journalists usually avoided allusions to the shroud for fear that their readers had never heard of the shroud. Or perhaps, it was, that the journalist had never heard of it. But these days we see allusions almost every day: Rick Perry has wrapped himself in the shroud, one reporter told us. A caddy did not. But would golfing fans have noticed if he had? Yesterday, a reporter wrote, “In a press release that I have scrutinized like the Shroud of Turin to make sure it is not a fake . . . .”

The Shroud is now very famous. It has taken five years for Ray Rogers’ theory about the carbon dating to gain widespread acceptance. It has taken even longer for skeptics to realize that they, like everyone else, can’t explain how the images were formed.  But in trying and looking very foolish they have provided good publicity. We must thank them when we meet them.

Allusion are good – well, almost always.

The picture is from a display in the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.

What Book Was Elvis Reading When He Died?

imageI was remiss in not reminding everyone that yesterday, August 16, was the Eastern Orthodox Feast Day of the Image of Edessa to commemorate the arrival of the cloth in Constantinople in A. D. 944.

But it is also the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley and as the story goes, he was reading a book about the shroud when he died. By some account, probably urban legend, he was clutching the book in the bathroom when he died.

What book? Does it matter?

According to the British Society for the Turin Shroud – Issue no. 52, Jan 2001 Part 2:

imageIt’s now official. Elvis Presley died reading a book about the Shroud. A biographical feature about Elvis in none other than the London Times of April 27 reported that he ‘collapsed in his bathroom on August 16, 1977, while reading a book about the Turin shroud. Body found by his new fiancée. The post mortem verdict was ‘cardiac arhythmia’.’ By one of those bizarre coincidences the date of Elvis’s death was none other than the Feast Day that the Eastern Orthodox Church accorded to the Image of Edessa, which is thought to have been one and the same as the Shroud.

Not yet determined is which book Elvis was reading, though from the 1977 date Robert Wilcox’s Shroud, which has just been re-issued, has to be the likeliest contender.

According to 30 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Elvis over at

Ever the ardent spiritualist, Elvis died reading one of his favorite books: The Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus by Frank Adams. The King had specifically requested it a few weeks earlier, having heard that it proved the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, said to be Jesus’ burial wrapping.

Father Nicholas, a Roman Catholic priest who blogs from London seems to confirm the posting from In an article called Five Catholic Facts About Elvis in Roman Miscellany he writes:

When Elvis died in his Graceland bathroom thirty years ago today, he is said to have been reading a book about the Holy Shroud of Turin – normally identified as A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus (1972) by Frank O. Adams, which argues that the Turin Shroud really is Our Lord’s Shroud. It has since become eagerly sought after by Elvis fans. Less impressive is the other book he was allegedly reading – Sex and Psychic Energy. Hmmmm, we better move quickly along.

Now just yesterday, reported that Elvis Presley Was Reading About Jesus Christ Just Moments Before He Died

imageAs the legend has it, Elvis said he was going to the restroom, and grabbed the book “A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus” by Edward Cayce. Elvis never emerged from there, and it was said that when his body was found, he was clutching the book to his chest. and WorldMonitorTV recently caught up with Larry Geller, Elvis Presley’s Stylist, at the Cuts 4 Critters Charity Event.

Larry told us that he was in fact the person who gave the book to Elvis to read, the very same day he passed, August 16th 1977. It was just a few hours later that he would enter the restroom with the book about the Christian Savior.

According to Amazon, the “A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus” was written by Frank Adams and the cover shows Cayce as the author of the Forward. Any clues?

Melissopalynology: Pollen Evidence

imageAccording to Food Safety News:

A third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. A Food Safety News investigation has documented that millions of pounds of honey banned as unsafe in dozens of countries are being imported and sold here in record quantities.

Now for how they know this, maybe:

A laboratory in Bremen, Germany, founded a half century ago by German beekeepers, can accurately scan honey samples for flower pollen.   There is only one expert in the U.S. known to analyze pollen in honey to determine where it was actually grown and that would be at the Palygnology Laboratory at Texas A&M.  The lab was created and is run by Vaughn Bryant, a forensic palynologist and Professor of Anthropology.

