Chianti, Fava Beans, and Frustrated Desire

If you haven’t yet heard of the bizarre case of Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal who killed and ate the apparently willing Bernd Brandes, this is not something from an Anthony Hopkins movie or Thomas Harris book. Meiwes, who sought out potential victims on the internet, is on trial in Germany and is actually trying to get away with this murder.

Central to the defense’s argument is fact that Brandes, the victim, wanted to be eaten by Meiwes. Theodore Dalrymple sums up the argument well:

Lest anyone think that the argument from mutual consent for the permissibility of cannibalism is purely theoretical, it is precisely what Meiwes’s defense lawyer is arguing in court. The case is a reductio ad absurdum of the philosophy according to which individual desire is the only thing that counts in deciding what is permissible in society. Brandes wanted to be killed and eaten; Meiwes wanted to kill and eat. Thanks to one of the wonders of modern technology, the Internet, they both could avoid that most debilitating of all human conditions, frustrated desire. [emphasis mine]

What is most fearsome about this exceedingly strange case is not the grusome nature of the crime—it is that human desire has been elevated to a such a state in Western civilization that one could use it as a defense of cannibalism. This only underscores Ivan Karamazov’s pronouncement in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov that “if God is dead, then everything is permissible.”

To many in the West today, God is indeed dead and has been replaced by the seemingly all-important human desire. The prevailing mentality says, “There is nothing that is worth supressing my desires for.” This is well known among the advertising industry, which uses this elevation of self to sell everything from soft drinks to sports cars.

The danger is clear in the case of the German cannibal—the elevation of one’s desires can lead to unimaginable acts. This danger was recognized by Jesus, who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Following one’s uninhibited desires inevitably leads to destruction if those desires are not first nailed to a cross. The disturbed Bernd Brandes gave into his desire to be cannibalized, and his desire was fulfilled by an equally disturbed Meiwes. Perhaps none of us will ever have desires of such depravity (unless, of course, you are stranded on a mountain with no food…), but we must all remember that the same stain of sin that caused a German cannibal to eat a fellow citizen does indeed infect us.

Jesus follows up the injunction to take up a cross with the only way of restoration: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)