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Ghoulish 'Art': The Body Worlds Exhibit

Eric Metaxas | Author | Updated: Jul 24, 2013

Ghoulish 'Art': The Body Worlds Exhibit

As the father of a 12-year-old girl, I find that opportunities to teach worldview lessons pop up at the most unexpected times.

A few weeks ago, my daughter came home from school and announced that her class was attending an exhibit called “Body Worlds.” If you've never heard of this, “Body Worlds” is an exhibit of human corpses.

Unfortunately, I’m not kidding. There's a cadaver of a pregnant woman, her belly sliced open to reveal the corpse of a fetus. One cadaver is riding a horse — a horse cadaver, that is. Several cadavers appear to be dancing together — a true dance macabre. Frankly, they look like something out of a horror film.

The corpse choreographer is a German doctor, Gunther von Hagens. And his traveling cadaver circus has stirred up an international debate about the sanctity of the human body.

Dr. von Hagens preserved the cadavers using a technique he invented called plastination. He says his exhibit is meant to help lay people understand the workings of the human body. But thoughtful people around the world are repelled and disgusted by what he's doing. Some countries and U.S. states have passed laws in an effort to ban the exhibit. Three years ago, a judge in France ruled that putting dead people on display for profit is “a violation of the respect owed them.” A German prime minister called the exhibit "degrading to human dignity." Religious leaders, including Catholics and Jews, have condemned what von Hagens is doing — including, three years ago, putting on display a dead male and female which, were they alive, would be engaging in sex.

Von Hagens claims that all the cadavers came from people who volunteered to have their remains used this way. That may not be the case: He has been accused of buying the corpses of executed Chinese prisoners and purchasing cadavers from prisons and psychiatric hospitals without the families being notified. That would make the for-profit exhibit even more horrifying.

It probably won't surprise you that von Hagens is an atheist. As Chuck Colson noted a few years ago when he learned of this exhibit: “Dr. von Hagens' grotesque work is a product of his materialist worldview. His public comments suggest that he views the human body as nothing more than a complex mechanism, a complicated network of cells. So he sees nothing wrong with putting corpses on display like so many stuffed owls or racks of deer.”

By contrast, Scripture teaches that the human body, even one that is deceased, has great value. It's a belief that comes from the Incarnation — God taking on human form. And of course, we as Christians believe that these bodies of ours will be resurrected as was Jesus’ body.

Sadly, even the faithful sometimes forget the Christian teaching that the body deserves great respect — which is why my daughter's Christian school thought nothing of taking children to see this ghoulish exhibit of cadavers. But when I explained why such exhibits were wrong, I’m happy to report that they canceled the field trip.

Situations like this demonstrate why it's so important that we have a thorough understanding of the Christian worldview. Once we do, we all ought to speak up — respectfully, of course — when we run into this type of thing.

And we ought to teach our children why it’s wrong to turn human bodies into a display for the entertainment of others: Because God Himself took on human form.

Publication date: May 18, 2012

Ghoulish 'Art': The Body Worlds Exhibit