Melissopalynology, or pollen analysis, has been used for years by geologists seeking evidence of ancient coastal areas – often sites of major oil deposits. Scientists tracing the origins of the Shroud of Turin have identified 61 different pollens on the cloth that could only have come from around Jerusalem.

Forensic scientists have used pollen identification to help solve murder, rapes, kidnapping and at least one espionage case. Now, at least in the labs in Texas and Germany, melissopalynologists use pollen to determine – with great accuracy – the geographic area where the bees foraged for the nectar.

Remember, the pollen news remains controversial. But it is nice to see the Shroud getting more and more attention from politics to health. Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves

New Basic Article on the Shroud of Turin Controversy

imageShort, effective article on the Shroud by J. Russell Vicker at The Christian Caller, a blog from the Middle Fayette Church of Christ in Fayetteville, Georgia.

The enigma of the shroud continues. It remains either the most significant archaeological artifact ever found or one of the most ingenious forgeries in history.

Read it here: The Shroud of Turin Controversy « The Christian Caller

More on the Shroud of Turin Relic on eBay

A reader writes:

imageRegarding the TS "relic" currently offered on eBay, if, as advertised, the display dates to ca. 1733, and is protected by an unbroken "paper seal" affixed by the private secretary of Louis XV, who died in 1774, how can it contain a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux, who died in 1897? Even should the original display be authentic, a surely questionable proposition in any event, it would seem to me that its paper seal had to have been broken subsequent to 1897, thereby permitting a substitution for the original object, whatever that may have been. Caveat emptor—let the buyer beware!

Good point.

Wrapping in the Shroud 2: He’s already wrapping himself in the shroud of Turin, ready to battle the Commies in Washington

A reader writes:

imageForget about Stricker’s caddy.  T. W. Albert at CREAM has Texas Governor Rick Perry wrapping himself in the Shroud. “This man has President of the United States written all over him. He’s already wrapping himself in the shroud of Turin, ready to battle the Commies in Washington for the good of us all. Jobs. Texas. God. Guns. Potato Salad. Rick Perry. 2012.” (Emphasis mine)

Full article: Does Michelle Bachmann have a Chance? « Cash Rules Everything Around Me. The picture here is Perry, not Albert.

His caddie could hold a press conference wearing the Shroud of Turin and nobody would show up.

imageDavid Whitley in Sporting News on PGA golfer Steve Stricker’s lack of fame and notice despite always being on the leaderboard, setting records and beating Tiger: 

His caddie could hold a press conference wearing the Shroud of Turin and nobody would show up.

PGA Championship: Low-key Steve Stricker now shares low-round record – – Sporting News

Mark Oxley on the Piece of the Shroud of Turin on eBay

imageMark Oxley, author of the excellent book, The Challenge of the Shroud, has provided a good perspective on the earlier posting, Piece of the Shroud of Turin for $4,250 on eBay:

There are two questions that require answers:

Is the item on sale genuine in the sense that it was originally the property of a close confidante of King Louis XV of France? I have registered on eBay and sent a message to the seller requesting further information on the history of the item.

If the item was indeed the property of a member of the French court, I believe we can assume that the owner believed that the relics in it, including the purported Shroud relic, were genuine. We should therefore keep an open mind and accept that there is a possibility that his belief was correct. If, as the seller suggests, the item may have been a gift from the King, then the likelihood of the relics being genuine becomes much higher.
The purported Shroud relic is described as "Sainte Suaire". While there were indeed a number of shroud copies in France, I would think that only one item would be definitively described as "Holy Shroud". Other researchers may wish to comment on that.

With regard to price, I have no doubt the seller has set the price on the basis of what he believes the historical and artistic value of the item to be. The relics themselves would have little or no monetary value. While we as Shroud researchers might consider a piece of the Shroud to have great value, I would suggest that a dealer in 18th century art might take a very different and less exalted view.

Mark Oxley

Thanks, Mark.

