A coalition of Christians, angered by the marketing of deceased saints' body parts over the Internet, is calling for a boycott of eBay until the company gets more vigilant about ending the practice.
The Los Angeles-based International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR), an independent group with about 200 members, plans to begin its boycott on All Saints Day, Nov. 1. The group is also urging sympathizers to petition top eBay officers for stricter policies and practices.
The moves come after years of discussions with eBay failed to rid the site of class-one relics, such as the bones, fingernail clippings and hair samples of venerable figures in Christian history.
"They're such a large, monstrous machine, eBay is, that all of a sudden you just throw your hands up in the air and say, `Oh my God, what can we do?'," said ICHR President Tom Serafin. "Well, what we can do is an actual boycott, to stop spending money until they stop giving (sellers) a platform to sell the remains of the saints."
In some Christian traditions, such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, relics of the saints enjoy a sacred status that's reinforced when believers offer gestures of respect. Conversely, Serafin said, that sacred status is undermined when body parts -- whether authentic to the saints or mere forgeries -- get bought and sold as objects of trade.
For its part, eBay permits the sale of hair but prohibits marketing other class-one relics on its site, according to spokeswoman Catherine England. Since the company doesn't prescreen anything before it gets posted for sale, she said, eBay depends on its "community" of users to notice if a bone or fingernail has surfaced so policy enforcers can remove it.
Yet with 105 million items for sale on the site, and 6 million new ones added every day, England said, eBay can't guarantee that nothing illicit gets posted.
"We still have a limited number of resources, and we have to prioritize," England said. Keeping firearms off the site, for instance, carries more urgency than blocking the trade of religiously sensitive materials.
Just how many class-one relics surface on eBay in a given year is unknown, though Serafin said dozens can be found at any given moment.
Example: in mid-October, a reporter could find a package of three to four hairs, allegedly tracing to 19th-century saint Don John Bosco, listed for $100.
The Archaeological Institute of America isn't endorsing the boycott, but President Jane Waldbaum said she is concerned about eBay creating a marketplace where stolen or forged relics can command a profit.
"It sets a very bad example," Waldbaum said. "It encourages a trade in dubious materials from the past ... They might have been looted from archaeological sites" or graves.
Serafin said eBay's policy of removing relics after they're reported to the company is ineffective. The reason: after a day or two, prospective buyers may have already copied down the seller's contact information.
"By then, the damage is already done," Serafin said. He proposes that eBay create a panel of relics specialists to help eBay staffers keep class-one objects off the site entirely.
"They do it with weaponry and pornography," Serafin said. "Why can't they do it here?"
England, the eBay spokeswoman, said the company relies on various industry and government experts to provide guidance for staffers to take a range of troublesome materials off the site as soon as they appear. In early October, eBay reached an agreement to let experts from the British Museum help oversee the antiquities trade, which is commonly marked by stolen objects and forgeries. eBay has not ruled out establishing a similar oversight mechanism for sacred relics, England said.
"With the ICHR in particular, we've had conversations with them in the past, and they've made a choice not to continue in those productive dialogues with us any longer," England said.
Still, she added, "We're always interested in hearing from interested parties and organizations, so there is an opportunity for (further) conversation there."
... one of my many 'shelved' projects is a novel outline (very 'outline') which involves relics on eBay ... if I ever win the lottery ...