More on the Theology of Andrew Sullivan

A reader writes:

imageI also think Andrew Sullivan (pictured) was right to remind us that Catholics do doubt. And I think your dissent for the day commenter was right to remind us that fundamentalists do too. I have never met a doubt-free Christian.

I thought it was interesting that Pope Benedict XVI, while speaking in Freiburg, Germany this past Sunday, said, “Agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God … are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is ‘routine’ and who regard the church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts."

I would have said Agnostics and all Christians who are constantly exercised by the question of God.

Yes. But Sullivan is also saying that practicing the tenets of one’s faith is a bridge across doubt. And might we say Jews and Muslims have doubts, as well. And should we perhaps wonder about Atheist who are “exercised by the question of God” or are they doubt free. Of course not. And what do they practice?

I have avoided explaining what I meant about taking this into consideration when talking about the Shroud of Turin because I need to think about it some more.

Dissent for Today

A reader writes:

Of course Sullivan is right. Every random Catholic does not believe at all times that the Blessed Virgin was literally transported into the sky rather than dying – as required by a binding, infallible papal edict. A solid percentage question it all of the time and some like me don’t really  believe it at all. In fact, I doubt papal infallibility. Does that make me a bad Catholic? In the eyes of some, perhaps. I don’t think so.

But Sullivan is also wrong. Does he really think that every random fundamentalist believes at all times in a literal interpretation of Genesis and the Christmas story. Infallibility claims are not solely papal and intellectual doubts are not solely Catholic.

I would not take his one-sided thinking to heart when it comes to thinking about the shroud. But then, I don’t  really understand what you are trying to say. Does anyone?

I will get back to you after I think about it some.

Andrew Sullivan: Theologian

imageAndrew Sullivan has become a significant writer about orthodox Christianity, specifically his Roman Catholic faith. This is not because he writes very much about it. And it not because his very famous blog’s readership is expecting much from him about it. It is because he is good at it.

In his blog, The Dish over at The Daily Beast, he responds to a posting by Norm Geras (it merits a quick read):

. . . What he ignores, in my view, is doubt. Does every random Catholic believe at all times that the Blessed Virgin was literally transported into the sky rather than dying – as required by a binding, infallible papal edict? Of course not. There will be times in every believer’s life when faith seems dead, or distant, when divine truth eludes us or seems beyond us. This is natural and healthy. If you have never fully doubted, you have never fully believed. And what keeps faith alive at those moments is indeed practice, ritual, discipline, and the small but vital ways in which a Christian reaffirms her faith in day-to-day interactions with other human beings.

And this is the core of Christianity: practice. Jesus insisted that blind adherence to certain absolute truths was never enough, and even dangerous if it led you away from the doing what following Jesus requires. He was always piercing through literal belief to test actual faith. He was impatient with the rule of law in religion and adamant on the rule of love. Similarly, Paul’s great letter on caritas/agape insists that even faith that can move mountains is nothing without the practice of caritas/agape.

The interaction between dogma and practice is what religion is. But Christianity really does insist on practice as the core definition (which is why Oakeshott put religion into the "practical" category of human life, not the philosophical). The transformation of what were long deemed myths – Genesis, the Christmas stories, for example – into literal truths is a modern, neurotic development that, as time goes by, requires faith in obvious untruths (like creationism). And in the end, faith must be compatible with truth, or it is a coping mechanism, not a living, coherent belief.

So, yes, revelation matters. But not in every tiny literalist detail. And for faith to live, it must be practised. Fundamentalism, in this sense, is rationalism in religion, to purloin an Oakeshottian phrase. It has to be defeated before the real life of faith can recover and reach more people.

I think this is something that we need to take to heart when we contemplate the Shroud of Turin. I think we are far too concerned with trying to prove its authenticity so that we can prove something else about that which we may from time-to-time have doubts, like the Resurrection. We can, when not careful, go so far a creating new myth. 

I think the best that we really can do is argue that the shroud is probably authentic and that it proves nothing. But we can infer and have faith.

Bad Shroud of Turin Errors Spread and Live On

imageToday, September 27, as was the case last year on September 27, many newspapers and blogs around the world reminded us that “on this day in history in 1988” carbon dating results demonstrated that the Shroud of Turin was not the burial cloth of Christ. Only one source, among many that I looked at, elaborated at all or mentioned that those results have been widely rejected or questioned scientifically.

Besides that omission, the date is wrong. According to Barrie Schwortz’, a very reliable source, is was on August 26, 1988, that . . .

The London Evening Standard carries banner headlines declaring the Shroud to be a fake made in 1350. The source, Cambridge librarian Dr. Stephen Luckett, has no known previous connection with the Shroud, or with the carbon dating work, but in this article declares scientific laboratories ‘leaky institutions’. The story is picked up around the world.

