Thursday, May 21, 2009

For It's One, Two, Three Strikes You're Out...

One of the marks of Christianity, especially the Catholic kind, is it's respect for the dead. Recognizing that the human body has the capacity to be the Temple of the Holy Spirit, Christians have an appreciation of the value of God's handiwork, honoring the remains of the deceased because, like the soul, the body will rise again at the Last Day, renewed through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One of the marks of our secular society is its hideous tendency to view the human body as a commodity. To the secular world, the body is a commodity that can be easily disposed of at will, at least at the beginning of the life cycle. At the end of the life-cycle, the secular materialist has to struggle with the question of meaning that they have avoided throughout life. What does one do to memorialize the human body which is, essentially, only a collection of material that accidentally came together in this form? The emptiness of materialism is found in its lack of respect for the human body, a body that was created in the image and likeness of God, and which finds its redemption in the very real, very physical Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, we must pray for the triumph of the Spirit of God over the spirit of the Age. We must pray that all men will be enlightened by the grace of God and will see the body as the Temple it was designed to be.

See this interesting article by Michael Medved that provoked the above thoughts:


whabbear said...

For us secular humanists, it is certainly true that the body, and not just the body, but the mind, too, is an accidental organization of physical matter that rapidly devolves into a simpler arrangement when the processes that power and maintain it cease to function.

From this perspective, there is no underlying model of reality that offers any guidance whatsoever for how to treat the body after death. If humans take no action at all, the fate of the body is dependent on a variety of environment factors. If the individual happens to die in the middle of a tropical forest, the remains will decay and dissolve relatively quickly. If the location of death is a high mountain, the body may freeze and be preserved for thousands of years.

Over geologic time, of course, all human remains of everybody who has ever lived face near-complete obliteration. A large fraction will disappear as the environment in which they lay is recycled through the machinery of plate tectonics. Sometime between several hundred million and a billion years from now, the sun will increase in brightness enough that all complex life will be extinguished; sometime beyond that, the sun will swell into a red giant, possibly reaching a size large enough to consume and obliterate the Earth itself.

This leads me to a simple observation. Given that the natural order of things is to completely demolish all of our bodies, believer and non-believer alike, the specific actions we take soon after death, that treat the body one way rather than another, seem quite insignificant.

For myself, I support all activities with cadavers that improve the quality of life of the living, such as organ donation and even the use of cadavers in crash tests to help design our next generation of spacecraft to preserve the safety of our astronauts. These activities do result in mutilation of the physical remains. Dr. Jones, from your perspective, does that mean that they violate God's plan?

The Rev. Robert T. Jones IV, Psy.D. said...

Thanks for the comment. Obviously, there are several areas where you and I will not see eye to eye.

First, from a Christian perspective, it is not the natural order of things for our bodies to deteroriate. The human person is created in the image and likeness of God, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, was intended for eternal life. That we taste death is the result of original sin, that initial disobedience that upset the natural, God-intended, order.

As to your question about the use of human remains in various types of experimentation, Christian ethics are pretty clear that there is no problem with this (with some exceptions) as long as it serves to promote knowledge that will assist in promoting safety for the living or other significant societal benefit.

For example, Catholic medical schools, as most medical schools, have dissected human bodies for many years. Also, it has generally been considered ethical to donate human remains for use at places such as "The Body Farm" in East Tennessee. The discoveries that have been made in this facility have assisted in the resolution of many crimes.

In each case above, these remains are used as an attempt to enhance life and are not frivolous or downright disrespectful uses of that which is in the image and likeness of God.

The key phrase in your post, as I see it, is the one about "the processes that power and maintain it." I would call that the soul, which is the essence of the human being. (Essence in this sense being intended in the Thomistic/Aristotelian use of "that which makes us what we are and not something else."

Thanks for the post.