Friday, October 23, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Cyber attacks smite atheist websites

Australian atheists are under attack, with the websites of both the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Global Atheist Convention knocked offline in a major cyber attack yesterday afternoon.

The "distributed denial of service" attacks flooded the websites with traffic, forcing them offline about 5.20pm yesterday.

As of this morning, service to both websites has been restored.

The attacks may be related to the Global Atheist Convention, which is being held in Melbourne in March next year. Speakers include Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and comedy writer Catherine Deveny.

About 1000 tickets have been sold so far through the Global Atheist Convention website, which was set up, and is operated, by the AFA.

The AFA is billing the event as the largest gathering of atheists in Australian history but ticket sales have had to be halted for now due to the cyber attack.

David Nicholls, president of the AFA, said it was not yet clear whether the attacks were motivated by religion or conservative Christian groups' anger at the AFA's lobbying for a more secular society.

However, the fact that two separate atheism-related websites were hit suggested the attack was targeted at atheists.

"We have been informed that the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Global Atheist Convention sites were the specific target of the attacks," Nicholls said, adding he had reported the incident to the Australian Federal Police.

"This may not be just an attack on atheism, but an attack on freedom of speech."

"Our aim is to keep the Australian government, education and welfare systems secular," Nicholls said.

"Unfortunately, some people in our society find that very confronting."

The cyber attacks are reminiscent of last year's major attacks on Scientology websites by a group of loosely connected online miscreants that called themselves Anonymous.

In May this year, 19-year-old Dmitriy Guzner from New Jersey agreed to plead guilty to playing a part in the attacks, which crashed Scientology websites. The final outcome of the case is not clear but he faced up to 10 years in prison.

STORY LINK

Tuesday, October 20, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

The Book of Genesis

A sexually explicit illustrated Book of Genesis by controversial artist Robert Crumb, which features Bible characters having intercourse, has been condemned by religious groups.

US cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose take on the Bible was just released worldwide, says people are "totally nuts" for taking the book so seriously for so long.

"I grew to hate the Bible," he told a press conference for the international launch of "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb", which he called a "gruelling" four year project. The book hit bookshelves in this month in Europe, Brazil and the United States.

"The idea of millions of people taking this so seriously is totally nuts," he added. "The Bible doesn't need to be satirised. It's already so crazy."

Crumb's 220-page epic take on the Book of Genesis painstakingly mirrors every twist and turn, from God's Creation of the world through the meanderings of Noah's Ark and the adventures of Jacob of the "coat of many colours".

The 66-year-old hero of underground comics who wowed the 1960s with "Fritz The Cat" and "Mr Natural", said he took up the challenge 40 years later of creating another white-haired long-bearded figure "to illuminate the text of Genesis by illustrating every single thing that's in there."

"It hasn't been done before I think," he said. "There are hidden stories that are very strong."

The lanky gray-haired Crumb, in grey suit and waistcoat for the two-hour media conference, poked fun at the Almighty hero of the book but said he had reneged his Roman Catholic upbringing to become a gnostic "on a spiritual quest".

The God in his book was "very very serious, as well he should be. It's his universe," he quipped, saying he depicted him as an old-fashioned patriarch "after a powerful dream in 2000 in which I saw God and that's what he looked like."

"I avoided explicit sex because I didn't want to ridicule", he said, "but you can't ever please true believers. If you're messing around with their sacred texts, they won't like it."

"Perhaps someone will want to kill me," he added, referring to recent controversy over Mohammed cartoons in Demark.

Crumb, who moved from the United States to southern France in the 1990s, said his interest in the Bible was tied to his longstanding passion for tales of ancient civilisations.

"The Bible is not the word of God. It's the words of men," he said. "I take it all as myth from start to finish".

STORY LINK

Monday, October 19, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Nobel winner slams Bible as 'handbook of bad morals'

Portuguese writer José Saramago.Image of Jose Saramago via Wikipedia

LISBON — A row broke out in Portugal on Monday after a Nobel Prize-winning author denounced the Bible as a "handbook of bad morals".

Speaking at the launch of his new book "Cain", Jose Saramago, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, said society would probably be better off without the Bible.

Roman Catholic Church leaders accused the 86-year-old of a publicity stunt.

The book is an ironic retelling of the Biblical story of Cain, Adam and Eve's son who killed his younger brother Abel.

At the launch event in the northern Portuguese town of Penafiel on Sunday, Saramago said he did not think the book would offend Catholics "because they do not read the Bible".

