Almost a year ago, M.Z. Hemingway had an interesting post about the controversial Body Worlds exhibits. You may remember they feature artworks by Dr. Gunther von Hagens that consist of dead, flayed, dissected human beings preserved in plastic.
These exhibits raise all kinds of ethical and moral questions. Some newspapers, such as The Dallas Morning News, have continued asking religious questions about them, as well. Take, for example, an essay the newspaper offered by the Catholic philosopher Thomas Hibbs, who leads the honors college at Baylor University. Writing back in December — not a bad time of year to think about incarnation, body and soul — Hibbs concluded with this observation:
The problem with death in our culture is not that we have taboos about it, but that we lack a rich language for articulating the experience and its meaning. It’s hard to see how Body Worlds will help solve that problem. Indeed, what is on display is not the mystery of death, but the reduction of bodies to inert plasticized parts displayed for viewers — a pornography of the dead human body.
Body Worlds brings us face to face with something, but it will leave us mute and inarticulate — the very image of what we behold.
That’s one way to state the controversial question at the heart of this story.
But, wait, you just know where things have to go from here. Right? In a new Q&A in the News, Godbeat specialist Jeffrey Weiss asks von Hagens a series of logical questions. Sure enough, the creator of the Body Worlds movement is ready to take his art to the next level.
Push “play” on the recorder:
I understand you hold regular meetings with potential body donors. Why and how does that work?
[He has a list of more than 6,000 people, mostly Germans, who have signed up to have their bodies plastinated after they die. He sends them an annual newsletter and holds a meeting every two years.]
We talk about ethical questions. Last meeting, we talked about the act of love: to do it or not to do it?
You mean exhibiting plastinates in a sexual position? How did the donors feel about that?
About 60 percent of men are in favor of it. Only 30 percent of women are. My wife says that women care more about who they would end up with.
I do not think this was what the late Pope John Paul II was talking about in his “Theology of the Body” lectures.
Then again, this phenomenon would fit right into a lecture on John Paul’s writings about the “Culture of Death.”
You ask good questions and you get interesting information. Well, let’s call that depressing information. Talk about a haunted story.