More educated tend to be more religious according to new study. Are you surprised?

imageJim Kavanagh at CNN has this. I’m not surprised. Some “Brights” will be. Study: More educated tend to be more religious, by some measures – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs

People tend to become less religious as they become more educated, right? Not necessarily, according to a new study.

After analyzing data from a large national survey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel found that people actually tend to become more religious – by some definitions, at least – as they further their education.

. . .

Schwadel found that with each additional year of education:

  • The likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%.
  • The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%.
  • The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist – increased by 13%.

Ed Buckner, former president of American Atheists, doesn’t agree. He thinks many of the more educated Atheists are at church:

They go for all sorts of reasons. I don’t mean that they’re all frauds and deceptive, (but) they go for social reasons or (because) that’s what’s expected of them by their families or their peers. Sometimes they go so they can sell more insurance.

The best and the brightest – the most educated – have found out how to sell auto insurance to Grandma. Way to go, Ed. Brilliant observation.

More on "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus"

imageOne of the better articles on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Exhibits, "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" is by Robin Rice in Citypaper:

To create the Jesus that is now so familiar, Rembrandt (1606-1669) rewrote rigid conventions. Early in his career, the artist had adhered to the Christian tradition reflecting an allegedly contemporaneous written description (Jesus had hair the color of a "ripe hazelnut") and a couple of miraculous imprints of Jesus’ face on pieces of cloth. (The Shroud of Turin, though, was not well-documented in Rembrandt’s day.) For Christians familiar with the Old Testament, there has always been something problematic about "graven images" of God, but when the image was not created by the human hand, it seemed "true" and authoritative. In canonical 17th-century imagery, Jesus was a handsome blond fellow, a bit like the classical god Apollo (a link that goes back to the Catacombs, by the way).

I’m not sure I’d say “always” problematic. But at times. Re-View | Philadelphia City Paper | 08/11/2011

Buy the Shroud of Turin and Support the Ordination of Women. It’s a game called Vatican Wars.

imageFrom the Religious News Service (RNS) via Huffington Post:

[On Facebook,] Once a week in the game Vatican Wars, an impassioned struggle begins anew to choose a virtual pontiff who could change or reaffirm some of the Roman Catholic Church’s longest established — and most controversial — teachings.

The online papal electors are divided between the socially conservative "Templars" and the liberal "Crusaders." Separating them are five hot-button issues: abortion, artificial birth control, same-sex marriage, women’s ordination and married priests.

. . . .

Despite some instances during the game’s pilot run of players bullying their ideological opponents, Ehrlich insisted that Vatican Wars creates opportunities for mutually respectful dialogue, as well as a deeper knowledge of Catholicism.

All players start as priests and earn "stature points" by performing tasks that include prayer, celebrating Mass and counseling their flocks. Becoming a bishop requires, among other things, speaking out about clerical sex abuse.

Players buy virtual currency, which they spend on virtual goods including vestments, religious texts and relics such as the Shroud of Turin. They can also buy churches, which become sources of additional income.

‘Vatican Wars’: Facebook Game Tackles Controversial Catholic Issues

Piece of the Shroud of Turin for $4,250 on eBay

For sale at eBay: Christian Relic Holy Shroud of Turin Jesus Christ Saint | eBay

imageAt the center of this relic is a piece from The Shroud of Turin, the most studied artifact in history and specifically is associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial.   The shroud is rectangular, measuring approximately 4.4 × 1.1m (14.3 × 3.7 ft). The cloth is woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill composed of flax fibrils. Its most distinctive characteristic is the faint, yellowish image of a front and back view of a naked man with his hands folded across his groin. The two views are aligned along the midplane of the body and point in opposite directions. The front and back views of the head nearly meet at the middle of the cloth. Religious beliefs about the burial cloths of Jesus have existed for centuries. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke state that Joseph of Amrimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a piece of linen cloth and placed it in a new tomb. The Gospel of John refers to strips of linen used by Joseph of Arimathea and John 20:6-7 states that Apostle Peter found multiple pieces of burial cloth after the tomb was found open, strips of linen cloth for the body and a separate cloth for the head.

imageThink it is real? It is possible. The Duchess Margaret of Savoy, once owner of the shroud, stipulated in her will , drawn up in 1508, that she wished to leave a portion of the Shroud to her church of Brou at Bourg-en-Bresse. Although there is no record that this was ever done, there is significant speculation that this was the piece replaced with French reweaving in the area from which the carbon dating samples were taken.

