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?
Much is said about the fact that the shroud is a fake, but so far I have not seen anyone doing a step-by-step reconstruction of the alleged fraudster. So, many questions remain to be answered. 1- Who was this incredibly smart fraudster? No contemporary people knew anything about him at all? With so much knowledge and skills about art, science, anatomy, physiology, etc., did he remain anonymous? 2- Did he act alone or with the help of someone? Did this or these alleged helpers also remain anonymous? 3- Was the shroud the only masterpiece of this fraudster? Were there any failed attempts before that? With the incredible luck of this work being the only attempt, did he decide to stop there? 4- Who would have ordered the making of this incredibly complex work? And for what purpose? Or did he do this on his own? 5- It is quite reasonable to assume that the shroud was purchased for a significant amount. The alleged fraudster would have become rich and famous as a result, but preferred to remain anonymous? Did anyone suspect anything at all during the process?
All good questions. Unfortunately, not having the answers does not make the Shroud real. This is part of the reason I say I don’t know if the Shroud is real or not.
You say you can’t believe in sacred scripture and radiation theory at the same time. The good news is you don’t have to. Sacred scripture tells that resurrection was a radiation event. Don’t tell me you really believe Matthew’s account of a winged creature descending from the heavens, like a flash of lightening, wearing glowing clothes, causing an earthquake, then rolling back the entry stone. A spiritual creature doing physical work? How about, “there was a lightening like flash of light at the tomb from an energy release that was so strong that it caused the earth to shake and remove the entry stone.”
Do you really believe Mark’s account where a young man, a natural creature wearing a glowing robe, was in the tomb when the early morning visitors arrived? Or two men, natural creatures, in Luke’s account wearing lightening like clothes who appeared suddenly (they were not present on the first look-see). Both of these accounts are reporting a flash of light at the tomb.
There is a lot more to reading the Bible than knowing how to read. In the more progressive theological circles literal interpretation of the Bible is approached as the archenemy of creative thought. An inerrant Bible along with papal infallibility are looked upon as devices the priestly profession uses to exercise control over their adherents. You don’t hear of them because the implications are so far reaching.
And, as far as transfiguration is concerned, it is a well known phenomenon found in the Tibetan Buddhist rainbow body tradition. It is called the atom body and happens when the adept’s body is at the cusp of denuclearization. It is a state of existence that comes and goes according to the whims of the person. (Please don’t tell me you really believe Elijah went to heaven in a flaming, horse drawn chariot.) I have a photo of a Buddhist monk who is in transfiguration. He went rainbow in July 2011. The meditation practice that takes one to atom body (and threshold of rainbow body) is called threkcho. Jesus’s corpse was in atom body when the blood clots on it were physically decoupled from the mother wound and pushed into the Shroud, which was also made level to the burial slab under the same force. Then, denuclearization took place, forming the image, just as happens in rainbow body. This is why there is no image under the blood stains.
Come on, Tom. That is not at all what I said and you know it. I said, “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.” As for you implying that I might be a literalist, let me quote Marcus Borg who said, “I do believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I’m just skeptical that it involved anything happening to his corpse. . . . wouldn’t see these stories as fiction in a modern sense of the word. I would see them as characteristic of the ancient mind, and of ancient storytelling techniques where you do use a story to express a truth of something that has happened.” While I don’t agree with Marcus in all aspects of what he said — e,g, physical vs spiritual — I’m not too far off.
Tom, you are never interested in joining the conversation. You are using this platform to scattershot your beliefs at us. You are entitled to those beliefs but not to this blog for this purpose. Otherwise, you are welcome here.
Thank you for commenting, but I see things from a different perspective.
1) I do not see the work of an “incredibly smart fraudster.” I see the work of a jobbing craftsman, probably attached to an abbey or cathedral, executing a commission to produce an imitation shroud for liturgical and didactic purposes.
In the 13th/14th century, producing what we would call “works of art” was a job, not a vocation. Figurative craftsmen knew enough anatomy to produce reasonably accurate representations of human bodies, and the Shroud is a reasonably accurate representation of a human body, no more. It served its purpose for a while, before being re-purposed as something else. Like almost all the craftsmen of his time, we know nothing about its creator.
2) Did he act alone? Probably not, if the institution was big enough. It employed a whole team of craftsmen to make everything from curtains to gargoyles, and did not much distinguish between them. A ‘peynter’ had to be able to turn his hand to anything.
3) It is unlikely that the Shroud was the only thing he did, but it may have been the only thing he did in that particular style. No doubt there were some experiments before entrusting the expensive cloth of the Shroud to that particular method. Did he decide to stop there? It wasn’t his decision. A medieval craftsman worked for somebody, and did what they told him to do. He rarely did anything creative on his own.
4) Who ordered it? The dean, sacristan, or equivalent, who required a particular artefact to serve a particular purpose.
5) I doubt if the Shroud as we know it was “purchased” at all. The cloth was quite expensive, but the producer of the image was almost certainly employed by the church or abbey, and making it was part of his job. He did not become rich, and probably did not become famous either. Literally thousands of medieval works of art are wholly anonymous, and there are hundreds more now credited to “the master of” such and such, because we don’t know his name.
According to DNA analysis cloth was manufactured in India (or Sri Lanka). Who purchased it for abbey?
I’ve heard directly from a friend who tells me this posting is not at all clear. I just read it again and I must agree. I will try to clarify. however, it won’t be until tomorrow morning.
Sometimes I get carried away. And when I do I even confuse myself. Sorry about that.
Please read this article
Hemraj, thanks for the link. As I read this paper again, it occurs to me that the underlying message may be that pollen and dust evidence is meaningless.
Where did you read that “According to DNA analysis cloth was manufactured in India”? It was certainly not in the paper you have asked Dan to read. You appear to be confusing “the cloth was manufactured in India” (your words) with “the results raise the possibility of an Indian manufacture” (the paper’s words). In fact, the presence of plant material from a very localised Chinese pear does not suggest an Indian source for the Shroud any more than the presence of Black Locust suggests it was made in Tennessee.
Comments are closed.