Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Logic of Christianity 1: The Shroud, the Pope, and the Faith Continuum

On May 19, 2015, I came within 15 to 20 feet of what could be minute traces of the actual physical DNA of Jesus of Nazareth, from the minutes and hours immediately following his death. My wife, Linda, and I drove a rental car five hours from Florence, Italy, to Turin, Italy, because the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (where the Shroud of Turin is housed) had announced an Exposition of the Shroud, which would last from April 19, 2015 to June 24, 2015. As it turned out, we were going to be in Italy during that time. I was presenting a paper at a scholarly conference in Rome, so I ordered tickets (which were free of charge) to view the Shroud on May 19th. The Cathedral had conducted similar public exhibitions of the Shroud in 1998, 2000, and 2010, but we had no opportunity to view the Shroud in those years. Before we spent a few minutes in the actual presence of the Shroud, we were shown the evidence contained in the Shroud: Using a variety of scientific methods, we were able to observe visible signs of a face with thorn wounds around the head, of hands and feet that had been pierced by nails, of a back that had been scourged by whips, of a stab wound in the side--a victim of crucifixion identical to the biblical description of Jesus’ crucifixion. But was the crucifixion victim whose shroud was on display actually Jesus of Nazareth? Frankly, I do not know. The Shroud of Turin has been, perhaps, the most studied ancient artifact in history. And, there are plenty of skeptics concerning the authenticity of the Shroud. The presenters of the Exposition acknowledged the contrary arguments. For example, in 1988, carbon dating tests were performed on the cloth. These tests indicated a date of 1290-1350 a.d., but carbon dating testing is not always reliable. Once, carbon dating missed the date of the 4000 year old wrappings of a mummy by 1000 years. On the other hand, the carbon dating tests could be accurate. One’s faith in Christianity need not rest on a belief that the Shroud of Turin is the genuine burial shroud of Jesus. It may be an extremely remote possibility that the Shroud is genuine. Even so, the remotest possibility that Linda and I may have been within 15 to 20 feet of the actual physical DNA of Jesus produced a genuinely moving experience. There were no vocal skeptics at the viewing. Even if this shroud belonged to a crucifixion victim from the 13th or 14th century a.d. (the likelihood of which I am skeptical, since Christianity had, by then, long been the dominant world religion, and it seems highly questionable that someone would have been crucified, at that time, in exactly the same manner as Jesus), still the reality of physical proof of crucifixion wounds of “someone” produced reverence in the entire crowd. The point of the Shroud experience is that one need not have overwhelming faith that the Shroud belonged to Jesus in order to be moved by it. Even the tiniest, remotest inkling of a miniscule shred of possibility that we were actually in the physical presence of the DNA of Jesus was awe-inspiring. Even miniscule faith in a tiny possibility is still faith.
Two days prior to viewing the Shroud of Turin, Linda and I were in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. We had not known before our trip to Rome that Pope Francis would be conducting a canonization that day. The Square was packed with thousands upon thousands of people as the Pope delivered a homily and conducted services in a truly impressive “megachurch.” We were half-way back in the crowd of standing-room only spectators in the square. After a couple of hours, it seemed the service was ending. We could see on the big screens posted around the square that the Pope was visiting with a few dignitaries before leaving the scene. Then we heard some cheering in parts of the square. We saw hundreds of hands raising cameras and smart phones in various parts of the square. What was happening? The Pope, after addressing the crowd had decided to ride out through the crowds on some sort of modified golf cart. As the cheers and raised cameras seemed to get closer to us, we took a real interest in the direction in which the cameras were pointed. Then, we saw him. The Pope was riding past us, within about the same 15 to 20 foot proximity that we would later be near the Shroud. I took pictures. Linda took videos. He would stop occasionally to bless someone or kiss a child. I am almost 100% certain that I was within 15 to 20 feet of Pope Francis. As with the Shroud, one’s faith in Christianity need not rest on a belief that the Pope is a genuine representative of God. There are millions of Christian Protestants who disagree with him. You might even be skeptical about my claim that I was within 15 to 20 feet of the Pope. Even if you saw the pictures I took, you might engage in skepticism, suggesting that I may have Photoshopped the pictures. Even I cannot be 100% certain that I saw him. Perhaps, he has a double. My point is, however, that I have an enormous amount of faith that I was within 15 to 20 feet of the Pope. Although I was pleased to be almost certainly in his presence (a world-renown representative of Christianity), I was more moved by that tiny, remote sliver of a possibility that I was in the presence of the physical DNA of Jesus.
