About a year and a half ago, the journal of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis carried an interesting essay, Analog Faith in a Digital Age by Eli Gottlieb. (John C Danforth was a Republican US Senator and an Episcopal priest.) The piece opened with this:
Data from around the world indicate that religious belief is in decline. This trend began long before the internet and social media were invented. But it has accelerated and intensified dramatically since their arrival. According to sociologist Jean Twenge, between 2004 and 2016, religious belief among young adults “fell off a cliff.”
Let that sink in.
The intuitive filter systems we are developing to cope with the relentless flow of incoming information are transforming how we believe. To eliminate the noise of unreliable information, we are developing habits of skepticism and trust that, as a by-product, also eliminate the nuance of qualified belief and degrees of certainty.
And let that sink in.
Gen Z participants in the study expressed distrust in many national and community institutions, but trusted religious institutions even less than they trusted banks, the medical system and public schools, and only slightly more than they trusted online and print media.
In final scenes of Gone With The Wind, it is impossible to know if the red and yellow of the sky over Tara is from the city of Atlanta burning or a sunset. But no one could not know the full meaning of Rhett Butler’s words to Scarlett O’Hara: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And the movie house audiences cheered.
On the same day that I read Eli Gottlieb essay, I read the following which I can’t imagine anyone will believe. It is from an extended false-palatable introduction to the proceedings of the 2019 Science, Theology and the Holy Shroud conference at the Arthur Custance Centre for Science and Christianity.
Of the numerous theories to explain the creation of the image on the cloth, the physical properties of the image itself indicate that it was created by some form of radiation, not by chemicals or vapours produced by a decomposing corpse. . . . For many who believe in the resurrection, the burst coincides with the power which brought life back to the body. Several authors in this book accept the theory proposed by John Jackson that the burst of life also coincided with the body vanishing and the top of the cloth falling onto the stone slab. This theory explains some of the physical properties of the image, but it does not take into account biblical accounts of resurrections. . . . The resurrection of Jesus may have occurred in a similar fashion. The energy burst which imprinted the image on the Holy Shroud may be related to a transfiguration event, as described on the Mount of Transfiguration [Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:28]. Only this time, the transfiguration was permanent. In other words, it is possible that the image captured on the cloth was not that of a dead body, but one of a recently revived body just starting to rise from the stone slab on which it laid in the tomb. It is also assumed that the energy burst involved a single release of energy. This, too, is an assumption. It may have involved a rapid discharge of several bursts of energy within a twinkling of an eye, each burst imprinting overlapping figures on the cloth as the body was in motion.
Will anyone believe this baseless speculation and imaginative biblical interpretation? I’m afraid so.
What scares me is that this is a digital age. An age when the “idea of belief as a continuous variable measured in degrees of certainty is being replaced by the idea of belief as a binary function of zero or one, or ‘all in’ versus ‘all out’.” We need only look at how we believe things like evolution, climate change, imagined stolen elections, or the madness of such things as QAnon. I must accept the likelihood that many readers of this blog will see things very differently than I do — no worries, as the Gen Z-ers say.
In such speculations about the Resurrection — it isn’t just the pseudo-science but pseudo theology and pseudo-exegesis, as well — are we encountering a final scene? It must be. I want to dangle a sign from my neck that reads, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I can’t be part of such thinking. I can’t believe in a Resurrection built on faith and scripture and also believe in this sub-atomic dissection of an otherwise great mystery.
Is the red sky I see a sunset or a smoldering, humiliating end to Shroud science?
Atlanta was rebuilt. Today gave way to tomorrow. How in our digital age do we find the sunrise for some new and sensible research that might actually lead to some truth?