Rembrandt Understanding Christ

Yannick Clément wrote a great comment. But first, a quote from Thomas Cahill:

imageBut it is the face in Secondo Pia’s negative [of the Shroud of Turin] that is the most arresting: humane, majestic, beyond conflict. Only a Rembrandt or an early icon artist could have come close to catching such an expression. – Thomas Cahill, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”

Yannick’s comment:

Rembrandt understand something important about the mystery of Christ and it is the Incarnation of God ! And he had enough wisdom and talent to translate this in his paintings. That’s why they are so different than what was done before him.

And for me, the Shroud is a bit like a painting of Rembrandt, in the sense that he played an important role in my life for a better understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. The data that were gathered by the scientists (mainly by the STURP and some more researchers after that) proved that it was a REAL human being who was enveloped in this cloth ! Yes, a real human like you, me and anyone else !

imageThe data (from the blood particularly) tell us that this man had normal human blood like everyone of us with a probable AB blood type. Some non authorised DNA researches (made in France by a specialist) even showed that this man had chromosome X AND Y in his blood, just like us ! I know this last data isn’t official but it MAKES SENSE ! Also, the data showed that this man really suffered and really died like everybody would if he was scourged and crucified. The data even tell us that the most probable cause of death was normal in the context of a crucifixion : Asphyxia. And I would go as far as saying that the body of this man even experiment the first few stages of decaying like every corpse would (if we believe, like I do, that the Maillard reaction had something to do with the body image formation). So, this man lived and died just like every human being on this planet ! There’s nothing special about those data. It could be the body and blood of anyone except for the fact that the Shroud shows EVERY marks (and some more) of the Passion of Christ reported in the Gospels !

So, if the Shroud is genuine (like I believe it is), here’s one of the most important message he can tell us : Jesus was human as much as he was God and as much as any person ! A REAL HUMAN. Not a God with just an appearance of humanity. It’s not a banal statement. I think this reality is too often forgotten. Many people tend to only look at the divinity of Chris and it’s even true when they look at the Shroud. In fact, when it comes to the Shroud, I’ve not seen too many talks about this idea of the Incarnation. I would love to see some Shroud experts put this idea forward in the future when they do lectures on the Shroud. Almost every expert who talk about the Shroud, talks about the Passion, the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and rarely (almost never) about the Incarnation of God.

For me, it was also like that when I first got interested by it. But now, when I look at the Shroud, I see the humanity of Jesus FIRST ! I see a real man who really suffered and who really died. IT WASN’T A JOKE ! Only after, I start meditate about the Passion, the death and the resurrection. And I think it would be a very good thing if every Christian could also reflect about the MYSTERY of the Incarnation of God when he looks at the Shroud.

It’s true, the more I look at the Shroud and the more I see the HUMANITY of Jesus. That’s a very important part of the mystery of Jesus-Christ (as much important as the Passion, death and resurrection in my opinion) and we should reflect more about this, because it can help us understand better who God really is ! For me, the Shroud help understand that God is Love ! Yes, God so love the world that he accept to take a complete part of our fragile human nature. It’s a great SIGN of the immense LOVE of God for us ! He is WITH US into our humanity !

We tend to forget it but Jesus was a REAL human being like us ! The Shroud, with his awesome body image and all the blood stains on it, can really help us to understand this part of the MYSTERY… I really think so !!! By the way, the Sudarium of Oviedo is another important relic that also can help us understand better the humanity of Jesus-Christ, especially when the data concerning it are put in relation with those of the Shroud.

Speaking of Debates and Speaking of Richard Dawkins

Reza Aslan has been talking about Dawkins, which we just excerpted, and Rich Savage wants to debate Shroud of Turin detractors.

This video is priceless.

