The Shroud of Turin - Supernatural Salad Forks?
Believers in the supernatural will often claim that their beliefs are based not in traditional knowledge as we understand it but in faith. However even amongst the superstitious faith is not enough to hold extraordinary beliefs. Often there is some sort of questionable evidence involved in holding such fringe beliefs, evidence which is not convincing in the slightest to those applying proper skepticism but which reinforces the faith of the believers.
One such form of evidence is found in artifacts claimed to be of supernatural or incredible origin. From the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy Grail to the scalp of a Yeti housed in the Himalayas there are a great many such artifacts. One of the most well known of those artifacts is the legendary Shroud of Turin, the supposed burial shroud of Jesus Christ.
Science, Faith and History
Few things stir up the ire of believers like scientific analysis seeking to deny the objects of their faith. There is a great deal of ego for most believers caught up in their own superstition. To suggest that they might not only be wrong but might be DEFINITIVELY proven wrong makes science an enemy in the minds of some believers.
The debate over the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin has only sparked the conflict between faith and science even farther.
Even before modern science however the Shroud was a topic of debate. In fact for centuries it was debated whether the Shroud was authentic, whether it had actually covered the dead body of Christ or was a forgery. Christians themselves could never agree over whether this Shroud belonged to Jesus. Modern science has only been given fleeting access to the Shroud, often times not even being given samples of it to study many have had nothing to go on but images and reproductions of the artifact.
Art experts, theologians and scientists alike still seem out as a collective jury and each seems to have their own opinion. Even those who claim it is a forgery cannot agree on how it was made or when or by whom. To go into detail about the decades, scratch that, centuries, of investigation would take years of research and hours of preparation. Rather than spend my entire life seeking the truth of the Shroud I want to talk about some subjects I rarely hear brought up when the issue of the Shroud is raised.
So What if its Jesus' Shroud?
This may seem like a simple, even juvenile, question, but seriously – SO WHAT? Let's presume for a moment that those who hold faith in the Shroud are right. For sake of argument let's assume that the Shroud is absolutely the one that covered Jesus of Nazareth. Now – SO WHAT?
What does the fact that this belonged to Jesus mean to the world? It certainly doesn't prove Christ's divinity. The images on the cloth are so faint they might not even prove he was crucified let alone that he was buried and rose again on the 3rd day. What is so special about a man's burial shroud? Oh sure I can see how it would be a special moment for those already wrapped up warm and cozy in their Jesus fetish but to those of us who aren't Christians the bloody stamp of your supposed Savior is hardly a reason to convert.
If anything the authenticity of the Shroud would prove that Jesus was mortal, not that he was a God, but that he died like the rest of us and some cretin returning from a crusade desecrated his grave. Which brings me to my next point:
Catholicism, Idolatry and Relics, Oh My
Relics have been around for thousands of years. It seems in the history of our species there has always been a tendency toward superstition and thus there has always been supposedly enchanted or supernatural relics floating about the Earth. From claims of the Ark of Noah atop Mount Ararat to the Holy Grail of relics, the uh, Holy Grail. History is filled with legends of enchanted swords, magic rings, and sacred objects and you'll notice a remarkable similarity between those we know to be works of fiction and those believers still cling to.
This all goes back to what I said in the introduction. Even with the added gullibility inherent in faith, believers still need SOMETHING to go on, something to stir the curiosity and stop natural doubts from encroaching upon superstition. Relics serve this function extraordinarily well, as do idols, though the two words are quite similar in meaning.
Catholics, and Christians in general, like to have images of the Cross that Jesus was nailed to in their churches, often with an image of Jesus nailed to the Cross. Many are quick to point out that they don't worship the wooden recreation of the Cross, instead they just use it to better conceptualize and formulate their love for Christ by remembering what he did for them. Catholics however sometimes go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to this, creating graven images of everything from Saints to the Virgin Mary to angels, etc.
Centuries ago it was even worse, during the Crusades and the surrounding centuries there were many supposedly Holy Relics believed to be waiting for soldiers in the Holy Land, which had to be taken back from the Muslims and Jews. These relics possessed supernatural miraculous abilities and some even promised great power to the wielder. In fact these relics are the primary theme of the Indiana Jones films (Raiders and Last Crusade at least).
There are even other relics, such as actual pieces of Jesus Cross, the so-called Spear of Destiny (that pierced Jesus' side), and even the HOLY SPONGE that Jesus drank from while on the cross. All of them are meant to be of supernatural origin and some are claimed to maintain that power. Are these relics any more REAL than the Sword in the Stone from the King Arthur legend? Is there any more reason to accept their veracity over, say, the legends of Archimedes Death Ray? For the believer there is, but for those who are skeptical to all such claims in equal fashion there is not
Supernatural Salad Forks?
This is my main issue with the Shroud and it's proponents, it presupposes the idea that things associated with Jesus Christ have had some of his magic rubbed off on them. Even way back when I was a Christian I rejected the Shroud outright as poppycock. Relics like these make Jesus out to be Tinkerbell spreading pixie dust that leaves magic wherever he goes and on whatever he touches. The very idea should be offensive not only to skeptics but to believers who have a shred of respect for their Savior.
Shrouds, grails, arks, these things hold no power, even assuming they're absolutely real and even assuming the God who utilized them was real. The power is meant to come from God right? Merely because Jesus used something doesn't make it magical! Where are the magic bowls and the Holy Salad Forks from the last supper? Where is the supernatural manger where Jesus was born and where are the clearly now magical donkeys he rode into Jerusalem with? The very idea, whether you're a believer or not, that the Shroud retains any power, is absurd.
Yes, I understand that there was a story in the Bible about a woman who wanted to simply “touch the hem of Jesus' garment” to be healed but that story wasn't about the power of Jesus' garments, it was about the power of Jesus. Has the entirety of Christianity taught some Christians NOTHING? Are they really going to wrap themselves up in relics and material objects and grant those objects power to grant miracles while ignoring the living God that they claim is 100% real?
Spear of Destiny
The Debate will ALWAYS Continue
Most believers will always find a way to believe. As I said before faith alone usually can't do it but if you give them a relic like the Shroud or an anecdote about a miracle there own emotional desire to believe will take over from there. They will irrationally defend even the most absurd premises and ideas. They will shout down the skeptics of relics and other “evidence” like the Shroud. As long as they can keep science from ever saying anything definitive on the matter we will continue to have a mystery, and to someone who already believes that slight glimmer of hope, that tiny fraction of a percent of a chance in hell for authenticity, is enough.
That's why the Patterson Bigfoot film, the Roswell crash of 1947 and the Shroud of Turin will always be debated about and no amount of investigation is ever going to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt (to believers especially) that these things are forgeries, hoaxes, or men in furry suits. Once you've got the pixie dust of faith all it takes is the happy thought and it's off to Neverland.
In some sense I sympathize with the believers. I wish I could believe a lot of fantastic stuff too. There are certainly plenty of mysteries in history left to solve but that's just it, we cannot simply declare these things real or accept unauthenticated relics as evidence. We owe it to the truth and to ourselves to exercise skepticism and come to a conclusion only when solid verifiable evidence supports that conclusion.