"The Bible is a manual of bad morals (which) has a powerful influence on our culture and even our way of life. Without the Bible, we would be different, and probably better people," he was quoted as saying by the news agency Lusa.

Saramago attacked "a cruel, jealous and unbearable God (who) exists only in our heads" and said he did not think his book would cause problems for the Catholic Church "because Catholics do not read the Bible.

"It might offend Jews, but that doesn't really matter to me," he added.

Father Manuel Marujao, the spokesman for the Portuguese conference of bishops, said he thought the remarks were a publicity stunt.

"A writer of Jose Saramago's standing can criticise, (but) insults do no-one any good, particularly a Nobel Prize winner," the priest said.

Rabbi Elieze Martino, spokesman for the Jewish community in Lisbon, said the Jewish world would not be shocked by the writings of Saramago or anyone else.

"Saramago does not know the Bible," the rabbi said, "he has only superficial understanding of it."

The author caused a scandal in Portugal in 1992 with "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ."

The book depicted Jesus losing his virginity to Mary Magdalene and being used by God to control the world.

Saramago quit Portugal at the time and moved to Lanzarote, in the Spanish Canary Islands.

STORY LINK

Friday, October 16, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Speaking Evangelese -- Do's and Don'ts for Politicians

by Valerie Tarico

Advice for candidates from a former fundie.

One thing I learned not long after finishing my Spanish degree was – never volunteer to translate anything into a language you don’t dream in. I was visiting Flores, Guatemala, and offered to help a small art collective. In response, they handed me some fliers to translate from English to Spanish. I had that four year degree, you know, so I did--with embarrassing results. My sentences were grammatically correct, and the words even meant what I thought they meant. But no native speaker ever would have said things quite that way, and someone had to tactfully tell me so. I still wince at the memory, at my own naiveté and hubris.

Takeaway for political candidates: If you're not a Christian, don't even try to speak Evangelese. There are subtleties of sequence and jargon that are invisible to outsiders, but violating them even slightly is a dead giveaway that you are a sham. Refer to someone as "a good person," for example, and it's all over. You might as well be that poor American spy who shifted his fork to his right hand after cutting the meat.

Not convinced? Listen to a real Evangelical for a few moments. Susan Hutchison is a Religious Right candidate in King County, Washington. Shortly before beginning her run, she gave the keynote at a prayer breakfast for elected officials. In it, she recounts a conversation with Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins and talks about her own faith. Any five minute segment of the talk would say convincingly to other Evangelicals, Susan isn’t one of those lukewarm (aka modernist mainline) Christians. She is one of us. Take a few minutes to watch, and then ask yourself:
  1. Would I have thought to invoke the frightening words "age of the activist atheists," knowing that atheists are more reviled than gays and Muslims?
  2. Would I have described sharing my religious beliefs as "giving a little testimony?"
  3. Would I have said Richard Dawkins reacted to “the name of Jesus” (At the Name of Jesus ever knee shall bow . . . ) rather than the whole dismaying event?
  4. Would it have occurred to me that one could be a confirmed Lutheran but not be a Christian until a specific born again experience?
  5. Would I have known to tell a story about God telling me or another person to do something—with wonderful results?
  6. Would I have mentioned that I was praying for my opponents like the author of Matthew recommends? "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you . . ." Matthew 5:44
  7. Would I have honed in on belief as the center of Christianity, with doubt as something to be prayed away? "I believe, help me in my unbelief."
  8. Would I have called the Bible "the Word of God"?
  9. Would I have conveyed with confidence that the highest purpose of public service is as platform for winning the world to Jesus (Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.)
  10. Would I have avoided the word religion throughout my talk?
Refer to someone as "a good person," for example, and it's all over.If you didn’t know these were insider language and narrative templates , you’re not an insider.

