More

    Christian Transhumanism: An Apologetic Endeavour?

    Risalatul Hukmi
    Risalatul Hukmi
    Post-Nietzschean free thinker

    Artikel Terbaru

    Realisme dan Anti-realisme dalam Pemikiran Martin Heidegger

    Pemikiran Martin Heidegger masih terasa pengaruhnya hingga hari ini. Ketika perkembangan teknologi dan sains semakin maju, manusia terasing di dalam sistem...

    Where Is God in a Coronavirus World?

    This year's coronavirus pandemic has truly shaken the world's citizens both physically and mentally. People are required to self-isolate to prevent...

    Waktu: Jejaring Peristiwa dan Relasinya (Bagian 2)

    Penjelasan bagian pertama sedikit banyak telah “meruntuhkan” konsepsi waktu awam yang biasa kita kenal. Mulai dari keumuman, ketakgayutan, serta kesetangkupan (simetris)...

    Pengakuan Dunia-Kehidupan yang Sakramental: Pembunuhan Tuhan dan Ekonekrofilia

    Edmund Husserl, dalam fenomenologinya, memperkenalkan istilah “dunia-kehidupan”. Ia mempopulerkannya dengan istilah lebenswelt atau lifeworld (leben: hidup dan welt: dunia). Istilah ini...

    Beberapa Catatan Tak Tuntas Tentang Kegilaan

    Konsep kegilaan, atau penyakit mental, mengacu pada deviasi dari pemikiran, penalaran, perasaan, attitude, dan perbuatan normal, yang oleh subjeknya, atau orang...

    One of the reasons why Christianity is almost always one step ahead of other world religions is the socio-historical fact that places Christianity vis á vis with the development of modern Western society. This fact is difficult to find in other religions that become the biggest number in developing countries, which are still struggling to overcome the basic human problems; Human rights, violence, discrimination, or even starvation. It is almost difficult to imagine the debate on evolutionism and religion growing in Indonesia other than only in small academic circles, which in some cases was too late from the original debate. We also hardly ever have a debate about whether the earth or the sun is the center of the solar system; it may be because we are not directly correlated with the issue. Thus at least we can then understand the important position of Christianity in the most recent debate of the century; between religion and transhumanism.

    Transhumanism becomes one of the important issues not only because it is promoted by elite Silicon Valley figures, rather because of its provocative ideas which presuppose radical implications for the whole structure of human social life. The big idea promoted by transhumanism may seem simple, if not unrealistic. In short, transhumanism presupposes a life in which humans and technology are merged, or what is commonly called the age of ‘singularity.’ As stated by Elon Musk, we must merge with machines to surpass the existential threat of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Indeed, the consequences of this idea haunt all aspects of life; economic, political, cultural, and even religious. Hence, this article will only talk about the last one with the underlying reason that religion is the social aspect of human life that is the most difficult to adapt to the times.

    The Origin of the Idea: Christian vs. Secular Transhumanism

    The debate about the origin of terminology is perhaps the most cliché of a discourse; where do the terms modernism, post-modernism, secularism, etc. come from. The discourse on transhumanism also does not escape from such debate; occasionally associated with the term übermensch (superman, overman), which was conceived by Nietzsche, was frequently referred to in Teilhard’s writing in his book The Future of Mankind (1949), and often attributed to Julian Huxley who gave a rigid definition:

    The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself —not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there is another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature. “I believe in transhumanism”: once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Peking man. It will at last be consciously fulfilling its real destiny (J. Huxley in Manzocco, 2019: 26-27).

    Not only Nietzsche but also do Teilhard and Huxley believe that humans are states that must be surpassed. However, how to realize it? Of course, it is in this question that Julian Huxley is often regarded as the person to whom the term transhumanism deserves to be attributed. Apart from using the term literally, he also gave a fairly comprehensive definition of what he meant by ‘transhumanism.’ However, the very idea of ​​transhumanism itself actually can hardly be attributed to anyone. The same idea as promoted by transhumanism had begun to develop in the early 19th century through fictional works such as Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), which tells of a figure who succeeded in conquering death through chemistry. Other more contemporary narratives can also be read in the short stories of Isaac Asimov, especially The Last Question (1956) which tells how humans managed to fuse with computers.

    Of course, the idea of ​​such transhumanism, which presupposes humans and technology to fuse together, is the most commonly accepted idea. And those who claim to be transhumanists (H +) naturally follow this definition. However, some people say that it is an idea of ​​secular transhumanism, which presupposes an anti-religious association or even a new, anti-god religion because it proposes an idea of ​​salvation through immortality with the help of science and technology.

    In such accusations, Turner proposes a thesis that Christianity and transhumanism have much in common in the sense that Christians are very aware of the techno-political crisis that impacts other crises; ecosystems, urban infrastructure, and the possibility of chemical and biological weapons. In light of that assumption, Turner proposes a new phrase ‘Christian transhumanism’ as a kind of solution—or may be an apologetic neologism.

