Cannibal Cups and our Squeamish Sensibility

The BBC has highlighted the fact that our Cro-Magnon ancestors were not only opportunistic cannibals but apparently dab hands at turning left-over skulls into carefully crafted drinking vessels (see http://bbc.in/idMRaK). Skull cups are found in many traditions but, by and large, we thoroughly modern people find the idea of drinking from a dead person’s cranium rather repellant.

Our squeamishness does not extend to some aspects of contemporary life which, if we could think about them with the kind of distance time lends, might not be so acceptable: abortion, napalm bombs, land-mines, to name but a few. The one thing these have in common is a very ambivalent attitude to human life, with some lives being valued above others. Once we let go of the idea that all life is sacred, that my life is worth neither more nor less than yours, then I think we get into a moral quagmire with no firm footing.

Looking at those Cro-Magnon drinking cups, I can’t help feeling that there was a strange kind of reverence involved in their fashioning. Maybe our problem is that our power to kill and destroy is so great that we dare not consider what we are doing. Our squeamish sensibility protects us from facing up to the consequences of what we do. Sadly, it also deadens our sense of reverence.

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9 thoughts on “Cannibal Cups and our Squeamish Sensibility”

  1. Sister,

    I really do not intend to hijack this post by opening up a debate about abortion but as you mentioned it…

    I understand your point about all lives being equally sacred but how would you suggest dealing with a woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape and wants a termination?

    I am not attacking here, only throwing out the question as I am genuinely curious.

    And I refer specifically to conception due to rape, not any other kind.

    Please accept this question in the spirit it is meant – one of curiosity, trying to understand a particular point of view.

  2. The way I see it, if I may offer my view, is that rape is a terrible wrong, and to conceive a child in that way is tragic, however the child remains innocent of any wrongdoing and in my view should not suffer the terrible consequence of losing its life.

    To kill the baby conceived by rape is a greater wrong than the rape itself. A great burden will be borne by the mother as she carries the baby to term, true. But murder is not the solution. Two wrongs do not make a right.

    Preserving the child’s right to live is of greater moral value than alleviating the mother’s psychological suffering. The mother can recover from her injury, the child cannot overcome the loss of its life.

    • Thank you very much for your reply.

      I have to say I do very often wonder how many people can say they know a woman who has been in this circumstance? I’m not saying it would change their minds, just that you cannot fully imagine it until you know it, if that makes sense, when the question is no longer hypothetical.

      This is why people say, no doubt, that is there no wiggle room with moral absolutes.

      Thank you again for your reply.

      Apologies, Digitalnun, for somewhat hijacking your post.

  3. Golder, thank you for your question, and Margaret, thank you for your response. Maybe the best way I can respond to both is by taking the question up in a blog post which will invite further comment and reflection. My only reason for hesitating is that we are treading on very painful ground and I am reluctant to cause further hurt to people who have already been deeply wounded.

  4. Understood, S. Catherine. If my comment was insensitive or caused pain to Golder or any of your readers, I apologize sincerely. Your post today on this question offers a good deal to think about.

  5. Golder, I am someone who has had that experience and I can say that resisting the enormous pressure I was under to have an abortion was the best decision I ever made in my life.

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