Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Bone Snatchers and Christmas

Yesterday Drudge had a headline link that must surely go down as the strangest headline of the year: "ALISTAIR COOK'S BONES STOLEN BY TRANSPLANT GANG." As it turns out, Mr. Cooke's bones weren't the only ones stolen. Dozens of people's bones were stolen by morticians in Brooklyn, who sold the bones for use in "transplants"; apparently, human bone is used in making dental implants and for some orthopedic surgeries and there's a black market for it. Cooke's body was then turned over for cremation and his family received what were, presumably, his ashes and were none the wiser until recently. His family's lawyer says that he hopes " those guys burn in hell for what they did", and I have some sympathy for the disgust and anger that would provoke such a sentiment.

The Telegraph used the word "desecration" to describe the mutilation of the bodies, and I found that word apt, if a bit surprising coming from a newspaper in these secular days. It has always irritated me when some Americans talk about "desecrating the flag"; however distasteful (and, in some cases, juvenile) I find flag burning, the American flag is not a sacred object and can't be desecrated. I feel differently about the human body. In the not too distant past, most people did. The idea of treating a dead human body with less than respect was abhorrent to nearly everyone; even robbing the dead was looked down upon by most, even though a good case could be made that the dead have much less need of material goods than the living.

I realize there have been corrupt, nasty people in every age, but I find myself wondering if this is not another example of our coarsening in what Pope John Paul II called "the culture of death." Chesterton said that even in a society of atheists, the dead man is sacred. It is increasingly not so in our society of secularists. We encase the dead in plastic and display them in entertaining and/or educational poses for the living to gawk at in museums. We pretend to cremate them and give their relatives god knows what in a box. We dump them in woods or ravines or in the trash. Or we chop them up and sell them for parts.

It is a fine thing for the "thing" that God chose to incarnate in. Traditionally everyone--Christians and non-Christians or pre-Christians alike--everywhere have tended to treat their dead with respect, but Christians have a special reason to do so, in that we believe the human body was forever made special by the fact that the Master of the Universe chose to be born into a human body. No one can ever say the human body is trash after that. No one can say that it should be dumped or flushed or chopped up by thieves. Jews and Christians both believe God made us (male and female) in His image, and Christians believe that God further honored the human body by taking on its form Himself: The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. That's what we celebrate starting tonight, and it is more worth celebrating than anything I know.

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