Friday, October 27, 2006

Neither could they blush.

(I have not included hyperlinks because of my own sensibilities).

"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD." Jeremiah 8:12.

"And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." Ezr 9:6.

The people of Jeremiah's day faced a tremendous crisis but did not know it. It wasn't for lack of Jeremiah's crying. They were dulled by their deep apostasy. They worshiped idols. Their false prophets cried "Peace, peace" when there was no peace. Abominations abounded, yet they could not blush.

Similarly, our prevailing ethic discounts shame. We dare not blush in public. In the City (a rather uninspired imitation of Vanity Fair), images and self-images routinely assault the senses. Yet to exhibit sensibilities would be to admit weakness. Or worse, it would peg you as a prude.

Which brings me to the billboards, the bus-banners, and the radio advertisements. We are exhorted to pay $24.50 a head to see a traveling cadaver show.

"Bodies: The Exhibition", is a traveling exhibit of human corpses. We are assured that it is educational. The bodies have been preserved by a plasticizing method developed by a German doctor, Dr. Gunther von Hagens. He figures that some 20 million people have seen other similar exhibits he has put on.

The cadavers are placed in various poses and in various degrees of dissection for our edification and awe. Some of them are shown playing tennis or throwing balls. Some are on skateboards.

We are not to worry about the provenance of the corpses. They are "on loan" from an institution in China. We are assured that none of them were executed political prisoners. Instead, they were unidentified, and probably homeless, people who died on the street or in the hospital. We are told to trust the Chinese medical school in Dalian, considered the "hub of the corpse-processing industry."

They weren't always so careful. Back in 2004, Dr. von Hagens was forced to send seven corpses back to China from an exhibition in Germany because it was found that two of the "highest quality" specimens had been killed by shots to the head. The bodies had also come from a Chinese medical school. It is apparently located just down the street from a prison.

The notorious Oscar Wilde once said, "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." He may have been right. Europe, for all its decadence, seems to have put up a greater fuss about these exhibits than any city in our country. Some people there still have the capacity for shame and outrage.

I have only run across two local news stories critical of the exhibition. One is a web-based news site run by a self-described Gnostic. The other is an article in the homosexually-oriented local weekly the Stranger (sic). The author of that article concluded his piece this way:

"I feel ashamed of myself when I look on his dead body. And when I think about the strategic location of his body—at the end of the tour and beside a sign that says "To See Is to Know"—I feel heartsick. The truth is, we don't know. We will never know. Only that man knows how he died. We can only wonder.

And gape."

Unrest in Pieces, Dan Ruisi, Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2006, the Stranger.

Millions of people have spent more than $20 each to gape. Tremendous profit is there for those who traffic in the fruits of death. Only a few leftwing souls seem to be outraged and ashamed.

Lest we forget, Death is an outrage. Mocking it will not mitigate its impact. The remains of creatures made in the image of God should not be hawked for entertainment value or to produce a sense of awe. Here, commercial return on investment is a blatant form of sin's wages.

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Matthew 10:16.

". . . but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil." Romans 16:19.

Being harmless is not to be silent. Being simple is not to be ignorant. We are called to blush and to be outraged at abominations. Let not our minds be dulled to the point that we cannot proclaim the need for repentance and faith in Christ.


All laid bare in "Bodies" exhibit. Seattle Times, Aug. 20, 2006.

Von Hagens forced to return controversial corpses to China. The Guardian ,January 23, 2004.,2763,1129261,00.html

"Bodies: The Exhibition": an Ethical Nightmare, Oct. 19, 2006.

Unrest in Pieces, Dan Ruisi, Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2006, the Stranger.


Mrs. B said...

Oh, but Dear, surely you don't mean...we are entitled to indignation? To be ashamed? We should not accept that one man's revulsion is another's taste? But don't the bus banners speak for our culture? Who are we to know who we are?

My Sept. 24 post, "Indignation," quoted B. B. Warfield on this. In his essay, "The Wrath of Man," he calls indignation:

“an inevitable reaction of a moral being in the presence of wrongdoing, and it is not mererly his right, but his duty to give it play when righteousness demands it. No doubt we are to seek peace and ensue it. But this is the peace not of the condonation of evil, but of the conquest of it.”

And then, we mustn't forget to factor the cost of the popcorn with the price of admission. And the cost of our souls.

Victorbravo said...

That Warfield quote is right on. Perhaps your "Indignation" post wore on me for a month.

Mike Pitzler said...

My first year on the fire department and i saw a young man who committed suicide by overdose: he was lying on the floor face down, and when i turned him over, he was livid (the blood had pooled under the skin, making him purple). It was tough, and the paramedic laughed at my reaction and said: "What we got here is a real live dead guy! Whaddayathink?"

The blind must callous themselves from the meaning of death because:

Hebrews 9:27 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment

p.s. A few years after, that same paramedic flew his plane w/3 passengers into a mountain in Montana.

Renee W said...