Susan Hutchison is the Real Deal, which is virtually impossible to fake. All the same, if you want the Evangelical/born again forty-ish percent of the public to find you appealing, there are a few turns of phrase that are worth incorporating into your campaign vocabulary. Don’t try using these to establish your spiritual bona fides. (Unless you are born again, you have none. See good person, above. There is no such thing. All we like sheep have gone astray.) Instead, use evangelical or biblical turns of phrase in a secular context. They will sound appealingly familiar to a born again audience—without you pretending to be something you aren’t. For example, here are a few sample phrases you might borrow from Hutchison.
  1. Refer to "my heart":
    1. Evangelical examples: asking Jesus into your heart, God is speaking to your heart.
    2. Secular use: I feel in my heart, I know in my heart no matter how hard it may be, we need to provide basic medical care for every child in this country.
  2. Say you felt "called" or were led to do something.
    1. Evangelical examples: God called me to move to Seattle, to take up the ministry, to put John 3:16 on my eyeblacks. Richard Dawkins and I have been brought together.
    2. Secular use: I felt called to take up the cause of health care for all.
  3. Use the word "personal" liberally.
    1. Evangelical example: I needed a personal faith. You aren't really a Christian until you have a personal relationship with Jesus.
    2. Secular use: I have a personal relationship to the people in that nursing home.
  4. Use the phrase "all the world."
    1. Evangelical example: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
    2. Secular use: Whether we treat health care as a basic human right will have ripple effects flow into all the world.
  5. Talk about events that "changed your life forever."
    1. Evangelical example: Accepting Jesus as my personal savior changed my life forever.
    2. Secular use: Sitting with that dying child changed my life forever.
Hutchison herself makes a mistake or two about insider/outsider language in her story about Richard Dawkins at Windsor Castle. In her version, he asks a question and she gives a little testimony about God revealing himself through Jesus. (Tangentially, Dawkins recalls the conversation being about GW, not Jesus.) In the story, Dawkins says that his books give people permission to “deny their faith.” This is a very Evangelical turn of phrase. Also, Hutchison quotes Dawkins as saying she became “tawdry and base” when she said “the word Jesus”. Unlikely. An atheist scientist is more likely to react negatively to her whole plug for special (biblical) revelation rather than the “name of Jesus,” but in fundamentalist theology it is “the name of Jesus” that demons can’t bear. Most likely, Hutchison projected an Evangelical phrase into Dawkins’ mouth. Like my attempt to translate into Spanish, her attempt at translation probably was shaped by her native tongue.

It’s easy go awry when you're trying to speak someone else's language, and secular folks frequently make mistakes when trying to build bridges with Evangelical believers. Here are a few examples of seemingly insider words that instead are actually negative triggers for many Evangelicals.
  1. Calling Christianity a religion. It isn't. It's a relationship.
  2. Referring to Jesus as a good man. He wasn’t. He was God.
  3. Using the word "tolerance." It's a bad word that means you are a moral relativist.
  4. Mentioning priests or bishops. Way too Catholic. Evangelicals call them ministers or pastors or preachers.
  5. Using the words interfaith, or spirituality. Those are words for wusses and imply spiritual weakness.
If you want to get serious about understanding Evangelical language and the role it plays in politics, I recommend David Domke's book, The God Strategy. You also can find funny or serious lists of insider language online.

But I want to make a more important point. For those of you who watched the video, take a cue from Hutchison’s grace, poise, and relentless equanimity. Mean spirited jabs, visible frustration or righteous indignation rarely rallies people to your side. Susan Hutchison talks about the enemies of her God -- Dan Barker, activist atheists, and Richard Dawkins -- with zero verbal edge, all the while maintaining the same smile that is there when she talks about God answering prayers. It’s what made her well loved as an anchor woman, and it may very well win her an election among people who actually disagree with her core values. In the end, the biggest part of people feeling connected with you is whether you come across as likable. That is what all of the insider/outsider language analysis really is about. If people identify with you and find you trustworthy -- if thinking about you makes them feel warm and happy -- they’re going to put their own best spin on whatever you may say.

Thursday, October 15, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Church to Burn Bibles on Halloween Night

A Baptist Church near Asheville, N.C., is hosting a "Halloween book burning" to purge the area of "Satan's" works, which include all non-King James versions of the Bible, popular books by many religious authors and even country music.

The website for the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C. (now off line, for some reason), says there are "scriptural bases" for the book burning. The site quotes Acts 19:18-20:
"And many that believed, came and confessed and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."

Church leaders deem Good News for Modern Man, the Evidence Bible, the New International Version Bible, the Green Bible and the Message Bible, as well as at least seven other versions of the Bible as "Satan's Bibles," according to the website. Attendees will also set fire to "Satan's popular books" such as the work of "heretics" including the Pope, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Susan Hutchison -- Washington State's Sarah Palin?

by Valerie Tarico

ValerieTaricoCroppedValerie Tarico via Wikipedia

Please help obstruct the religious right by forwarding this article to anyone you know in Western Washington.

