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On the composting of thee and me

With human composting, gussied up as a matter of ecological responsibility, the grotesque has most assuredly arrived.

(Image: Philip Cohen | Wikipedia)

In Herman Wouk’s novel, War and Remembrance, Warren Henry shocks his Bible-reading father, the novel’s hero, by claiming that human beings are “microbes on a grain of dust…and when it’s over we’re just dead meat.” The Washington state legislature has now topped the cynical young Warren Henry by declaring that we’re useful meat, as in potential compost, such that one can legally choose to be composted after death, then used for fertilizer.

The case for composting thee and me is put in reassuring ecological terms. “There are significant environmental problems with burying…bodies,” according to state senator Jamie Pedersen, author of the human composting bill.  Katrina Spade, the founder of “Recompose” (the company promoting human composting) described the process by which her firm does its grubby business as “the same process happening on the forest floor as leaf litter, chipmunks, and tree branches decompose and turn into topsoil.” Lynn Carpenter-Boggs, a Washington State University researcher who tried Ms. Spade’s process on six cadavers, told the Washington Post that “the material we had, at the end, was really lovely; I’d be happy to have it in my yard.”

There, now: doesn’t that make you feel better?

Anyone paying attention to the churnings of American politics knows that the coastal strip of the Pacific Northwest, between Eugene, Oregon, and the northern suburbs of Seattle, is an asylum of political correctness, fueled by what a cultural anthropologist might call substitute religions. What was already the most unchurched part of the country when I lived there from 1975 to 1984 has experimented, over the past four decades, with various ultramundane religiosities — from socialism to radical feminism to gender theory to the most esoteric forms of environmentalism — often layering one mania on top of another. With human composting, this madcap exercise has now been turned inside out, demonstrating the ancient truth that the worship of false gods — in this case, Gaia, or the Earth — is a sure prescription for lethal incongruity.

In the biblical view of things, men and women, created in God’s image and likeness, have a God-given dignity that implies a responsibility to care for God’s creation, the Earth. Exercising that responsibility is a good thing here-and-now; it’s also an act of generosity toward future generations, who should inherit the Earth as a garden to cultivate, not a garbage dump to manage. But if men and women are, in the final analysis, compost — “a cubic yard of soil,” as Ms. Spade told the Post — why should we possess a unique dignity? Why should we bear any special responsibility to treat the Earth and other living creatures well? If we’re just compost-waiting-to-happen, why should we treat nature with respect?

If human beings have no special dignity within creation, then we have no special responsibility for creation. By declaring us proto-fertilizer, the human composters implicitly deny our innate and distinctive spiritual qualities — our ability to reason and to choose, to love, to sacrifice, to act altruistically and to rise above self-indulgence and violence. Logically, then, don’t the human composters undercut their own case for the care of the Earth and its creatures? Radical environmentalism in the form of human composting leads to an ecological nihilism antithetical to the moral case for “sustainability.”

Turning each other into compost also vitiates the ancient human instinct to create special places for the dead, where loved ones may be visited and their memory honored. To gut that instinct by composting relatives and friends for use in Lynn Carpenter-Boggs’s yard suggests that the bonds of love, friendship, and community that exist in life really aren’t really significant: if we’re just fertilizer, why should we be valued in life and cherished in death?

It’s long been obvious that certain forms of radical environmentalism are an ersatz religion, with an ersatz sacred text (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring), ersatz sacraments (those multiple recycling bins), an ersatz Satan (Big Oil), an ersatz theology of the Kingdom (the aforementioned “sustainability”), and an ersatz moral theology (using plastic straws being the latest example of an eco-mortal sin). It was only a matter of time before this ersatz religion’s false anthropology and cosmology — its denial of the unique status of human beings in a natural order that’s created, not accidental — would lead to the grotesque. With human composting, gussied up as a matter of ecological responsibility, the grotesque has most assuredly arrived.


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About George Weigel 307 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), published by Ignatius Press.

4 Comments

  1. How many years ago did Fr. Schall first write about “ecology” becoming a heresy?

    Here is a CWR essay by Fr. Schall from 2015 which references Bergoglio:

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2015/06/21/concerning-the-ecological-path-to-salvation/

    Has Bergoglio ever been asked about “composting?” He’s not adverse to the Gaia folks…(he’s just adverse to traditional or “conservative” Catholics or the lay Catholic “dummies.”)

    Maybe we’ll find out next time he’s on plane…returning from “evangelizing.”

  2. Human compost? This novelty was still science fiction in 1973, in the movie Soylent Green starring super-cop Charleton Heston. He proves that an ecological-wasteland world in the 21st century is feeding its people not with ocean-grown protein, but rather with reprocessed human cadavers, in the form of Wheat-thin type crackers.

    In a final scene, a vial of precious immunity-serum from his own blood drops from his outstretched hand into the grasp of a still-normal group now escaping into the Sierras to start a new life on such a dead planet—-while he expires, spread-eagled on a cross-like water fountain, knee-deep in a pool surely symbolic of baptism. (Some reviewers hated the flick.)

    So, now, Weigel mentions Washington state. Under the thumb of its Left-coastal half, this is the state where abortion was first-ever (anywhere) approved by a public vote (1970), where euthanasia was legalized very early as an “exemption” from homicide laws (following behind “most-unchurched” Oregon), where the oxymoron gay “marriage” also was first approved by a public vote (a failed initiative to reverse legislative action), and where legalized marijuana also gained its early momentum.

    But as for our global ecology—-apart from the dominance of “ersatz religion” as it co-opts and infests all things environmental—-Pope St. John XXIII got it right (still “taught”?), the year before Vatican II: “But whatever be the situation, we clearly affirm these problems should be posed and resolved in such a way that man does not have recourse to methods and means contrary to his dignity. . . .” (Mater et Magister, 1961).

    More to the point, on legalizing human remains as soil enrichment (Wheat-thins, anybody?), the question that the Washington State legislature might ask itself is simply this: whether in the nature-worshipping, post-modern world there are now more horse’s asses than there are horses.

  3. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives (Jeremiah 19:9). Jesus said to them, I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him (Jn 6:53-56). Cannibalism has long afflicted our race most distressingly when we turn from the Bread of Life. Collagen a beauty enhancer has long been extracted from aborted infants. We all know the recent horror of Planned Parenthood buying selling aborted infant body parts as merchandise. Insanity enters the human psyche when we turn from the infinite good of God. Human compost seems ghoulishly mild in comparison. Although author Weigel makes the valid point of the “asylum of political correctness, fueled by what a cultural anthropologist might call substitute religions” typical of a state most progressive most cannibalistic. It is a form of religiosity inspired by the Evil One and punished by God for infidelity as were the Israelites who ate their children. Irony is at play here when we refuse our true sustenance. Punishment? Yes.

  4. Serial killers everywhere will rejoice in the additional complications human composting will pose for forensic investigators.

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