If Barrie had it wrong, as it would have been for many years, it would have been corrected long ago. It is a most accurate site.

And then on September 18, 1988, we read:

Without quoting its source, The Sunday Times publishes a front-page story headlined: ‘Official: The Turin Shroud is a Fake’. Professor Hall and Dr. Tite firmly deny any responsibility for this story.

And it was on February 16, 1989, . . . 

Publication, in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, of the official results of the Shroud radiocarbon dating. This has twenty-one signatories. It declares that the results ‘provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is medieval’.

It just shows how one bad fact, no matter how trivial the error, will spread and live on. There was no intent to convince us that September 26 was important. The purpose was to remind us that the carbon dating proved the shroud was fake. Wrong on both counts, of course.

Big Foot is a Hoax: Awe Shucks.

How did I miss “that story about Bigfoot stealing the Shroud of Turin that appeared in this week’s supermarket tabloid?”

It’s an example from a Psychology Today article by Hank Davis, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada, about why some people are intrigued with Big Foot and other stories of “awe.” I think he made it up:

Admittedly, scientists don’t do a good job of communicating their work. Science is not well publicized. It isn’t "sexy." I don’t mean just the scientists, themselves, aren’t sexy. It’s how they do their jobs and what they find. Much of the science news I read is boring and, remember, I’m a scientist. Incredible opportunities to make science interesting are lost. Too many science reporters (or medical reporters) are not specially trained. They may be staff writers who pissed off their editors and got stuck with this assignment. But neither their hearts nor their heads seem to be in it. No wonder most readers or viewers yawn through such coverage. They’re waiting for Bigfoot to make the front page. And while they’re waiting, that story about Bigfoot stealing the Shroud of Turin that appeared in this week’s supermarket tabloid will have to do.

Is there an optimistic way to end this piece? Let’s try this. We haven’t hit rock bottom yet. Someday you’ll meet somebody who not only believes in Bigfoot (because of evidence he saw on a hard lemonade-sponsored documentary), but also believes the government has kidnapped a living specimen and is holding him prisoner in a special facility in Roswell, New Mexico.

Neither I nor anyone should ever deflect you from your search for awe. But neither should anyone, whether merchant or hoaxster, send you on a contrived journey to the supernatural to find it. There’s enough awe for anyone who wants it, and it lives within reach in the natural world around us.

And this is a good example of science reporting?

Another Shroud of Turin Novel?

imageBill Bass, a forensic anthropologist who founded the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility along with writer Jon Jefferson spoke at Virginia Intermont College yesterday and gave a brief description of their upcoming novel. Here is how the Tri-Cities News (northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia area) reported the discussion:

This one is set in the French village of Avignon, which was home to two popes in the 14th century. The book’s renowned forensic anthropologist, Dr. Bill Brockton, and his assistant, Miranda, must figure out the significance of bones found buried in the papal palace walls. The bones appear to have some connection to the Shroud of Turin, Jefferson said, and, to get the science right, he and Bass ordered a full-scale photographic replica of the shroud.

“It jumps back and forth in time,” Jefferson said of the book. “It has interesting characters: a cardinal very fond of burning people at the stake, who becomes the Pope, the poet Petrarch, a German theologian who goes missing.”

He said it is important to get the science right, although with fiction, he can cheat a little bit and rig the ending.

Another Shroud of Turin novel?  And what science would that be?  Hold your breath.

Shroud of Turin Photo Exhibit St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Chicago

imageAccording to the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association:

Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, with the full blessing of Bishop Richard Stephen, will be hosting the ninth authentic, and Vatican authorized, photographic copy of the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud will be available for veneration starting on October 1st, 2011, on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God , celebrating with Vespers in Ukrainian & English at 6:00pm.

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy. The image on the shroud is commonly associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial. The image on the shroud is much clearer in black-and-white negative than in its natural sepia color. The negative image was first observed in 1898, on the reverse photographic plate of amateur photographer Secondo Pia, who was allowed to photograph it while it was being exhibited in the Turin Cathedral.

A fire, possibly caused by arson, threatened the shroud on 11 April 1997. In 2002, the Holy See had the shroud restored. The cloth backing and thirty patches were removed, making it possible to photograph and scan the reverse side of the cloth, which had been hidden from view. A ghostly part-image of the body was found on the back of the shroud in 2004.

The actual shroud itself – not the photographic image that will on display in Chicago – has been on display only five times in the past century. When it last went on display in 2000, more than three million people saw it. Many more are expected to see it when it next goes on display in 2025.

The exhibit will continue through Nov. 21, the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple (Vedennia Bohorodychi) at St. Nicholas Cathedral. Viewing of the Shroud will be Mon. to Fri. from 5 to 9 p.m. and Sat. and Sun. from 2 – 8 p.m. There will be no admission fee.