Next week in King County, Washington, "nonpartisan" Susan Hutchison will be vying with Democrat Dow Constantine for the role of County Executive. The seat controls significant resources in a region that often plays a leadership role in future oriented public policy. If King County were a state, its budget size would be 13th in the country. Economically, the county lives on cutting edge science, engineering and technology: Microsoft, Boeing, Amgen, Nintendo and a host of tech/biotech start ups.

What national precedents is King County likely to be setting in the next go around? That depends in part on who sits in the executive seat. Constantine has track records in brokering anti-sprawl, sustainable development and historic preservation. He's a proponent of strong, innovative carbon policies. But who is the elusive Hutchison? Seattle Times reporter Danny Westneat called Susan Hutchison a sort-of-Republican. Erica Barnett at the Stranger called her a Republican Religious Wingnut. A member of her own party called her "our Sarah Palin." Is Susan Hutchison a Palin in the making? You be the judge.

In this post, Bill Alford at Moral Politics Television, Seattle, interviewed Dr. Valerie Tarico, author, activist, and former evangelical about what she perceives behind the nonpartisan veil.

Is Susan Hutchison a stealth right winger and closet fundamentalist, as some folks are saying?

Let's start with her political leanings. Hutchison is a solid triple R: Religious Right Republican. Since 2003, her political giving supported Mike Huckabee (over John McCain), George W. Bush, and Dino Rossi. She spent $3000 trying to get Rossi into office. All of her political/religious affiliations are with what I would call effective, conservative or evangelical organizations with good PR. Calling herself "nonpartisan" is a smart posture, because King County majorities probably wouldn't vote for Susan Hutchison if they were clear on her political identity. And it works. In an early interview with Seattlepi.com reporter Neil Modie, Hutchison herself said, "Our polls showed that 10 percent of the people responding thought I was extremely liberal." Her team is working to sustain that confusion.

Solidly Repubican. How about fundamentalist?

Well that depends on what you mean by fundamentalist? If you use fundamentalist to mean strident, cut-off-from- the-world, and fringe, then no. Hutchison is gracious and charming and obviously right in the swirl of the Seattle's fine arts community. If you mean a fundamentalist from a theological standpoint: the Bible is the literally perfect word of god, Jesus was born to a literal virgin, Jesus was a human sacrifice, people who don't believe that are going to be tortured forever. Yes. It would appear from Susan Hutchison's own words that she's a born-again fundamentalist who thinks that politicians should use their status to promote their religious beliefs. Hutchison gave the keynote at a prayer breakfast this spring. Here is a reading she chose, which was followed by her own born again testimony and exhortation for politicians to use their bully pulpit to promote their (Christian) religion.
"It was through what his son did that God cleared a path for everything to come to him all things in heaven and in hearth . . . for Christ's death on the Cross has made peace with God for all by his blood. . . . He has done this through the death on the cross of his own human body . . . The only condition is that you fully believe the truth, believe the truth, standing in it and never shifting from trusting him to save you. This is the wonderful news that came to each of you and is now spreading throughout the world."Prayer Breakfast 1:02:35 to 1:04:40

Note the emphasis on blood sacrifice, belief, and spreading the good news. This is a very evangelical choice, and she follows it with stories that reinforce the message. You can hear Hutchison's message at WTV, linked above through Barnett's article. Hutchison begins around 47 minutes into the breakfast.

What exactly is the part you quoted?

Well, what she was actually reading from is something called the Living Bible. It's not a translation, so you won't find it even at Evangelical sites like www.biblegateway.com that allow you to compare Bible translations side by side. Back in the 1970s a fundamentalist preacher and writer named Kenneth Taylor decided he wanted the Bible to be more accessible, so he wrote his own version, an admitted "paraphrase." That means he put in his own words what he thought God was trying to say. I can't resist quoting George Bernard Shaw here: No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means.

Actually, it's not unusual for Biblical literalists to pick and choose what translations or paraphrases they use to make a point, as Hutchison has done. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren uses over 15 different translations, if I remember correctly. He chooses whichever translation best suits his point for different verses he cites.

The connection between free market fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism is an orientation toward ideology. Hutchison chose not only her Bible but her text fragments carefully. She left out some parts that might have been a bit jarring. For example, early in her message she emphasized that Jesus made : "the earthly world with its rulers and authorities, its Washington State government, . . . ." The words Washington State government replaced the words, all were made by Christ for his own use and glory. His own use? His own glory? It sounds kind of ugly. So she put in something benign that doesn't jar listeners out of the narrative flow and in fact brings it closer to home. She is a wonderful evangelical speaker. Her message quality is on par with that of Joel Olsteen or Rick Warren. In a denomination that allowed women in the pulpit, she could draw a large congregation.

