The Background: "We have found a holy thing in a chest; it's a piece of a cross," said one of the archaeologists. The piece of wood was discovered in a stone chest on the site of a church in Turkey, built in 660 A.D.
According to CBS News, researchers aren't sure who owned the chest, but it was probably a religious person of some importance, and that person apparently believed the cross relic was the real deal. The recent discovery was sent to a lab for testing.
Best case scenario, say researchers, it could be traced to the year of the Crucifixion, but we would not know if the wood is from the cross of Jesus.
What It Means: Imagine I offered you $20 to try on a freshly laundered sweater. As you're putting the sweater on, though, I inform you that the clothing was once owned and worn by Adolf Hitler. How would you react?
Although the sweater has nothing to do with Hitler anymore, most people, as psychologist Paul Rozin found when he performed this experiment, would be disgusted by coming into contact with an object once worn by the mass murderer. Rozin noticed there was a link between disgust, essentialism (the idea that we attribute a soul-like 'essence' to certain objects), and sympathetic magic (the idea that this essence is transferable from person to object and vice versa).
Psychologists label this the contagion heuristic, a general rule in which people avoid contact with people or objects viewed as "contaminated" by previous contact with someone or something viewed as bad—or, less often, to seek contact with objects that have been in contact with people or things considered good.
Christians may think we are above such "magical thinking" but the issue of holy relics tends to betray our true feelings. Most people, of course, would be skeptical that the piece of cross recently found in Turkey is the cross. But what if it were? Would we feel that touching the object would bring us closer to Jesus?
Aside from the natural curiosity we would have about such an object, would we be warranted into treating it with veneration?
Why would we feel there is more "essence" of Christ left behind on a piece of his cross? Why would we be more awed by a single piece of wood that God has touched than we are by the millions of trees he created?
Christians don't need dead relics, because we have a living Savior. We don't need to touch holy relics, because we have the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. We don't need mementos to bring us in contact with God, because he has never left us.