Christianity is Transhumanism
Wesley J. Smith has written a short piece entitled Christian Transhumanism is an Oxymoron.
For those of you who are interested in either Christianity or transhumanism, I want to make this very clear:
Christianity is transhumanism.
It’s not just that they are compatible. Christianity is a distinctly transhumanist viewpoint that sprung up in the first century, and set out to reshape both the world and human nature.
In order to see that this is so, let me pull the most universally significant phrases from Wikipedia’s definition of transhumanism:
Transhumanism…affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition…to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities
This is the philosophical core of transhumanism, and the fundamental core of the biblical story - a narrative which from back to front is an expression of the idea of human identity as perpetually fluid and self-transcendent.
The Biblical Story of Humanity
The very first chapter of the Hebrew bible sets out to define human identity. In an explicit rejection of the Babylonian creation myths, which portrayed human beings as slaves of the divine, the Jewish creation story portrays human beings as created to participate in the acts of God. Right at the beginning, humans are given the task of cultivating the earth, naming and categorizing the cosmos, and beginning the process of technological innovation. 1
Through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Jesus, we see the continual embrace of bold new ways of being human and of living in the world. The story focuses on the power of individuals to change history, the power of intellect and imagination to transcend circumstance, and the importance of foresight in overcoming limits to human growth. This is what the bible means by faith.
When we arrive at the New Testament, we see Jesus fully living out his human identity as a participation in the acts and creativity of God. And in a way no other human had before, Jesus confronts the looming threats to human growth and progress, and succeeds in opening a path to the future.
The apostle Paul is quite explicit that Jesus was spawning a “new humanity”. This humanity was no longer going to be limited or defined by the things that bound it before - geography, politics, race, gender, or the circumstances of one's birth. This humanity was going to be limitless, drawn into the infinite upward spiral towards God.
The Fuel of Our Transformation
This brings us to the crux of Wesley Smith’s argument. In Christianity, our transformation is fueled by God. In transhumanism, we desire to transform ourselves.
But to put these in contrast is to misunderstand them both.
Grace is not the thing that removes our ability to act, certainly not the thing that forbids action. Grace is the thing which enables us, which empowers us to do what is needed.
We all live by grace. You and I are only here by virtue of the free gifts bestowed on us by generations of ancestors. Our very survival depends on the infrastructure built by successive civilizations, each one building on the one before.
But this grace wasn't given us so that we would stagnate, refusing to act. Neither was this grace given us so that we would be limited by what had been done. On the contrary - this grace was given us so that we would act, and in acting, contribute something to others, a further grace for the broadening of possibility and the future.
Christianity is not just compatible with the desire to reach beyond ourselves, it is the call to reach beyond ourselves, in recognition of and empowered by the grace bestowed upon us.
The Works of God
In Christianity, we are called to do the works of the one who sent us - the works of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and bringing life to the dead. In doing so, we join in the work of God, and embrace the true meaning of humanity.
Some might argue that since Jesus healed the sick through supernatural power, modern medical technology has nothing to do with Christianity. But the opposite is true - Jesus healed as a sign of the direction of God’s work. In his signs, Jesus tied the material and the spiritual together, and called us to utilize our skills and our technology towards compassion.
In fact, all of humanity's technological efforts arise hand in hand with our spirituality. The scientific process itself is a spiritual endeavor of cooperation, honesty, and tolerance, and it is not something that humanity has always been able to sustain.
So our desire to advance science and technology is as much a spiritual exercise as it is a material one.
This is exactly what we see in Jesus - a very practical concern for people's material well-being, coupled with the realization that ultimate progress can only be sustained through spiritual development.
The Purpose of Suffering
Wesley Smith suggests that Christianity sees redemptive value in suffering, while transhumanism tries to avoid suffering altogether.
But Christianity never seeks out suffering for its own sake. The suffering in Christianity is always the struggle to rescue others and to overcome adversity. It is the heroic effort of enduring on behalf of the world.
It is the same in transhumanism - we struggle and suffer now so that we may eliminate sufferings from the world. We fight to eradicate disease, to achieve freedoms, to turn back the clock of aging.
In Christianity and transhumanism, we neither embrace suffering nor flee from it. Instead, we see it as the necessary evil we must pass through in order to achieve a better world.
The End of Ends
A popular Christian eschatology suggests that the entire cosmos will shortly be terminated, putting an end to our meaningless efforts, and our futile obsessions with material reality. This would suggest that Christianity and transhumanism are diametrically opposed - transhumanism trying to hold on to a world which Christianity is trying to get rid of.
But this idea has almost nothing to do with orthodox Christianity or the biblical story. The biblical story is about the transformation of the world, not the abandonment of it; the redemption of our strivings, not their futility.
This is the meaning of Jesus himself.
In Jesus we see the unification of the human and the divine, the embrace of both our physicality and our limitlessness. Jesus shows us that our world is not to be abandoned, but transformed; that life is not futile, but full of hope. In his bodily existence, he affirms our science, our technology, our medicine, our present reality and our future potential.
And so every end in Christianity is the end of boundaries, the end of constraints, the end of limitations. Every end is a possibility, drawing us past the hopelessness of short-term thinking, past the mentality of current limits, and toward the eternal rise of life, compassion, and progress.
This is Christianity, and this is transhumanism.
Even the famed Garden of Eden story is not about a pristine environment, intended to be the eternal home of mankind, but about the establishment of the minimum viable set of conditions for the launching of humanity's own task of cultivating and tending the world. ↩