June 8, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Is Anyone out there, somewhere over the rainbow, way up high?

Cynthia DewesThere seems to be a movement afoot these days to deny the existence of God—or at least the possibility of a divine presence. Of course, there have always been doubters, atheists, agnostics and well-intentioned people with limited imaginations. But sadly, the trend toward unbelief seems to be growing.

On Easter Sunday, we watched a segment of CBS’s “Sunday Morning” TV program about a scientific expert who recently examined the Shroud of Turin to establish its authenticity or lack thereof. He concluded that the shroud is indeed the burial cloth of the historical Jesus because it fits the criteria for the age, chemistry and materials of the time when Jesus died.

OK. So far, so good. Then the expert ruined our satisfaction with his findings by going a step beyond his scientific expertise to speculate about the shroud’s meaning. He announced that Mary Magdalene did not find an empty burial cloth, meaning that Christ had miraculously disappeared. Rather, she mistook the stained folds of the shroud covering a shrinking dead body for an empty pile of cloth.

Now, that explanation seems a lot more contrived to me than believing that Christ could rise from the dead! It’s one more example of how hard it is not to believe. In addition, if we read the Scriptures from which this story is taken, we find not only the discovery of the empty shroud, but also angels announcing the Resurrection, and several later appearances by the risen Christ!

The expert failed to take all that into account. It makes me wonder why such people try so hard to objectify what is essentially subjective. The only reason I can come up with is that it’s because some of us can understand reality only with our physical senses. Literalists need to prove everything by sight, sound, touch, etc., or from evidence presented by other literalists.

But I think that the realities that exist supernaturally are so hard for such folks to accept that they dismiss them. If they can’t prove from their own experience that God exists, then God doesn’t exist to them. It seems to me the very fact that they are concerned with abstract questions like this is because all of us, doubters or not, share a sense of incompleteness of a kind of longing for verification. Philosophers and theologians have been trying to address such big issues since time began.

Dedicated unbelievers seem determined to reject the gift of faith. They include Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German thinker, who wrote: “We are the assassins of God. … We are at war against the Christian ideal, against the doctrine that makes beatitudes and salvation the aim of life.”

Really? Does anyone actually want to do away with virtues and hope, the very things which are the results of the beatitudes and the desire for salvation? Not if they want to share the qualities that make life worth living, they don’t.

If we think about the alternatives to faith in God, we’re left with the idea that (wo)man is the ultimate authority in his or her own life, and that there is no Other who supports them in life, or from whom they can seek comfort. They’re on their own.

Here again, the question is, do we really want to be responsible for everything, including the results of human error, and the vagaries of human and physical nature? I don’t think so.

But then, I guess I’m just a simple-minded believer.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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