But wouldn't any real Christian be comfortable with those words she wrote? Wouldn't they agree with them?

Not necessarily. Many, many Christians would chose other words to represent their faith. Remember that for Susan Hutchison to read these words -- there are layers of filtering here. As more is known about the Bible through linguistic analysis and archaeological discoveries, more and more Christian theologians don't think of the Bible as the literally perfect word of God. We know that some parts were copied from Akkadian and Sumerian texts, some parts were handed down through oral traditions. The Catholic councils that decided what got into the Bible and what didn't -- they didn't have access to the same quality of information we have now, and they were responding to a specific political context. Hutchison's reading is her edited selection of a paraphrase by Ken Taylor of the book of Colossians. But who wrote the book of Colossians? Scholars aren't so sure any more. You can get a glimpse of the dispute even on Wikipedia.

Hutchison chose this fragment of writing by a contested author paraphrased by a fundamentalist to fit her own beliefs about blood atonement and salvation -- and her evangelistic message to electeds. This is a fundamentalist evangelical choice. People hear that Hutchison attends a Presbyterian church and they assume that she is mainstream in her community and beliefs. What they don't know is that fundamentalism as a movement actually emerged out of the Presbyterian seminaries in the early Twentieth Century, and Presbyterian churches vary widely in terms of where they fall on the continuum. Hutchison's church is not middle of the road for Presbyterians in this region. It is fairly middle of the road for evangelical churches. During the prayer breakfast message, Hutchison made another move that reflects both fundamentalist theology and her personality. She very graciously but clearly used evangelical language to dismiss other forms of Christianity.

What do you mean?

Well, part of the talk is a classic evangelical "testimony." This is a stock form of proselytizing in which the speaker shares their own born again experience. She talks about how she was raised in Christianity, knew the Bible but she wasn't a real Christian until she realized she needed a "more personal faith" and had this "thing happen to her." The word personal -- personal relationship with Jesus, personal salvation and so on -- it's a big word in Evangelical circles. She emphasizes salvation by belief in blood atonement. She repeats it several times. This is a way that Protestants, particularly Evangelicals differentiate themselves from Catholics, who believe that salvation comes through both faith and works. The message is that you are not really a Christian until you have this personal relationship, and salvation is about belief.

The real question here is: What are the implications for her likely priorities in public office?

What is the old saying? We are known by the company we keep. That is actually reasonable folk wisdom. James Wellman, University of Washington sociologist likes to say that, "Our sense of reality is socially constructed." It makes sense to assume that Hutchison's priorities are shaped by her expressed values and her associations, just like the rest of us. So, independent of her work for the Simonyi Foundation, who does Hutchison hang out with?

Her prayer breakfast talk was hosted by an organization called Washington Leadership. Their tag line is: A place where state and community leaders can come together with emerging leaders around the person of Jesus. I might expect her to be a bit fuzzy on church/state separation issues, because the evangelical mandate as I know it, and as she manifested it in her prayer breakfast talk trumps separation. Hutchison appears to have a strong value on leveraging public exposure to spread her version of Christianity. Hutchison is on the board of Young Life international, which fits perfectly. It is a fun, smart evangelical organization that seeks to convert teenagers and get teenagers to convert each other to this fundamentalist theology we heard her reading.

Until she began her run for office, she also was on the board of the Discovery Institute, which gets evangelical funding to undermine secular "materialist" science education and replace it with a sophisticated version of creationism called Intelligent Design. They claim ID is science, but even the Templeton Foundation, an organization that funds the intersection between faith and science disagrees and won't give them money. I find it dismaying that Hutchison has been around the caliber of scientists she claims to have encountered through her work at Simonyi without developing a deeper understanding of the scientific method and why it works so well.

Hutchison spoke this month at a conservative think tank, the Washington Policy Institute that espouses free market fundamentalism and right now is promoting a film trying to deny climate science and dissuade climate action. So again you see this inclination toward undermining the scientific enterprise -- in the WPI case with an eye toward economic policy. In my mind the connection between free market fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism is an orientation toward ideology (ie. strong narrative filters that screen out contradictory information) and perhaps consequently a weakened ability run a recalc on early assumptions and decisions.

