Religious Fringe Benefits

Some of you wrote in supporting the Czar’s tirade against the volunteer head of religious education at his local Muscovy church. As you recall, the Цесаревич, and now sigh the Царевич as well, must attend religious education over at Наша Дама Вечера. That the Czar sighs is not a criticism of religious education, but that the little guy is now old enough to have to go. They grow up too fast.

Although the Czar has much to complain about with religious ed over at that Church. In our previous jeremiad, we railed at how the religious ed program is run by one of those over-the-top Catholics bent on reminding everyone how much holier she is that you are, and how she hurls phrases like magisterium at six-year-olds, who ought to be learning about Noah’s ark instead. Okay, you know what? Go read that screed and then come back here; otherwise, take our word for it.

So a couple weeks back, a homework packet arrived by mail. The elder boy has to complete his; the younger did not receive one because he has not officially entered into the program. And as you would predict, and likely did, this set the Czar off again. Why this time?

The homework consisted of some rather poor ideas.

First, attend mass at five different churches, taking note of what is similar or different in each. Okay, one guesses, but there are only a couple of weeks before classes start. No doubt you expect us to cram in three on one weekend and two on the next, right? Bite our ass, lady. Some of us have things to do on weekends other than find things for others to do on weekends with no notice.

So that one will be marked incomplete. And not that the Czar is opposed to this per se, but one of the masses must be a Tridentine rite mass. Not could be, which would be fine with us, but must be…because she is one of those uber-Catholics who quite pointedly objects to the absence of such a mass at our church, and is trying to build a pressure group to get one.

Then come the trivia questions that have to be filled out. Only one was actually good: “Name the four authors of the Gospels.” Even if you are not a Christian, that’s worth knowing because three of the names are common crossword puzzle answers.

Then, this one: “Who was Junípero Serra, and why is he important?” Go ahead and look it up, and ask yourself if that is more important than other things to an 8-year-old.

Or, “Why was the Edict of Milan imporant in 313 AD?” There are probably some very serious Catholics right now looking that one up, even if the answer is admittedly of great historical importance. But should a kid have to know that? So now a bunch of kids can tell you about the Edict of Milan, but have no idea why Daniel would be in a lion’s den.

Then, the jaw dropper. “What was Jesus’ blood type?” Well, given that Karl Landsteiner was not in Judea two-thousand years ago, this would be a tough call. So the Czar puzzled over this one, and Googled the question: it seems that a wacky subset of Catholics (no surprise she would be in this group) believe it to be AB.

Why? Because a trace amount of blood on the Shroud of Turin was allegedly determined to be AB. The Czar hit the roof.

Here is the deal, non-Catholics: the Shroud of Turin, which you remember Leonard Nimoy explaining to you in the late 1970s, is this big piece of cloth that resides in a church in Turin, Italy. For many years, it was rumored to be the burial shroud of Jesus Himself, and since the 13th Century has been a pretty big draw among sideshow seekers tired of gawking at a bearded lady. To say the Czar was skeptical of the shroud’s authenticity would be accurate.

However, extensive tests more than 20 years ago conclusively dated the shroud’s manufacture to the years 1260-1390, right about the time it suddenly appeared at the church. Worse, the shroud cloth appears to use a herringbone weave that was not possible in the 1st Century AD, but was very much in use right around the late 13th Century. Further, the shroud appears to have been simply folded over the body, instead of being bound and wrapped around the body as was done at the time. A 13th Century huckster would not know that, but we do today from archeological discovery.

Speaking of that error, a dimensional rendering of the image on the cloth shows equal distribution of anatomical features, not the distorted features of a person that would result from it being on an actual corpse. By recreating the shape of a figure that would produce such an image, the result was pretty clear: it was a full-size bas relief template of a person. You know, as if someone was rubbing cloths against slightly dimensional mannequin to mass produce shrouds. Two of the most difficult pieces of evidence to contradict were the (a) the feet, which are totally pronated unnaturally—a cloth placed over actual feet would leave clear marks from the tops of the toes, but produce a gap between the tops of the feet all the way to the shins (which you can try at home with a sheet); on the shroud, you get 100% imagery of the toes, feet, ankles, and shins, and (b) the distance between the forehead and the back of the head: if this had been a real figure, his head would be only a few inches thick. In fact, you don’t really need a three-dimensional rendering to see those last two pieces prove no person was actually harmed in the making of the shroud.

Blood tests were performed on the shroud. And despite an initial claim that AB blood was found by testers eager to prove its authenticity, subsequent tests by more cautious researchers have stated that no blood type can be determined from the shroud, and that the substances tested might not even be blood…but could be iron oxide paint or iron oxide paint mixed with blood to produce the desired brownish color. All of which, by the way, were well known materials in the 13th Century.

So clear was the evidence against its authenticity that Pope John Paul II, who did not tolerate much in the way of hoaxes, began to refer to the shroud as an icon, not a relic. In other words, a very impressive and devoted work of art. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, however, expressly believed it to be of divine origin; more recently, as Benedict XVI, he has backed off on that and also states the shroud is a icon—a very inspirational one, at that, worthy of respect. The Vatican, after all these centuries, still holds a bit of skepticism toward the shroud even though a variety of popes either believed or rejected its authenticity.

Perhaps you can appreciate the Czar’s renewed irritation with the person running the religious ed program. The Czar is willing to accept that the shroud is a very important and intensely valuable work of art for the Church, but he finds himself encouraged to lump its aggressive believers in with the crop circle folks. You been pwned, and if you want to believe in it, go ahead. But do not start teaching the kids that you cannot keep up with the facts.

The Czar is easily the least religious of the guys here, but he deeply, deeply agrees with the late Pope John Paul II who frequently expressed a strong love for science and rational inquiry: he often said in many different ways that religious faith and scientific fact should not be enemies; rather, if your faith is sound you have nothing to fear from science. And if you really believe in religious truth, it should reflect scientific reality. Truth is truth, whether religious or scientific, and there should be little daylight between them. That is both a noble and ultimately courageous position to take. The Czar is convinced that Pope Benedict XVI is not so keen on this view, but remains quiet since, well, Pope John Paul II was correct on so many other matters.

The Czar would welcome the head of religious education at Наша Дама Вечера to either remain quiet on fringe beliefs, or—better still—employ a little religious courage and accept the truth. But, until then, he will continue to seethe until the new pastor—who comes from an order of religious educators—fires her and takes over the job himself.

Jesus’ blood type. Sheesh.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.