Debate Blog Proposal

imageRich Savage wants to debate with Shroud of Turin detractors. He has been in communications with me. He has done a lot of work. He wants our help. He has sent this letter to me and asked me to post it:

Triggered by the article entitled, “An invitation to discuss the Shroud of Turin…,” back on 7/26, I had asked Dan to be our spokesperson in the scheme introduced below. I hadn’t really expected that he would have the time — but as we say in NY regarding our lottery, “Hey, you never know!”

Unfortunately, I was right — however, Dan did offer to help us set up a blog for this purpose.

1. Here’s the idea

1.1. It would be very good to convince ‘the world’ that the Shroud probably is authentic.

1.2. (It would also be very good to show up our notable detractors very publically – generally, they deserve it.)

1.3. To do this, however, we can’t just present our side to the public, then their side — and then, why their side is wrong. We need to let them present their own side to the public, and tell the public why they think that our side is wrong. We would then need to respond to their claims, and they to ours. Etc. Etc.

1.4. In other words, we need to have public debate with these detractors.

1.5. But then, we also need to win.

1.6. But then, if we can have actually effective public debate with these guys, winning should be a cinch…

1.7. But then, public debate is almost never effective (“sideshow” is the word that comes to mind)!

1.8. But then, I’ve been studying this human problem with effective debate for over 40 years (off and on) and now think that I know how to fix it.

1.9. As an introduction, my alleged solution is

1.9.1. written,

1.9.2. real-time,

1.9.3. on-line,

1.9.4. systematic and,

1.9.5. Unhurried (patience might be the critical virtue here).

1.10.And further, I think that we followers of Dan’s blog have more than enough relevant knowledge and talent to easily win any actually effective debate with any of Dan’s detractors…

2. So,

2.1. If anyone is interested, please let me know. My email address is, my stage name is Jabba, and my real name is Richard Savage (“Rich” is fine.)

2.2. If those interested end up thinking we can do it, we will give it a try.

2.3. We’ll have to work out the teamwork as we go…

2.4. If we get that far, we’ll need an official spokesperson, and I’d be happy to do that. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else could do it better – so, if anyone else becomes interested in that job, just let me know and we can settle this democratically…

2.5. Also, we’ll need a website or blog. I do have a website, but then: it is singularly unpopular; I’m a total klutz at running it; and I’m not sure that my web program (Dream Weaver – CS4) is up to the task anyway. But again, Dan has offered to help us with a blog…

2.6. Left to me, we’d first approach Skinny and Bearded with our proposal (though, there might be much better targets).

2.7. If they’re not interested, we could try CSI, or Joe Nickell specifically — or, whomever.

2.8. To see my model for “actually effective debate,” please go to

2.9. To see that I’m not just a kook, you can check out my very brief autobiography at

2.10.But then, for some reason, I really do like numbers…

Rich Savage (Jabba)

I will help Rich set up a debate blog. That is easy. I think the hard part, perhaps the near-impossible part, will be to find a worthy opponent who will stick around. I tried one time with a zealous Dawkins fan who expressed interest in debating about the shroud. He quit as soon as I put up some facts. The subject was boring, he said. There was my attempt to engage Kyle Hill. Kyle is smart and it would make for an interesting debate opponent and perhaps Rich can get him to debate. As for the people who do the YouTube “show,” Skinny and Bearded, who challenged me, they seem to have no interest in doing research. I can’t imagine debating them.

If you wish to join Rich or help him, please contact him. You can do so through his email address or by comment here. As I said, I will help Rich get going. I will help him set it up. No need for Dream Weaver or any software.

The Evangelical New Atheist Movement

Over at Science-Based Life there is an argument going on between Kyle Hill, the blog’s author and someone who calls himself themysteryof. It started out as a posting about the Shroud of Turin and I jumped in. I have since walked away. The posting has deteriorated into a debate between two fundamentalists: a Skeptic and a Christian.

imageThis is a long quote (so much so that it is probably unfair) from an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post by Reza Aslan, a columnist at the Daily Beast. It seemed to fit:

There is, as has often been noted, something peculiarly evangelistic about what has been termed the new atheist movement. The new atheists have their own special interest groups and ad campaigns. They even have their own holiday (International Blasphemy Day). It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism–an atheist fundamentalism. The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name). Neither is it the scientific agnosticism of Thomas Huxley or Herbert Spencer. This is, rather, a caricature of atheism: shallow scholarship mixed with evangelical fervor.