Faith is a continuum. It runs all the way from the tiniest, faintest possibility that something is true (such as the faint possibility that I was within 15 to 20 feet of the actual DNA of Jesus) to the almost certain probability that something is true (such as the almost certain fact that I was within 15 to 20 feet of Pope Francis). If I were convinced that there was zero, zilch, zip, nada possibility that the Shroud was genuine, I would not have driven to Turin to see it. I would have had absolutely NO faith in it. If I were fully 100% certain that I was within 15 to 20 feet of Pope Francis, I would cease to have “faith” in that proposition. What we “know for certain” is no longer faith. “Faith,” as Aristotle explains it, must admit at least two possibilities. In his book, On Rhetoric, Aristotle teaches how rhetorical logic works. In rhetoric (as opposed to dialectic), the aim is not to provide absolute truth, but only possible or probable truth. It applies only to matters of which we cannot be certain. Nevertheless, although certainty is impossible, we can logically conclude that something is “probably” or “possibly” true. Aristotle says that the goal of this type of logic is to achieve “faith.” If there is no possibility, there is no faith. If there is only one possibility, we call it truth. There is still no faith, because it is absolute truth. John 20:29 records the incident of the Apostle Thomas who demanded, after being told that Jesus was resurrected, that he be allowed to place his fingers in the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and his hand in the sword wound in Jesus’ side before he would believe. Jesus, after offering the physical terms of proof demanded by Thomas comments: “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” The logic of Christianity is a faith-based logic. Interestingly, the Bible says: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). To understand this type of logic, we must begin by accepting the fact that we could be wrong about various propositions. In cases, for example, of Deliberative Rhetoric (for Aristotle, this means arguments about what can or should happen in the future), Aristotle understands that we cannot really “know” the future, but we can predict things that “possibly” or “probably” will happen. This is Rhetoric. The aim is to produce “faith” that a certain course of action is wiser than another. In cases of Judicial Rhetoric (for Aristotle, this means arguments about what did actually happen in the past—for example, did O. J. actually kill Ron and Nicole?), Aristotle understands that we cannot really “know” for certain what happened, but we can argue persuasively that certain things “possibly” or “probably” did happen. Similarly, when it comes to the logic of Christianity, we are operating in the realm of “faith”—the realm of Rhetoric. We admittedly do not KNOW how the universe came into existence, what happens to us after we die, whether there is meaning in our life, etc., but we can argue logically that our views on these issues are “possible” or “probable.”
This post is the beginning of a series of blog posts I will be writing on the logic of Christianity. I have begun with an illustration of the range of the faith continuum—from the just barely possible to the “almost-but-still-questionable” certain. Notice that even “just barely possible” faith can motivate us to act, as when a terminal cancer patient opts to try a highly suspect experimental treatment, with the hope of beating his/her cancer. On the other hand, even the almost certain (but still slightly questionable) assertion that smoking causes lung cancer can still fail to motivate a given individual to stop smoking. Just the fact that someone has faith in an assertion (such as that smoking causes cancer) does not mean that any given person’s actions follow his/her faith. And just the fact that someone’s faith in an assertion (such as the experimental cancer treatment) is infinitesimally small does not mean that the person’s actions will not follow his/her faith. In the realm of rhetoric, we are all agnostics. The word “agnostic” means we do not know for certain. And, rhetoric (and its logic) are only applied to those issues the truth of which we do not know for certain. In my book ArguMentor (p. 7) I discuss a study that demonstrated that even self-avowed atheists were stressed at the prospect of daring God to do harm to their children. Could you, without stress, say the following words: “I dare you, God, to strike my children with terminal cancer”? If you could not do so, without stress, there is at least a tiny, even if infinitesimally small, germ of faith in God inside of you. In Luke 17:6 and Matthew 17:20, Jesus compares faith to a grain of mustard seed. This is a very small grain indeed, but it has great growth potential. Perhaps, as you read my posts on the logic of Christianity, your mustard seed will grow.

No comments:

Post a Comment