Any final thoughts?

I look at Susan Hutchison, and as a former evangelical I see a woman on a mission, in that sense much like Sarah Palin, but without the weird exorcism of witches stuff. Hutchison's evangelical associations have steered her in a very specific political direction: She gave money to evangelical Republican Mike Huckabee over John McCain. She refuses to answer questions about reproductive rights. Heck, she even refuses to tell people that she's a Republican. While working for Charles Simonyi and giving away his money, she has had plenty of opportunity to become more sophisticated about the scientific method and data based decisions -- but instead I might worry that she has become better at clinging to an ideology in the face of evidence to the contrary. I personally prefer having someone in the King County Exec office who bases their policy decisions on data and who is on a mission to serve the people of King County.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org

Monday, October 12, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Atheists Lead The Movement To End Poverty

Kiva MicrofundsImage via Wikipedia

PRESS RELEASE

October 10, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Dr. Stephen Uhl

In just over one year the community of Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious (AASFSHNR) at Kiva.org have raised $1 million (USD) in interest-free loans to help end poverty. Kiva.org is a US non-profit organization that connects lenders with borrowers, from around the globe, who need a micro-finance loan. Peter Kroll, the AASFSHNR community team leader, created the community on August 28th, 2008 with the ambition to organize those who share his world view that "people should care about reducing the suffering of other human beings because we acknowledge the evolutionary fact that we are all one human family."

Kiva's co-founder Matt Flannery has put out his call that "now is a time for the world's privileged to demonstrate to the world's poor just how compassionate and resilient we are." The AASFSHNR community has responded, as well as many other communities and individuals. More than four years after Kiva's founding almost $100 million has been lent worldwide.

Micro-finance is the brain-child of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mohammad Yunus. Yunus realized decades ago, on a visit to a poor village in his country of Bangladesh, that the local people were caught in an endless cycle of debt caused by loan-sharks. He realized what a difference it would make by "removing the barriers faced by the poor so that they can unleash their creativity and intelligence in the service of humanity."

Monday, October 05, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Shroud of Turin finally proved to be a fake

Scientists have reproduced the Shroud of Turin - revered as the cloth that covered Jesus in the tomb - and say the experiment proves the relic was man-made, a group of Italian debunkers claimed Monday.

The shroud bears the figure of a crucified man, complete with blood seeping out of nailed hands and feet, and believers say Christ's image was recorded on the linen fibres at the time of his resurrection.

Scientists have reproduced the shroud using materials and methods that were available in the 14th century, the Italian Committee for Checking Claims on the Paranormal said.

The group said in a statement this is further evidence the shroud is a medieval forgery. In 1988, scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine it was made in the 13th or 14th century.

But the dispute continued because experts couldn't explain how the faint brown discolouration was produced, imprinting on the cloth a negative image centuries before the invention of photography.

Many still believe that the shroud "has unexplainable characteristics that cannot be reproduced by human means," lead scientist Luigi Garlaschelli said in the statement. "The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."

The research was funded by the debunking group and by an Italian organisation of atheists and agnostics, he said.

Garlaschelli, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pavia, said in an interview with La Repubblica daily that his team used a linen woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged by heating it in an oven and washing it with water.

The cloth was then placed on a student, who wore a mask to reproduce the face, and rubbed with red ochre, a well known pigment at the time. The entire process took a week, Repubblica said.

The shroud is first recorded in history around 1360 in the hands of a French knight - a late appearance that is one of the reasons why some scientists are sceptical of its authenticity.

Measuring 13 feet (4 metres) long and three feet (one metre) wide, it has suffered severe damage during the centuries, including from fires.

Owned by the Vatican, it is kept locked in a special protective chamber in Turin's cathedral and is rarely shown. The last public display was in 2000, when more than one million people turned up to see it, and the next is scheduled for 2010.

The Catholic Church makes no claims about the relic's authenticity, but says it is a powerful symbol of Christ's suffering.

The shroud has been strongly debated within the scientific community. Some researchers claim that patches used in the Middle Ages to repair the cloth after a fire altered the carbon-dating results.

Another study, by the Hebrew University, concluded that pollen and plant images on the shroud showed it originated in the area around Jerusalem sometime before the eighth century.

Garlaschelli told Repubblica he didn't think his research would convince those who have faith in the shroud's authenticity.

"They won't give up," he said. "Those who believe in it will continue to believe."

STORY LINK