Desecration or Science?

We recently returned from a vacation in Southern California where we attended the King Tut exhibit. This is the last time this exhibit will be in the United States. When this exhibit ends, King Tut and his artifacts will reside permanently in Egypt. It was fascinating. The handiwork from over 3,000 years ago was delicate and exquisite.  It was truly an experience not to be missed.

But after it was over, I got thinking. At what point does grave robbing go from being criminal and desecration to science? Or is it the circumstances under which the graves are robbed that makes the difference?

Some 20 years ago I represented one of the defendants in the Polar Mesa Cave-looting prosecution in Salt Lake City.  These guys (and women) were just souvenir hunters, rock-hound, antler-shed collectors as it were. Yet because they went into an area that was last inhabited around  A. D. 1250 they were prosecuted under federal law. As the article in the link above points out, the position of the federal government and those involved in antiquities preservation is that this was a “violation of Indian heritage.”

Wasn’t the excavation of Tut’s tomb a violation of Egyptian heritage? Does it make it less of a violation (or no violation at all) if the treasures recovered are put in a museum rather than on a shelf in someone’s house? Should we outlaw archaeological research as a violation of fundamental human rights?

Now I’m saying this (mostly) tongue-in-cheek. But think: how do you feel if you contemplate the possibility that, 3,000 years from now some archaeologists might dig up the cemetery, lift out your casket and pop it open to see how people lived in that part of the world once known as the United States? What did they wear? What did they die of? What did they eat? Does it matter to you whether those people are just souvenir hunters or whether they are the scientists of their day? Or does it matter at all? After all, you won’t be here to know.

King Tut, like the ancient people who inhabited Polar Mesa Cave, thought that when he died he would be laid to rest for eternity.  That wasn’t the case. My question is, at what point does opening a tomb, under whatever circumstances, constitute desecration and at what point is it justified in the name of science? Or should we take the position that when your time on earth is over, you have no further claim to a right to be left alone?

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Employers Can Ban The Burka

The high court of the European Union has ruled that it is not discrimination on religious grounds for an employer to dismiss women who refuse to remove their headscarves at work. The case involved two women, one from France and one from Belgium, both of whom were fired for refusing to comply with their employers’ demands to remove the coverings while at work, as reported here.

The court said that an employer’s policy of banning all “visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” is not discriminatory. It went on to say that, absent such a strict neutrality policy, the taking into account a customer’s wishes not to be served by a woman wearing Islamic dress could not be taken as an occupational requirement that is not discriminatory. In other words, employers must have a policy of neutrality in place or risk discrimination claims if they attempt to regulate what can and cannot be worn by their employees.

At first glance this seems reasonable. Simply put a neutrality policy in place. As applied to headscarves, it is simple. What about, though, Jewish yarmulkes, Star of David or crucifix necklaces, wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday, or even LDS garments, which, though worn beneath clothing, are often visible in outline?

The ruling affects not only religious but political and philosophical symbols as well. That would, it seems, include a rainbow or gay pride symbol, an equality symbol used by the Human Rights campaign and even a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness. It could extend to lapel pins of the American flag since that would be a “political sign.”

I don’t know but I suspect that the EU cases arose because someone complained about being subjected to the sight of an employee wearing a headscarf, which is typically associated with Islam. Some would say that is an intolerant and unenlightened attitude, which it is. But do some of those same people feel the same way about crosses on the roadside to commemorate the death of a law enforcement officer or the words “In God We Trust” in a public building or the keeping of Christ in Christmas? Those objections seem to be enlightened enough to bring lawsuits to remove the offending items.

The EU decision is a pragmatic one. If you want to ban anything remotely offensive to someone, ban everything. Maybe everyone should wear the same uniform. Except that won’t work because whatever color the uniform is, it will undoubtedly offend someone. The real solution might be to make it so that we do everything from our computers in our basements so we don’t have to risk offense by having any human interaction.

Will Babies Become GMOs?

One of the many trends in society today is over whether or not a food is a GMO, or “genetically modified organism.” A GMO is defined as organisms (plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic makeup has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or other natural reproduction. Making sure that the food we eat is not from GMOs is alongside eating free-range chicken or not vaccinating children because the vaccines lead to autism (a claim that finds no support in science).

Now the House of Commons in Great Britain has approved a bill that would allow using mitochondria from a second woman to replace mitochondria from a mother in order to avoid the baby’s being born with mitochondrial disease, an ailment that is passed through the mother and results in brain damage, muscle wasting, blindness, heart failure and death. The mother’s mitochondria that carries the defect is replaced with mitochondria from a second woman. While some are calling this a “three parent baby,” the fact is only about .1% of the child’s DNA comes from the second woman.

While this is clearly a boon for mothers who carry the defective mitochondria, the bill is opposed on moral, religious and ethical grounds. Some say this is the start of designer babies. It might get us to the year 6565 a lot sooner than Zager and Evans predicted in 1969:

“In the year 6565 Ain’t gonna need no husband, won’t need no wife. You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too from the bottom of a long glass tube.”

This bill has been likened to eugenics, the “science” of improving the human race by deciding who can and cannot reproduce. In its most ugly form eugenics would prohibit certain socio-economic, racial or other classes from reproducing as a means of weeding out undesirables and improving humanity overall.

Some in favor of the bill say that religion has no place arguing against this bill. While acknowledging that moral and ethical issues are raised by the science, they claim religious objections have no place in the debate. That’s an interesting distinction to make. “Morality” is defined as the differentiation between ideas, actions and decisions that are right or good and those that are wrong or bad. The question becomes, who decides what is right or good and what is wrong or bad? Religion does have a place in this debate because religion attempts to distinguish good and correct actions from wrong and incorrect actions. In other words, religion provides a metric by which to measure ideas, actions and decisions. Without such a metric morality becomes relative, which is to say there is no good or bad, no right or wrong.

What are your thoughts? Does religion have a seat at the table in debates such this?