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May 15, 2009

Macabre Eroticism in the Guise of Education: A Symptom of Decay

Gunthervonhagens_wideweb__470x306,0 (Note: This post contains sexual themes, and the first link below contains explicit pictures and descriptions.)

In the name of artistic and scientific freedom, Gunther von Hagens is filleting human dignity to the bone. His newest "Body Worlds" exhibit shows plastinated human bodies in the throes of sexual intercourse. Necrophilia, once deemed sick and a punishable offense, now seems to be more acceptable.  

Despite not believing in original sin, in his book Heart of Man, Eric Fromm clearly formulates the problem of erotic fascination and lust toward dead bodies: "It is the one answer to life which is in complete opposition to life; it is the most morbid and the most dangerous among the orientations to life of which man is capable. It is true perversion: while being alive, not life but death is loved; not growth but destruction."

In the West, there is an increasingly unhealthy fascination with death, as well as devils and the occult. These obsessions have one thing in common--they deny the life-sustaining love of God. Life without God produces an "earth-sickness of saddening and maddening proportions," writes David Naugle in his book Reordered Love, Reordered Lives.

"Earth-sickness" is plainly evident in our cultural artifacts. After watching a fair amount of television of late, I  am seeing a horrifying trend emerge. Scenes once reserved for R-rated or X-Rated films, are now rated PG and the whole family gather to watch them.

Take NCIS, which is a combination of CSI and JAG. Out of ten episodes that I've watched, torture has been portrayed on four, and one showed parts of a snuff film. In all of the shows, cadavers are displayed in various states of decomposition and postmortem examination. In living color, both NCIS and von Hagen's exhibit starkly deny human dignity and embrace the culture of death.  

In Sin, Death, and the Devil, scholar Robert Jenson asks an interesting question, "[W]hat if a culture, having under the impact of the Bible become unable to worship the creature, then ceases to believe there is a Creator?"  His answer: "Then there is precisely nothing to believe in."  

Christianity is a syncretistic religion--we've taken the good things from pagan cultures and used them to point to the holy Trinity. Nihilism is different. Jenson maintains that while we might try and worship something else, at its heart nihilism is like a black hole, all-consuming. He says, "Nihilism is the one enemy we cannot co-opt."

We Christians are admonished not to love the world. In 1 John 2:15-16, we are taught, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world."  

As more and more people continue to deny sin and evil, I think we will be seeing more gruesome life-destroying acts such as von Hagen's necrophiliac creations. 

(Image © AP)

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Jason Taylor

Mr von Hagen seems to be of that artistic school that thinks that as some past artists were unconventional, therefore breaking the conventions of fifty years ago is good in itself and a sign of true art.

Benjamen R. Meyer

There is a big difference between "Body Worlds" exhibits and shows like NCIS/CSI/etc - that is - context. (I'll admit up front that I am quite a fan of NCIS/CSI/etc; and don't like the "Science" body exhibits.)

"Science" exhibits such as "Body Worlds" are just plain wrong (IMO).

However, shows like NCIS/CSI/etc place a very difference context on the bodies - not one of scientific exploration, touching, etc. but of respect and in solving a crime; using cadavers, actors, or set props as needed but always putting them in situations that would be found in every day life - in the morgue, at a crime scene, etc. It's really no different than shows like ER - where the context is the hospital.

And, FYI, shows like NCIS and CSI have at times had characters (such as NCIS' 'Ducky' who runs the morgue) openly rebuke other characters when they don't provide proper respect for the deceased.

So, IMHO, the context and respect provided by shows like NCIS/CSI/etc set them a world apart from the "science" exhibits of dead bodies put out for the public viewing.

Jason Taylor

Actually I would partly aggree with you if only because I am an NCIS fan. However it does show more "mess" then is necessary to achieve the above goals.


The tired old "shock art" stuff still lingers on with persons who have too much money and too little true taste tofund them...

Or wait...maybe we fund some thru grants from clueless administrators trained to believe that the grotesque, offensive is the higher level of art!

Again...look at your local large bookstore. You might have a photo book from the guy who dumped a crucifix in urine ... but then you have the wonderful child's section with good to even great artwork in many books...

We who are immersed in evil still (at this point) buy the beautifully illustrated book for our kid.

(Any collector with cash should be asking these publishers if they can buy some of the more stunning illustration art!!! Skip the shock jock version of art galleries!!!)


I too confess I am an NCIS fan. Tho they do seem to dwell longer on the forensic stuff...and sometimes it seem gratuitous. But overall there is a sense that the evildoer must be caught and the murder avenged...

NCIS, etc. are reasons why Passion of the Christ movie was good for the young...They are more used to the gruesome---why not learn that JESUS suffered gruesomely for them?

jason taylor

Much of the forensic stuff in NCIS does not require actually showing it.

Kim Moreland

I must say at the outset, I think NCIS show savvy and compelling in some ways, but I have to ask, Benjamin Meyer, is NCIS really respecting the body, or is it really shock deadening our sense of the real horror of murder and respect for the dead?

I'm interested in science with the emphasis on medical science and really enjoyed taking A&P in college--however, beside a little information here and there--I think the program could be exciting without viewing the gore. (JAG was very successful show, but unlike the other two, didn’t fill the screen with gore.)

Also, while writing my original post, I was pondering a story about one of St. Augustine’s friends in Confession, book 6:8—Alypius decided that he could escape the lust of the gore-filled fights only to have succumb most furiously to the savagery.

Augustine writes, “Alypius, overcome by curiosity but still confident that he could condemn and be the master of whatever he looked on, opened his eyes. Struck with a wound more deadly for his soul than for the body of the man who was the object of his sight, he fell, and fell more pitifully than that man whose fall occasioned the uproar.… For as soon as he saw the blood, he drank up the savagery, and did not then look away, but stared and swallowed the fury without knowing that he drank, thrilled by the crime of the combat and intoxicated by the bloodlust. No longer was he the person who had entered, but one of the crowd he had joined; he was now the true companion of those who had led him in.”

As I’ve stated else where: A movie attempts to show us truth about reality using good and evil, fallenness and redemption. A good movie does this in a way that resonates with viewers. Regardless of our religious worldview, all of us, including the unsaved, know something is wrong with the world in which we live. While their solutions to sin and suffering are often wrong, filmmakers can accurately portray the problem. Directors who judiciously use violence, sexuality, or unsavory characters, can show the world in its fallen state. If a director sanitizes a movie of the sin element, he or she would be as guilty of falsehood as the director who denies the goodness of God’s creation.

Just a little food for thought.

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