Friday, March 29, 2013

Resurrecting the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin

Fibrils from one of the image areas of the Shroud.

Just when you think you’ve debunked a religious artifact good and proper ….

Many people who only know that the Shroud of Turin is alleged to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ were happy to accept the 1988 carbon-14 dates — 1260 to 1390 — without further question, and not all of them were atheists or anti-Christians. Many Christians would find a Christ who actually rose from the dead to be upsetting; they much prefer the Resurrection as a psychological metaphor rather than as an historical fact. So the “medieval forgery” became the Accepted Wisdom quite easily, despite later stories concerning the integrity and scientific value of the tests.

Those who knew anything more about the Shroud — I’m not a qualified sindonlogist myself — weren’t happy with the results, for reasons having nothing to do with religious faith. The fact is, no one has come up yet with a plausible explanation for how the image on the Shroud was formed given the technological limitations of the 13th and 14th centuries. None of the techniques suggested to date, and some have been rather inventive, would leave an image with the physical and chemical characteristics known of the Shroud; in fact, no one’s had luck reproducing the Shroud with 21st-century tech. Frankly, at this point Erich Von Däniken’s aliens can look like a more credible explanation for the Shroud than some anonymous High Middle Ages genius.

Tuesday saw the release of news about a series of three new tests, two chemical and one mechanical, carried out by “a number of professors from various Italian universities”, which point to a date of 33 BC ± 250 years. This puts 30 AD, the generally accepted year of Jesus’ death, well within the bracket.

Cue the protests.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pushing social conservatives out the GOP door

The root of the GOP’s problem now is the same as that of the Democrats in 1969: the party’s reputation has been ruined by a botched, unnecessary war — Vietnam in the case of the Democrats, Iraq for the GOP. This may sound implausible: every political scientist knows that Americans don’t care about foreign policy; certainly they don’t vote based on it. But foreign policy is not just about foreign policy: it’s also about culture.

This is the theme that Daniel McCarthy convincingly fleshes out in “The GOP’s Vietnam”. Basically, the Vietnam era created the templates we still use for defining political left and right; however, those templates no longer fit an electorate where “an 18-year-old first-time voter in 1992 was born the year after [Pres. Richard] Nixon withdrew most U.S. forces from Indochina” (1973). The cultural values which created neo-conservatives out of baby boomers disaffected and disenchanted with the New Left no longer obtain for the millennials, for whom “[the] sexual revolution [has] been background noise … since the day they were born.”

The GOP never learned to talk to the post-Vietnam generation in the first place; over the last decade, it compounded the problem by launching wars that, far from resolving the unfinished business of the Vietnam era, only made clear that those who are refighting the conflicts of that time are oblivious to today’s realities.

This generational disconnect showed up at the recent CPAC conference. Brad Todd of FOXNews reports, “For three decades, the locus of the Republican Party family debate has been over social issues. Today, there is no such fight — and that’s the bad news for all of us social and foreign policy conservatives. … The activists who power the elevation of Sen. [Rand] Paul and his ilk are corporately much less interested in the pro-life, pro-family agenda that drove the conservative movement for years, and openly hostile to the muscular foreign policy that has differentiated Republicans from Democrats since the Age of Aquarius.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

O those awful Catholic writers!

Nope, no religious bigotry here in the Land of Tolerance!
My last post, on gender differences, drew attention from an unexpected source. I mentioned that SisterLisa, the author of a condescending piece on women’s ordination and male insecurity, had drawn inspiration in part from a piece of satire written for Forbes by Victoria Pynchon. I just mentioned it; I neither praised nor blamed it.

In the marvelous world of cyberspace, that’s all you need; it must have shown up as a trackback. Pynchon decided to be the first to comment. As of this writing [3/21/13 @ 12:27 am], I’m having issues with IntenseDebate, so her comment hasn’t shown up yet.

There are a few lines that deal with Pynchon’s own experience of gender stereotyping and social role expectations. It’s not my purpose to devalue or minimize them; while the examples she quotes may sound quaint to postmodern ears, there are still parents who are pleased when their daughter is a “girly girl”, and who are more apt to give them a cosmetics case for their twelfth birthday rather than a chemistry set. No, I’m simply cutting to the chase:


I have no business telling Catholics what they should do, think or believe. I’d prefer it if Catholics didn’t tell non-Catholic American women what they should do, think or believe. [That’s a first.] If Catholic writers would like to tinker with women’s lives, perhaps they should stick to reconciling the gap between the Church’s position on birth control (it’s wrong) and American Catholic women’s refusal to stop using it.