The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations. Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism–and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism–is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute. After all, religion is as much a discipline to be studied as it is an expression of faith. (I do not write books about, say, biology because I am not a biologist.) Religion, however it is defined, is occupied with transcendence–by which I mean that which lies beyond the manifest world and towards which consciousness is oriented–and transcendence necessarily encompasses certain theological connotations with which one ought to be familiar to properly critique belief in a god. One should, for example, be cognizant of how the human experience of transcendence has been expressed in the material world through historically dependent symbols and metaphors. One should be able to recognize the diverse ways in which the universal recognition of human contingency, finitude, and material existence has become formalized through ecclesiastical institutions and dogmatic formulae. One should become acquainted with the unmistakable patterns–call them modalities (Rudolph Otto), paradigmatic gestures (Mircea Eliade), spiritual dimensions (Ninian Smart), or archetypes (Carl Jung)–that recur in the myths and rituals of nearly all religious traditions and throughout all of recorded history. Even if one insists on reducing humanity’s enduring religious impulse to causal definitions, dismissing the experience of transcendence as nothing more than an anthropological (e.g. Edward Tylor or Max Muller), sociological (think Robertson Smith or Emile Durkheim), or even psychological phenomenon (ala Sigmund Freud, who attempted to locate the religious impulse deep within the individual psyche, as though it were a mental disorder that could be cured through proper psychoanalysis), one should at the very least have a sense of what the term "God" means.

Of course, positing the existence of a transcendent reality that exists beyond our material experiences does not necessarily imply the existence of a Divine Personality, or God. (In some ways, the idea of God is merely the personal affirmation of the transcendent experience.) But what if did? What if one viewed the recurring patterns of religious phenomena that so many diverse cultures and civilizations–separated by immeasurable time and distance–seem to have shared as evidence of an active, engaging, transcendent presence (what Muslims call the Universal Spirit, Hindus call prana, Taoists call chi’i, Jews call ruah, and Christians call the Holy Spirit) that underlies creation, that, in fact, impels creation? Is such a possibility any more hypothetical than say, superstring theory or the notion of the multiverse? Then again, maybe the patterns of religious phenomenon signify nothing. Maybe they indicate little more than a common desire among all peoples to answer similar questions of "Ultimate Concern," to use the Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich’s famous phrase. The point is that, like any researcher or critic, like any scientist, I’m open to possibilities.

The new atheists will say that religion is not just wrong but evil, as if religion has a monopoly on radicalism and violence; if one is to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion’s name then one must also blame nationalism for fascism, socialism for Nazism, communism for Stalinism, even science for eugenics. The new atheists claim that people of faith are not just misguided but stupid–the stock response of any absolutist. Some argue that the religious impulse is merely the result of chemicals in the brain, as though understanding the mechanism by which the body experiences transcendence delegitimizes the experience (every experience is the result of chemical reactions). What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims–be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth–are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science. That may not be a slogan easily pasted on the side of a bus. But it is the hallmark of the scientific intellect.

Guest Voices: Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett: Evangelical atheists? – On Faith at

‪Just in case you missed it

Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan over at the Daily Beast calls it the best prayer ever. Pastor Joe Nelms is a Baptist pastor in Tennessee and obviously a NASCAR fan. This video has had over 2 million views. If he had just mentioned the Shroud of Turin . . .


‪Best prayer EVER! Pastor Joe Nelms – Nascar Nationwide – Nashville, TN‬‏ – YouTube

Faces of Jesus on Flickr

imageAnnieCee, by way of a comment, lets us know about her wonderful collection: Face of Jesus – a set on Flickr. On her Flickr page she writes:

We know that Jesus was Jewish and most likely had olive skin tone and dark hair with brown eyes. He probably had a deep tan from being outside a lot. But each race of people depicts Jesus with their own characteristics, which I think is wonderful. I love the variety and I would like to find more ethnic variations or interpretations of what Jesus looked like.