Hi Vic,
I agree that the prevalent lack of shame in our society is an arrogant travesty. Doubtless, it's another manifestation of man trying to determine for himself what is good and what is evil.

But let's make sure that what we blush at is what is offensive to God, not pseudo-pietstic notions of our own making. May I respectfully comment on the example you raised?

You said, "The remains of creatures made in the image of God should not be hawked for entertainment value or to produce a sense of awe." But since when is awe of God's handiwork an outrage?

Rather than this exhibit making a mockery of death, it has awakened many to the frailty and preciousness of life and the complexity of man's frame. It necessarily cries out against evolutionism and emphasizes the existence and power of God. (Rom. 1:20)

I would venture to guess that the "few leftwing souls [who] seem to be outraged and ashamed" are recoiling more from the knowledge of God being clearly seen through what has been made.

Further, it would, and should, be disturbing to them who have no hope beyond the grave. This life is all they have and they do not like to be reminded of death's door.

Remember that corpses are not sacred and these are being presented in a highly educational way - a far cry from deviant, hedonistic mutilation. After hearing the comments of folks who have been to similar exhibits, you might reconsider and determine that the borders of decadence have not been breached.

You make a good (inferred) point about the harvesting of the specimens - and here is the crux: Obviously, if people are being murdered for the purpose of exhibit then we ought to be outraged and indignantly protest against it; more likely, if they died NOT for the purpose of supply, but have since death been made useful, I cannot see the sin in it.

Victorbravo said...

Renee, I appreciate your thoughtful comments and reminder. You may well be right about the motives of the leftists. I can see how I might have come across as pietistic, but, at least in this instance, that was not my intent. I agree that corpses are not sacred. But I am not convinced that this means they should be marketed.

I should have clarified that the sense of awe I was talking about is the prevalent fascination with body mutilation as a form of body-worship. I viewed it as old paganism renewed. I have not seen the exhibit, but the pictures on the sides of buses and on the billboards suggest to me that the exhibit is marketed not as being educational but rather as appealing to those who want to be shocked.

The outrage, from my perspective, centers upon the trivialization of life by the marketing of anonymous bodies. Coloring that is my awareness that communist China has no compunction about claiming ownership over its citizens, either in life or in death. Perhaps I wouldn't be talking about outrage as much if the former inhabitants of the corpses had consented to this use. I admit that free-market principles often temper my judgments.

Certainly the study of anatomy can point to a glorious Creator. I don't object to cadavers being studied to gain understanding of God's creation. But we are also told to examine motives. I think this means that we should consider carefully what we support with our money, and whether that support contributes to a world-view that honors God.

I'm thinking of an analogy to the passage in 1 Cor. 8:4-13 about the eating of meat offered to idols. Certainly nothing happened to the meat in that act. Nevertheless, I think all would agree that it is a bad idea to go to the temple yourself and pay to have your meat blessed by idols. In a similar fashion, I think paying money to support the exhibit promotes a God-dishonoring agenda.

Going back to the pietism question, I'm not so sure that it is a bad thing, at least as the old Puritans understood it. As I know you agree, nothing we do can work to our salvation. Perhaps some pietists tend to think that way, but that isn't the view of Owen or Knox. They tended to decry things we would find quite acceptable these days. Perhaps they were wrong, as I might be. But my goal, in my ineffectual way, is to align with what they aligned with, that is, to conform our lives to a manner that honors God.

Nevertheless, I very much appreciate your perspective. These kind of discussions are what keep us from becoming "lone rangers".

Victorbravo said...

After reading Jude this morning, I reflected a bit more on what I wrote above. Considering how Michael and Satan were disputing about Moses's body, I'd say that we have some indication that bodies should not be treated in a cavalier fashion. I'd err on the side of traditional reverence or respect.

Mrs. B said...

I saw only a promotional photo for the exhibit, but the face of the decedent was clearly disfigured from deliberate burning with an iron or similar means. I say "clearly" because it matched the description Victor Hugo used of this practice in The Man Who Laughs. It was a popular and barbarous practice among Chinese and Gypsies to remold features of young children so they would grow up with such customized features for their owners' entertainment. They developed means of burning in new features without killing the person. It had to be torturous. I suspect that the individual in the promograph for the present exhibit was tortured and deformed; possibly he died from this, or possibly he died subsequently from other causes. Either way, we are not looking here at God's created image, but of the depravity of man's degradation of that image. I can't know the individual cases of each of the bodies on exhibit. Also, these bodies were not in their natural state of death, but "polymerized" for preservation and their organs neatly stacked for display. It strikes me as both unnatural and threatening--shape up or this could be you.

All the above, including my lack of first-hand knowledge of the details of the exhibit notwithstanding, I'd plead guilty to Renee's identification of some pietistic taint. I've always refused to view the body at a funeral. I even fainted in a museum mummy exhibit on a 6th grade field trip.

And when it comes to Michael v. Satan, I agree there's more at stake than we might think.

And all THAT notwithstanding, outrage is necessarily in the eye of the beholder. I personally have an aversion, though not rising to outrage, to almost every form of Chinese art I've ever seen. Perhaps this is just one more form.

