JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL—RIP Christopher Hitchens

My Fellow Inebriates,

I promised one of my mum’s Facebook friends that I would weigh in on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. But first I have to disclaim a bit:

  • I’m no expert on religious relics. I’m not sure there are any bears in the field.
  • This isn’t a sindonology forum, although admittedly the topics get a little loose.
  • I am totally freaked out by religious artifacts, especially wraps for the dead.
  • I was completely hosed when I offered to comment.

But here goes.

We still don’t know definitively how old the shroud is. Three teeny pieces of it were sent to three separate labs for radiocarbon dating; in 1989 Nature pronounced its age “AD 1260-1390, with at least 95% confidence.” This was a tough pill to swallow for those who believe it to be Jesus’s burial wrap, so they disputed the findings, suggesting that the wrong pieces of the garment (medieval repair patches perhaps) had been sent to the lab and that other, better pieces (which could not be spared) would have yielded a much older date—say, AD 30. Enough criticism was generated that the issue could be labeled a controversy, and so it’s all up in the air.

I know this is an awfully dumb question, but why don’t they send some more fibers for carbon dating? Some better fibers? I know they don’t want to wreck the shroud, but it’s really big! It’s bigger than a beach towel. And then everybody could stop arguing about its age—the biggest piece of the puzzle.

The latest scientific buzz on the shroud is that its image could have been made only by an electromagnetic discharge—a camera obscura effect that arguably could not have been achieved by any known mechanical method at the time, whatever time it was.

I thought I would contact Christopher Hitchens for a quote on the issue but it turns out he’s dead of pneumonia following a very public battle with stage IV (“there is no stage V”) esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is a major bitch; it claimed the grandfather I never knew way back in the eighties when Madonna first started warbling away on MTV and before the Shroud of Turin got carbon-dated.

A lot of theists are speculating where Hitchens has ended up. Some of the happier, nicer characters posit that if he repented in the last second of life, he could very well be enjoying Johnnie Walker Black Label in the sky right now. It’s a very comforting vision, especially given what a friendly mixer Black Label makes, with its introductory, welcome-to-scotch aromas of wood grain, butter, fruit and just a touch of peat. For anyone who’s not sure about scotch, Johnnie Walker is a good starting point: softer and more drinkable than some of the more peaty single-malt whiskies. Hitchens called it “the best blended scotch in the history of the world.” Humans have been making booze of various kinds since the beginning of time, so that’s a decent accolade.

Hitchens’s death is especially poignant, leaving me as it does with a sumptuous pile of good reading that has suddenly been rendered all the more finite. If only I had some Johnnie Walker Black Label to go with it.

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