So far, 186 images. Thanks. That is great.

Confusion About Images of Jesus

imageIt is interesting to note Edward J. Sozanski’s point of view Philadelphia Inquirer. Was mythological the right word to use? Would biblical and traditional sources not have been more accurate, in the first paragraph? Later he uses “traditional” sources, by which he means specifically the Veil of Veronica and the Mandylion. Which of the many textile images does he mean? Those that he probably means were almost certainly not sources. And he tells us they can’t withstand forensic scrutiny. What scrutiny is that? There has been some, of course, but it is not all that comprehensive or that conclusive. He writes:

. . . the point, after all, is Rembrandt’s idea to represent Jesus not as a divine presence derived primarily from mythological sources, but as a flesh-and-blood person.

Many paintings in the show that present Jesus this way, including two other Rembrandt-studio copies of lost pictures, are consistent in this regard. The issue then becomes, is absolute naturalism, in the person of a living model, a plausible way to portray a man believed by Christians to be the Son of God, given that no one knows what Jesus looked like?

It’s as reasonable as using traditional sources, which can’t withstand rigorous forensic scrutiny. They include two legendary textiles – the Veil of Veronica and the Mandylion, bearing images of Christ’s face – and a letter, probably apocryphal, purported to have been written by Publius Lentulus, a supposed Roman governor of Judea before Pilate, that includes a partial description of Jesus.

The two textiles, like the controversial Shroud of Turin, are supposed to bear a likeness that was transferred when the cloths were pressed to Jesus’ face – in the case of the Mandylion by Jesus himself.

The Lentulus letter describes Jesus as having long hair "the color of a ripe hazelnut," which is why the canonical Jesus usually has brown hair. Rembrandt gave his Jesus black hair.

imageCanonical Jesus? The term usually refers to non-Gnostic or in the more modern sense a traditional understanding of Jesus rather the interpretations and beliefs of the “historical Jesus” movements from Albert Schweitzer to the Jesus Seminar. But okay, it can apply to art, I guess! However since the Lentulus letter wasn’t even discovered until the 15th century, if not made up then, it would have been a neat trick for artists before then to have used it as a guide to the color of Jesus’ hair. I’m inclined to think there are other more likely sources such as the Christ Pantocrator, an icon at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai that dates back to about 550 A.D.

What are the Veil of Veronica and the Mandylion to which Sozanski’s is referring? There can be no end of confusion here. There is The Holy Face of Genoa, kept in the Church of St. Bartholomew of the Armenians in Genoa. Some believe this is the Mandylion of Edessa while others, including me, think the Shroud of Turin is what became to be known as the Mandylion in mid-to-late-Babylonian Christendom. Another is something else called the Mandylion of Edessa, once kept in the Church of Saint Silvestro in Rome and now kept in the Matilda chapel in the Vatican. These two images look remarkably alike. They do have some similarities to the facial image on the shroud; at least the long thin nose and the long hair. But the eyes are not owlish and the beard is apparently not forked. Unlike the shroud, these images are not negative images, are not monochromatic and appear to have been painted. (It is the forensics, here, that fail, not to scrutiny). There is a sense of photorealism to them and yet they seem primitive at the same time. Whether or not they are what the claim to be, authentic acheiropoieta is beyond our scope here.

There are, in addition to these two icons, at least five more are claimed to be the true image made when Veronica wiped Jesus brow during his walk to Calgary: 1) The Veronica kept at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 2) The Holy Face at the The Hofburg Palace in Vienna. 3) The Holy Face at the Monastery of the Holy Face in Alicante, Spain. 4) The Holy Face at the cathedral of Jaén in southern Spain. 5) Veronica, a facial portrait of a man at a Capuchin monastery in Manoppello, Italy. Unlike the other claimants, it does not have a cut-out frame. Unlike the other images, it seems most like an early Renaissance painting. : From iconic to naturalistic Jesus