Cadaver Art

In a culture where everyone wants to look good, who wouldn't want a body that looks like a work of art? In a German museum, some 200 people got their wish: Their bodies are works of art, but they look anything but good. You see, all these people are dead. Their corpses, artistically arranged, are on display at Mannheim's Museum of Technology and Labor. The artist—if you can call him that—is a German doctor who has been labeled a real-life Dr. Frankenstein. The display has stirred up an international debate about the sacredness of the human body. One cadaver, called "The Muscleman," features a skeleton whose muscles have been cut off and hung on a hanger. A corpse called "The Runner" features muscles sliced into strips that appear to be blowing in the wind as he runs. Then there's a cadaver of a pregnant woman, her abdomen sliced open to reveal the corpse of a five-month-old fetus. The artist, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, says all of the corpses came from volunteers who gave permission for their remains to be used this way. He preserved the cadavers using a technique he invented called plastination. Von Hagens calls the corpses "anatomical artwork," and says they're meant to help people understand the beauty and vulnerability of the human body.


So far some 200,000 people have visited the hall of death. Some of them liked the carved-up cadavers so much that they signed a registry on the way out, volunteering their own bodies as future exhibits. German theologians are outraged, calling the exhibit immoral and voyeuristic. Even the German prime minister got in on the act, saying the exhibit is "degrading to human dignity." And the critics are absolutely right. Dr. von Hagens's 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. But the scriptures teach us that our bodies are of much higher value. In fact, the high view of the human body came largely from the New Testament teaching of the Incarnation. In the ancient world, it was considered too degrading to think a god would take on human form. The incarnation was a radical idea—and led, in the Christian tradition, to a great respect for the human body as such. As the influence of Christianity declines, one of the cultural effects we'll see is a lack of respect for the human body. Using human cadavers in ghoulish works of art is only one way the materialist worldview is expressed. We also see it come into play when scantily clad models are used to sell cars, or when doctors kill healthy fetuses and sell them for parts. You and I have to stand against the materialist ethic in all of its expressions. Use the story of Germany's cadaver art to help your neighbors understand why the denigration of the human body is wrong. Because God took on human form, the human body is sacred—and it ought to be treated that way.


Chuck Colson


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