By JOEL DAVIDSON
From rodeos and magic shows to carnival rides and animal auctions, strange and delightful things occur at the Alaska State Fair. This year, however, something is amiss.
The upcoming annual event, extremely popular with families and children, has agreed to show an exhibit of flayed and preserved human corpses. This traveling show is produced by a company called Studio 2 Promotions and consists of dead human bodies, stripped of their skin and manipulated into athletic and entertaining poses for all ages to view.
A similar exhibit will show at the Anchorage Museum later this fall and winter called Body Worlds, produced by a separate company.
Organizers have attempted to justify the two displays on the grounds that they provide educational opportunities on the inner workings of the human body.
It’s probably not a stretch, though, to say that many would feel a bit odd when first invited to view a gallery of flayed human corpses, perfectly preserved and displayed as if they were playing baseball or riding a bicycle.
But being a little uncomfortable is not an argument. And besides, discomfort quickly fades if you’re around something long enough, even if it is wrong.
In this case, though, the initial reticence is something to pay attention to. It reflects a deep Christian conviction that human bodies are not material in the same way that plants and rocks are.
Yes, human bodies, like all material objects, are formed of atomic particles, but there is something unique about humans.
Christians have always reverenced the body, both in life and in death. And while Catholic teaching allows for organ donations and even the temporary donation of one’s body to science, there is always the caveat that bodies must ultimately be returned to families for proper Christian burials.
Reverence of the body stems from the belief that our bodies are integrally intertwined with our souls to the point that we are body and soul — together. The fact that a temporary separation occurs upon death is the result of living in a fallen world.
But Christian hope is anchored in Christ’s Resurrection. Each Easter, we affirm the bodily resurrection of Christ. The same body that was nailed to the cross, pierced with a sword and laid in the tomb also was raised from the dead. This triumph extends to all of Christ’s followers. Our bodies, too, will be resurrected.
Because of this we do not treat bodies as mere matter to be manipulated however we please — neither in life nor death.
The upcoming exhibits at the Alaska State Fair and the Anchorage Museum amount to implicit denials of the resurrection. No, the displays don’t outright proclaim that human bodies are just dead matter. But they treat these bodies like pieces of taxidermy, not unlike the birds and animals one might find at the British Museum. Add to this the fact that the Body Worlds company also sells preserved human heads, hands, feet and torsos online via credit card payment.
At a certain point you don’t need to explicitly deny the unique dignity and the resurrection of the human body. It is enough to skin and preserve it, ship it like common freight, display it in entertaining positions and cut it into pieces in order to sell the various parts.
The Alaska State Fair and the Anchorage Museum expect that thousands upon thousands of Alaskans will view these two separate exhibits of human corpses.
We ought to disappoint them.