After a two-year investigation, the Department of Justice recently announced charges against 15 people who trafficked in eagle body parts.
U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler …described one operation as basically a ‘chop-shop for eagles’ in which eagle feathers were stuffed into garbage bags. He said it was clear that it was a moneymaking operation and that the feathers and eagle parts such as talons and beaks were treated as merchandise. ‘There was no cultural sensitivity. There was no spirituality,’ Seiler said. ‘There was no tradition in the manner in which these defendants handled these birds.’
As yet, none of these charges allege the actual killing of an eagle. They are purely centered on merchandizing carcasses already dead. As I was told after an unfortunate encounter on the highway, even if an eagle-killing is purely accidental, it would be a federal offense to leave the scene with even a single eagle feather on one’s person or in one’s vehicle.
The Bald Eagle Protection Act was originally passed in 1940. In 1962 it was amended to include golden eagles. This law prescribes criminal penalties for anyone to “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.”
Notice the thoroughly religious tone of Seiler’s remarks at the press conference. The U.S. attorney, rather than presenting these crimes in the terms of the law, such as “sell, purchase, barter,” instead said, “There was no cultural sensitivity. There was no spirituality. There was no tradition in the manner in which these defendants handled these birds.”
Tenderness for the Birds. But for Humans?
All of this starkly contrasts another headline two days later. “Lamborghini” Mary Gatter was back in the news. She was the medical director of Planned Parenthood in Pasadena, California who was caught on tape last year joking about her desire for a Lamborghini while haggling over the prices she charges for various baby parts from aborted human remains.
The video, released from the Center for Medical Progress, again features her working to increase the asking price from $50 to $75 per specimen. She first says she will not offer any baby parts past the 16th week of gestation, then quickly changes her mind when the potential customer wants older babies. Whether or not she violated any statutory language from the state of California, I am interested in something else. As an observer of culture, my interest lies in the way these two events were covered.
For starters, the Associated Press attended the news conference about eagle body parts, and published a national story about it. But they have yet to publish one word about the investigation into people body parts. Nor has any other major media outlet even mentioned the latest video showing Planned Parenthood employees haggling over baby parts.
Honestly, this does not surprise me. For the better part of two years we have seen an orchestrated news blackout on the work of the Center for Medical Progress. Clearly Planned Parenthood has a good deal of clout in America’s newsrooms. Abortion has become so politicized that many ordinary, decent people are culturally conditioned to ignore anything and everything that might call its ethics into question. Simple questions that are treated as “no-brainers” when applied to eagles must not even be raised if it could touch on abortion in any way.
Let’s Ask Those Simple Questions
Is it culturally, spiritually, or traditionally insensitive to treat eagle parts as merchandise? The U.S. attorney from South Dakota is so certain of it that he said so in a press conference without anyone questioning him. Is it culturally, spiritually, or traditionally insensitive to treat human parts as merchandise? Any sane person or society would instinctively say: Of course! Whatever is true of an animal is infinitely more true of a human being. But we have come to a place and time where this question is unasked, and unaskable.
It’s time for us all to step back from the political fray and seriously ask: what has happened to us? This is an especially poignant question since the eagle feather press conference happened on the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 24. These occasions offer a substantial time to set down our frantic activities and think more deeply than shallow condemnations of Adolph Hitler or the Ottoman Empire.
Yes, Hitler did murder 11 or 12 million Jews, Russians, Poles, and “undesirables.” The Ottoman Empire was merciless in slaughtering 1.5 million Armenian Christians. But have you ever wondered what happened to the millions of ordinary Germans and ordinary Turks? How did they ever become people who would quietly turn a blind eye to such evil?
If you had been living in those days, would you have spoken out at the risk of your livelihood and life? Would you have boldly called out the evil? Of course, we all would like to think of ourselves doing just that. But now ask yourself seriously if there are any things that you consider evil that you don’t publicly condemn, or don’t really want to know about, for fear that it might undermine your public standing, job prospects, or political party’s strength.
Weariness of Politics Cannot Be an Excuse
More to the point, many of us are sick and tired of politics. We would like to find a place that is purely non-political. We want to be left alone to live our lives without being drawn into every Internet screaming match and conspiratorial conversation. But you must recognize that this, too, can become the very mechanism which stifles your opposition to evil. If my highest goal becomes “to avoid politics,” all that’s needed to silence me is for someone to say, “That’s political.” As a pastor of an historically non-political church body, I have seen this work on me.
At some point, even well-meaning non-political people need to question the label. When, exactly, did it become “political” to say that marriage is between a man and a woman? Even two decades ago, this was so ordinary that it was hardly worth saying. When, exactly, did it become “political” to say that babies shouldn’t be killed? Would even one person have thought so even 50 years ago?
Back to question of eagle feathers and people parts. When did the decent treatment of a dead human being become “political”? I am not the first to ask this question. In pre-Christian Greece (441BC), Sophocles wrote the play “Antigone,” which explores this very question. At the beginning of the play, two of Antigone’s brothers died fighting on opposite sides of a civil war. King Creon, of the victorious side, decided he would honor the one who died fighting for his cause, while publicly shaming the brother who fought against him.
He ordered that Polyneices’ body should remain unburied on the battlefield to be eaten by eagles and dogs. By this decree, he made the proper burial of Polyneices’ body a capital offense. Anybody caught burying it or treating it with reverence would be sentenced to death.
Antigone is the leading character in the play who recognizes that such a decree, even if backed by the highest political order in the land, is simply wrong. It is against all culture, spirituality, and tradition. In several brilliant dialogues, Sophocles explores why she was willing to give her own life and speak out for decency that politics should never touch. It’s time for everyone to step back from partisan politics and be Antigone.