In other words, she’s happy to “discuss” gender biological differences — so long as it’s her talking and me shutting up. Drat that pesky First Amendment, which allows me to shoot my mouth off whenever I please on whatever I please! Why … it even allows Catholics to have opinions on secular subjects! O the outrage!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gender differences and feminist sexism

Back in November, Deacon Greg Kandra reprinted a list that was making the rounds of “10 reasons why men shouldn’t be ordained”. In essence, it’s a list of stereotypes flipped against men rather than women. “I have to admit,” Kandra chuckled, “this made me laugh.”

As well it should; it’s a light, airy tongue-in-cheek exercise conducted in the demolition of a straw man. Which didn’t stop SisterLisa at Soul Liberty Faith from using it, along with another satirical list written by Victoria Pynchon at Forbes, to create a patronizing “there, there, you poor widdle babies” post on male ecclesial leadership. The essence of her argument is this: Conservative men don’t want women priests and deacons because they’re insecure.

Men who are insecure in their pants tend to puff up their ego with brutish verbiage with their self proclaimed titles and they belittle those around them. Their childish behavior reveals the fear they suffer from and perhaps it’s time they openly admit their brokenness so they can find healing. In this era of women theologians and justice seekers these men will rise louder and more brutal in their effort to keep women oppressed. The more fervent women are in putting their collective foot down about abuse, oppression, and equality the greater path we pave for women and children world wide. …
So perhaps we should be in prayer for our insecure brothers who rail against women in leadership. It just might make a difference for them to know we understand their insecurities and will hold them up in prayer. ... So when you see men like these … just pat them on the back and let them know it’s all going to be okay. We still need men in the world and there’s no hidden agenda to minimize their gender or belittle their sexuality.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Who was Saint Patrick?

Just so you know: I hold green beer to be an outrage, the defilement of an innocent pilsner that hadn’t done anyone harm (yet). I wait for the Church to add it to the list of sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance.

Other than that, Saint Patrick’s Day is not an optional memorial to me. Nor is it a day solely for getting plowed, whether the instrument be a fine product of the Old Country like Jameson’s or something unnatural and heretical like the vile Presbyterian abomination, scotch. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten drunk on St. Paddy’s; when I did drink to excess, which hasn’t been for a long time, it was because I still thought getting drunk was fun (which started to change about the third or fourth time a night of such excess left me “driving the porcelain bus”).

Lá Fhéile Pádraig is a solemnity in Ireland, which in Church-speak means that Mass attendance is not required but very highly recommended. Instead of purple, the ordinary liturgical color of Lent, the celebrant wears white. In some rural locations, the folk still leave a bowl of porridge on the front stoop, in case the saint should be wandering through and be in need of sustenance. (That’s Irish hospitality for you; if ever you sit down for a meal at an Irish house, your hosts will do all in their power to insure you don’t get up until you’re stuffed.) No fasting and abstinence; instead, festivals, dances (céilithe) and parades, and the Irish government uses the time to promote Irish culture (and economic opportunities).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

“We have a papa …”

A couple of weeks ago, in “Has the papacy become ‘just a job’?” I lumped concerns that emeritus Pope Benedict’s resignation had changed the nature of the papacy in with other bits of “silliness inflicted on us by the incessant noisemakers well described as ‘the chattering classes’”. This, I think, goes to show that I can miss the point just as anyone else can.

The basics, I think, are still valid. People who don’t buy into Catholic theology of the papacy, especially the Pope as vicarius Christi, can be found inside the Church as well as outside; you can’t be disillusioned if you don’t have an illusion to begin with. For those of us who do believe it — and to be in communion with the Holy See, you must — what does Benedict’s resignation really change? “The ‘cult of the strong leader’ may suffice for those who hang on to late nineteenth/early twentieth century speculative anthropology.  However, it’s bad history and bad theology, not to mention a total misread of Joe Catholic in the pews.”

That’s the response of the mind. But the heart often discerns truths the mind doesn’t wish to face, and can tell the difference between explaining and explaining away.

Robert Moynihan wrote of an encounter he had with a cardinal before the conclave, a man very troubled in his heart. Said the cardinal, “I love [Benedict], but this should never have happened. He never should have left his office. It is like a man and a woman, a husband and wife, a mother and father in relation to their children. What do they say? They say, ‘until death do us part!’ They stay together always.” And the ineffable Fr. John Zuhlsdorf confessed that he’d been (among other things) angry over the resignation.

