Monday, May 10, 2010

Idolatry and the Shroud of Turin

USA Today’s religion column never disappoints. This Monday morning we are graced with an editorial by David Farley, addressing why the Shroud of Turin is such a great thing even though it is almost certainly fake: Shroud of Turn is real enough. Here are some of sage words regarding the Shroud:

In a sense, whether or not it was the real flesh of Christ didn't matter. (Spoiler: It probably wasn't.) People believed it was authentic (including several popes who granted indulgences to those who came to venerate it). Which is why the hordes of pilgrims who will flock to Turin to pay heed to the shroud will be oblivious to the non-believers' cackles. If they accept the shroud as the real deal, then, in their minds, in their hearts, in their conceptions of heaven and the afterlife, it is the real thing. They will pray in front of it and it will give them happiness and relief.

And isn't that what we all want, for ourselves and for each other? Which is exactly why holy relics and the Shroud of Turin still matter in this world.

So the Shroud of Turin is OK because it makes you feel good? If you are a believer in Christ and reading that doesn’t make you physically ill, something is wrong. The fact that indulgences were granted to people for venerating a piece of cloth is reason enough for concern. The entire theology behind relics smacks of idolatry. Humans naturally believe what they see and given a chance will revert back to that behavior. Idolatry is not just an Old Testament problem but an example from the OT is instructive.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)

The Israelites wanted something tangible to worship. They were impatient with waiting around, so they fashioned an idol to give them something to worship that they could see. The results were catastrophic and I believe that similar results will await those who place their faith in relics, including the Shroud of Turin.

Followers of Christ don’t need relics and idols to worship Him, nor should they be comforted in the least by scraps of cloth or shards of bone. It is called faith for a reason and as so many who rejected Christ during the Incarnation demonstrated, seeing is not believing. In His earthly ministry Christ demonstrably healed the sick, cured lepers, made the blind see and raised Lazarus from the dead and in spite of clear evidence, He was still crucified by those who had real, tangible evidence of who He was.

Far from worshippers of idols, every Christian post-ascension falls into this category:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

We are blessed because by faith we have believed. We are not blessed by rituals or worse yet by the macabre relics of Rome. Is the Shroud of Turin authentic? I really doubt it. More importantly it is irrelevant. Our faith is in Christ alone, seated at the right hand of the Father. I am uninterested in burial shrouds and I am especially uninterested in knuckle bones from dead “saints”. Christians should eschew venerating bits of bone or searching for Noah’s Ark or the Ark of the Covenant. Our call, our mission is to proclaim Christ to the lost. All of this other stuff is nothing but a distraction from that call.

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Daniel Lin said...

Hi, I agree with you that Christians should not worship a piece of cloth instead of Jesus.

However, I also disagree with you in regards we do not have to see anything to have faith. If you think about it, why did Jesus appear to many after he was resurrected? It is because Jesus wants to leave eye witness that he has indeed risen from the dead. If, like you said, we don't need to see anything to have faith, then why didn't Jesus simply ask people to "just believe" that he will rise from the dead and don't appear to people?

In the same way, if, by some chance the Shroud of Turin really is the burial cloth of Jesus. The image on the shroud itself contains so much mystery that have puzzled even modern day scientists. So what if, God has left the shroud of Turin for us, people who live in the 21th century as a way for eye witnessing that Jesus has indeed, risen again. Just like 2000 years ago when Jesus appeared to many?

Having said that, I don't think anyone will ever be able to prove nor disprove the authenticity of the shroud. Because it is simply one of the most mysterious and puzzling artifacts in history.

Hopeful one said...

God roundly rebuked ancient Israel and their kings (especially those who ruled the northern ten tribes) for using idols and images to "help" in their worship of HIM (Exodus 32:1 - 2, Hosea 8:5 - 6, 10:5 and many other places). Why, then, would he contradict his own law and miraculously create a shroud with the imprint of His dead son He knew humans would use to worship him?

In Conclusion
Many religious people treat this relic as far more than just a curiosity or some gruesome souvenir of the Roman Empire's cruelties. A 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the linen states, "Since 1578 it has remained at Turin where it is now only exposed for VENERATION at long intervals."

The word veneration or venerate comes from the Latin veneratus, which means to revere or worship ( Clearly, the shroud is treated as worthy of religious adoration, honor and awe, all of which God commands should be given directly to Him. It is an image that leads people to breaking the second commandment and, in keeping with the Bible, should be destroyed.