Micah Redding — Christian Transhumanism: faith, technology & the future

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Christianity is Transhumanism

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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.



  1. 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.  


Next: Three strains of religious transhumanism

Lincoln Cannon:

Amen, brother.

dor:

This is a great essay. It does speak to the intent of Christianity well. I can believe that Christianity is transhumanism, but that is not to say all transhumanism is Christian. We need to work, to participate, to ensure that the spiritual drive that moves us towards equity and justice are part of the emerging future. Key to that is access to the benefits of the emerging technology. Throughout history there has been a tension between those who would seek to dominate at the expense of others and those who would seek to see all persons freed. Technology doesn't change the normative struggle of humanity. For transhumanism to be Christian, we need to ensure the emerging technology is used compassionately and for the benefit of all.

micah:

That is exactly right. Christianity is a transhumanism which places high priority on spiritual development and compassion. Some forms of transhumanism are radically individualistic, and that is both short-sighted and incompatible with the Christian vision.

Manu F. :

;) thanks ..! I've been trying to convey a similar point of view in a lot of discussions... more generally about religion... I also very much appreciate "dor's" opinion in this thread. >>For transhumanism to be Christian, we need to ensure the emerging technology is used compassionately and for the benefit of all.<< // just right now I feel the urge to post this interview with David Bohm, which I came across recently ... (1) http://youtu.be/SvyD2o7w24g (2) http://youtu.be/EY_m4Aasp18 (3) http://youtu.be/TPcVSaW0eHo (4) http://youtu.be/4iWcpBSwWWQ // watch this one especially - very much in context! (5) http://youtu.be/_HyQWsN_i6w ... some of what he says might even in that context.

Jim Ledford:

Amen! Reality/The Creation is Christian...Wesley J. Smith is just temporarily blind or even worse...actively ignorant.

Matt:

I've always wondered why the terms to describe Christ -- Son of God and Son of Man -- are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Your essay seems to answer that.

Dan Hegelund:

Great article. I have been looking for information attempting to reconcile Christianity and transhumanism/The Singularity. This is the first good article I have stumbled upon. Might you direct me to other articles or sources on this very topic? Also, I would appreciate if you would write a book, or at least a longer article, in which you elaborate your thoughts concerning Christianity/transhumanism. Thank you for sharing!

JJ:

Great article - really gets you thinking in the right direction. One of my top concerns for the church is that we are not helping people get ready for the coming transformation of the human condition. Science and the media are doing their usual job of sharing recent breakthroughs and hyping up the possibilities. However, I do not see the church helping to prepare people for the understanding and discernment we all are going to need is a relatively short time. The future is upon us now and I don't think most people realize just how much.

Gordon Brownlee:

Trans-humanism speaks of mans ability to make the changes, where as "transformation (being renewed)" is something that only God can perform. Certainly we all desire to walk in newness of life, but Christianity itself is divided by those that would do for God without first understanding all that He has done for us. John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.