I missed it totally. The word “pope” comes from the old Greek papa, “father”. Many people around the world, who know Benedict only though his books and the media, still felt abandoned by their Papa.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Income inequality a blessing?

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.
—Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara
The philosopher … rose up and departed with the air of a man that had co-operated with the present system.
Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia


According to RealClearMarkets.com’s editor, John Tamny, income inequality is a good thing.

Keep in mind, I get this second-hand from Michelle Smith of MoneyNews.com. You could therefore argue that she quotes Tamny selectively. On the other hand, Smith says nothing to contradict or undercut Tamny, so she’s either in agreement with him (“He who is silent consents”) or letting him hang himself with his own words.


Tamny points to the rising popularity of cell phones, reminding us that back in the 1990s these devices were a source of awe. The wealth of the wealthy has also changed society by improving the masses access to a wide range of items, from music to healthcare. [Please hold the laughter in; the best is yet to come.]
“[T]he simple, life-enhancing truth [is] that when the wealth gap is increasing, that’s a certain signal that the lifestyle gap is shrinking —rapidly,” Tamny writes.
“[T]he sentient among us should cheer every time they read of rising inequality,” he adds. “The sentient should cheer because it signals enterprise being rewarded, freedom to keep the fruits of one’s labor, and then for all of us not rich it signals that our lives are getting better and better; the lifestyle disparity between us and them (the rich) shrinking precisely because economic achievement is taking place.”


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The times need to get with the Church — UPDATED

Fox News offered its unique perspective on the coming conclave, with a report entitled “What kind of new pope would America’s Catholics like to see?” I don’t know about you, but I’d be more interested in knowing: “What kind of American Catholics would the new Pope like to see?”
Phil Lawler, Popular misconceptions IV in CatholicCulture.org, 3/5/13


“Roman Catholics in the United States say that their church and bishops are out of touch, and that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll,” reads the lede in the New York Times.

So okay, the story already has two strikes against it: 1) The poll was conducted by NYT, which is pretty much the closest thing American progressives have to a party organ like Pravda; and 2) the story is co-authored by Laurie Goodstein, who has her own axe — or rather, Jeff Anderson’s axe — to grind. But the sampling methodology looks as though they took reasonable care to get random picks, and I’m satisfied that the numbers reasonably reflect the current state of American Catholics. Here is the link to the full report.

The URL, however, tells the story as well as does the lede, if not better — POLL SHOWS DISCONNECT BETWEEN US CATHOLICS AND CHURCH.

For instance, while between 66% and 79% of American Catholics are in favor of such liberal action items as allowing priests to marry, ordaining women and using contraceptives, only 46% hold that the Pope is not infallible in matters of faith and morals, while another 14% don’t know or didn’t answer. This (seemingly) proves that there are Catholics who disagree with the Pope even though they admit he can’t be wrong, and who follow their consciences in opposition to Church teaching knowing that they can only err in doing so.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bricks, centipedes and priestly celibacy

Fr. Dwight Longenecker: priest, husband and dad.
Thus the great spoilsman senator, Roscoe P. Conkling: “When [Samuel] Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel, he ignored the enormous possibilities of the word reform.”

The saying, Ecclesia semper reformanda, “The Church is always to be reformed”, is of Protestant coinage but still true and worthy of adoption by Catholics.  The problem is, however, that reformation has always meant different things to different people.

For instance, in an article on NBCNews.com concerning the decline of attendance in Polish churches, Zbigniew Nosowski of the Catholic monthly Wiez “foresees the church accepting a married priesthood this century as a way to counteract the decline in men seeking the priesthood.”

“We will need more priests to fulfill our basic ritual demands — like performance of the Eucharist,” [Nosowski] said.
Some religion writers say the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI could provide an opportunity for other equally bold changes, such as open discussion of birth control, civil unions and in vitro fertilization.
“If we can accept the resignation of a pope, we should be able to accept other big changes,” said Adam Szostkiewicz, a writer for Polityka, a secular liberal magazine. “People here are prepared for deeper changes and a more democratic style of managing things.”

As I’ve said before here, Benedict’s resignation isn’t the game-changer Szostkiewicz and others believe it to be. There are issues the cardinals will speak of when they go into conclave, and doubtless the majority will want a reformer to build on the emeritus pope’s legacy. But they’ll mostly want reform, not innovation. Clerical celibacy gives us a case in point.