Renee W said...

Dear Bs,
I appreciate so much your graciousness and studied thought on this and other matters.

I will admit to you that I went with a clear conscience, and for the purpose of learning, to said exhibit. I found it to be very informative and awesome (that is, awe-some) and it provoked me to praise God in my heart. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!!

It also gave me a far greater appreciation for texts which speak of the church as a body, specifically Eph. 4:16 "...being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part..." (I came to the realization that I'm the appendix, BTW.)

That said, it is definitely not for the squeamish.

I would guess that at least 75% of my fellow viewers were medical personnel/students. But across the board, professional and lay people alike, I saw no foolish or mocking behavior, only amazement and appreciation for the intricacy of our earthly vesture.

I will also admit to a degree of ignorance regarding the horrible mutilation ("transmutation") of which Hugo speaks. If there were examples there it was not obvious to me, neither did I hear others pointing it out - and I made it a point to eavesdrop on a group of doctors throughout the tour. :)

As a matter of interest, this was not a Gunther von Hagens exhibit, but rather a copycat exhibit. Von Hagens' displays are named Body Worlds and all of his cadavers have been donated by the deceased themselves. In fact, a large percentage of viewers apply to be plastinated after death (more than 6,800 on the "waiting list"!) to promote/increase this learning experience and to make specimens more widely available to medical schools.

I hope this account helps as you mull the issue over - but it is not given as an attempt to persuade you into going or betray your sensibilities.

Your point about Moses' body was interesting. Clearly, Moses was a primary figurehead of Christian history and I wonder if this was the specific factor in regards to his body not falling into enemy hands. I'd like to do some more reading on this.

Thanks for letting me junk up your blog with some rather long-winded and contrary thoughts. I'm counting on your continued love and graciousness, as you have to put up with me week after week!

Victorbravo said...

Renee, you are always our dear sister. Contrary opinions do not put me off.

If there is a fact issue, I place the blame on news reports. I did understand that it was Dr. Von Hagens's former protégé and now rival that is running the Seattle show. Dr. Von Hagen is the originator of the process and was the first such promoter.

But I'm surprised to hear that the people themselves consented to donate their bodies. The Seattle Times account stated that the bodies were unclaimed, and that the university which "owned" them made the donation.

Here is an excerpt from the story:

"The bodies are all of people who died in China from natural causes, Zaller said. Unclaimed by family or friends, they were turned over to medical schools.

The clearinghouse for cadavers used in the exhibit is the medical school in Dalian, a coastal city in China's decaying rust belt that has become the hub of the corpse-processing industry. The university owns the bodies. Premier Exhibitions is paying $25 million over five years to lease several sets for its exhibits.
Zaller said his company has government certificates that guarantee none of the bodies had been a murder victim, prisoner, mental patient or aborted fetus.
"We've been very honest," he said. "We don't lie about where the bodies come from."

The company declined to provide the certificates, saying they are confidential.

That concerns Sharon Hom, executive director of the watchdog group Human Rights in China. The country has such a thriving black market for transplant organs that the government recently adopted new rules to ban the sale of body parts, she pointed out. Couple that with widespread poverty, a strong financial incentive, China's dismal human-rights record and government secrecy, and conditions are ripe for abuse, she said.

'To trust the Chinese government to say these bodies have been procured in a legal and ethical manner is really appalling.'"
. . .

So it goes. I admit that my sensibilities are influence by anti-Chinese government bias. It's bad enough that toys are sold here made by women who are prohibited from having more than one child. It will be a long time before I can come around to accepting this latest export. I pray for genuine revival (not just a commercial revival) in that oppressed land.

Renee W said...

Oops! I think I confused the matter by bringing up von Hagens. His Institute and exhibits use the self-donated bodies. The Seattle exhibit is not a von Hagens' and the body origin controversy regarding it is just as you say.

I see what you object to re: supporting the Chinese government and confess that I have been only vaguely aware of the issues. Thank you for shedding some light here.

I would be hard pressed to find a God-honoring agenda in every place I spent my money - an unavoidable fact of living in a fallen world - yet I can see we need to draw the line somewhere...another matter for continued thought.

It's good to be amongst brethren that help each other walk more circumspectly, iron sharpening iron. Keep up this good work!

I will try not to take up any more of your time and space on this subject...

Mrs. B said...

Renee, I appreciate your clarifying that our decision not to attend--and even to decry--the exhibit was not unconsidered.

I'd like to retract my guilty plea with respect to pietism. I'm not sure how you customarily use the word, but generally I think it implies an emotional devotion to an idea or practice, or exaggerated pious attitude. "A system that stresses the devotional ideal in religion...exaggerated pious feeling or attitude," as per Webster's New World Dictionary 2nd ed.

Having discussed the matter with Vic quite extensively beforehand, I can assure you our outrage was not piously motivated or particularly emotional, but based on considered values.

Thanks for coming on board! Dittos on your being a very dear sister.