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Inside NCR

One case still open, another definitely closed

The image on the Shroud of Turin, according to reports, appears a little fainter each time it is exposed. If this pattern continues, a time will come when there is no image left. So the current display is a privileged moment, especially for those lucky enough to see it with their own eyes.

This is true whether the image is that of the dead Jesus or not. “Were the Shroud a forgery,” said one scholar, “it would be a greater miracle than if it were the actual burial cloth of Christ.” On anybody’s list, this ought to be one of the wonders of the world. This is true in large part because no one can figure it out.

There are, on the one hand, the true believers. Despite the many and amazing similarities between the Shroud and the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, these millions of fervent people must still make a leap of faith. There were always such people, ready to believe even -- or especially -- when the evidence ran out.

There are, on the other hand, scientists who often have no such interest in the theological implications of the Shroud. In an increasingly cynical age when our civilization is so trivialized and corrupted that science is looking more and more to outer space for wonder and inspiration, it’s fascinating to find so many scientists so absorbed by this old piece of decaying cloth.

The scientific exploration has been well documented (NCR, Jan. 16, 1987; Oct. 21, 1988; Oct. 28, 1988). To date, however, the Shroud has baffled scholars and their amazing techniques and equipment. Time and again we find them saying there’s a “mystery” here.

Are we all talking about the same mystery? The easy answer is that science and theology are still worlds apart. If, however, theology can be described as the human mind in search of God, there could be room here for exciting collaboration. An editorial in the Times of London some years ago stated: “It is almost as if God had calculated that, some 2,000 years ahead, science would have replaced theology as the commonly accepted arbiter of truth and planned accordingly.”

If so, even God may be wrong. As science struggles to wrap its formulas around elusive theological truth, the leap into incomprehension still seems the shortest distance between earth and heaven.

When NCR, in a December 1994 article headlined “Adios, American dream,” reported on the hardships caused by layoffs at the Milwaukee-based small-engine company, Briggs & Stratton retaliated with a $30 million lawsuit. This action, commonly known as a SLAPP suit, or “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” is a well-known tactic designed to intimidate the media from critical reporting on big business.

In an April 10 order, federal Judge C. N. Clevert dismissed the suit, which by then was borne on the lone shoulders of B&S corporate mouthpiece George Thompson after his bosses prudently dropped out of the picture.

Briggs & Stratton lawyers said at the time that they would appeal. They had a month to do so. The purpose of this happy little communiqué is to report that the 30 days came and went and no appeal was made. Case closed. Adios, Briggs & Stratton.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, June 5, 1998