    Turner argues that the term ‘transhumanism’ was actually first used by the Italian poet, Dante (c. 1265-1321) in his book The Divine Comedy. Dante coined a new word, trasumanar (to go beyond the human), to describe the glorious transformation that humans will achieve in the eternal presence of God. This concept, as explained by Harrison and Wolyniak (in Turner, 2017: 37), can be traced further to the Pauline epistle. Furthermore, Turner states that such an understanding can also be found in several biblical writers who state that humans are destined to go beyond the forms and limits of current humanity — in 1 John 3: 2, 1 Cor 13.12 (Turner, 2017: 37 -38). By quoting Harrison and Wolyniak:

    “Dante’s allusions to the biblical text are evident not merely from general context, but also from his mention of the ineffability of the experience and his questioning of whether it had taken place in bodily form or not—both of which are rehearsals of St Paul’s own speculation about the experience (Turner, 2017: 38).”

    In light of that ‘ historical evidence’, Turner firmly states that transhumanism is actually a Christian concept at all. Reflecting on Dante’s invention, trasumanar, Turner proposed a new phrase so-called “Christian transhumanism.” Thus, what is the difference between Christian and secular transhumanism? Turner said that the difference does not lie in the use of technology, although conceptually, it is different; secular transhumanists use technology as the only tool to bring human enhancement, while Christian transhumanists go through the grace of God without rejecting technology. But the essential difference is not there; use of tools. According to Turner, the fundamental difference from Christian and secular transhumanists is in the goal; Christian transhumanist places the goal not on enhancement or expansion in themselves, but on personal openness to God’s transforming work (Turner, 2017: 42).

    A Number of Debates. . .

    The thesis put forward by Turner is merely a claim or apologetic-theological attempt to place Christianity on the same path as the transhumanism project. Such a position has actually also appeared in the writings of Micah Redding, executive director of the Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA), entitled ‘Christianity is Transhumanism.’ According to Redding,

    In Jesus, we see the unification of the human and the divine, the embrace of both out 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 […] This is Christianity, and this is transhumanism.[1]

    On its official website (christianshumanism.org), the CTA formulates five basic principles called The Christian Transhumanist Affirmation. First, we believe that God’s mission involves the transformation and renewal of creation. In other words, we are fully involved in God’s work; working against illness, hunger, oppression, injustice, and death. Second, we seek growth and progress along every dimension of our humanity, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. Third, we recognize science and technology as tangible expressions of our God-given impulse to explore and discover. Fourth, we are guided by Jesus’ greatest commands to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength … and love your neighbor as yourself.” Fifth, we believe that the intentional use of technology, coupled with the following Christ, will empower us to become more human across the scope of what it means to be creatures in the image of God.[2]

    However, it is a truism that the pros and cons are always necessary. Many Christians and including theologians reject the idea of ​​transhumanism and affirmation of it. Quantitatively, we can read rough data about this in a research report conducted by Pew Research in 2016 on how the response of the people (Americans) regarding human enhancement technology. The results show that 60-65% of Americans who claim to be “highly religious” consider that technological development (gene editing 64%, brain chip 65% implant, and synthetic blood 60%) against the nature and crosses of a line we should not cross. In comparison, 28-36% of those with low religious commitment tend to be enthusiastic.[3]

    The data at least shows that the majority of religious people, most of whom are Christians, have not been able to accept—if not oppose—the technological developments that transhumanism wants to realize. These rejections also come from theologians, one of whom is J.P. Bishop. In his analysis, which used Nietzsche’s concept of power ontology, Bishop stated emphatically that “the resurrected body of Christ is not Kurzweil’s silicon body of the singularity. The resurrected body of Christ is confounding to all humanisms, even the really smart transhumanist men and women who would wield power over those who lack it. The resurrected body of Christ will appear as folly to the power ontology of transhumanism […] The god of that mythology is the post-human idol, to which we as Christians cannot sacrifice and to which we cannot bend the knee (Bishop, 2018: 133).”

    Some Consequences. . .

    Assuming religion on the same altar with secular ideas is clearly not an easy task, if not impossible. [Secular] transhumanism obviously knows no boundaries held by a religion, including Christianity. Transhumanism doesn’t care about the existence of God and the soul or vice versa; instead tends to prove that the two entities did not exist at all, because ultimately humans can survive and be immortal with the help of technology. Assume that the mind uploading project is successful, then our mind is implanted in the body of a cyborg, so what do we call the soul all this time, is it not just a collection of information in our brain? Suppose that we can live forever through technology, then what is the meaning of heaven and hell, what is the sense of the day after death, the day of judgment?

    We need to revise, or even abandon, many things if we want to affirm transhumanism as well as a religion at the same time. Religious people should change or dispose of many key concepts that have been believed to be the locus of faith in the face of the success of transhumanists in realizing their ideals. Even without affirmation, the achievements of transhumanism will become the greatest enemy of religion. In its worst case, there will be many conservative movements that emerge in the framework of thwarting these projects in order to maintain the truth of their beliefs.

    Thus, what and where do religions need to place themselves? I argue that religion clearly has no places other than only for their psychological aspects. That is, we only need to discuss the religion and technological enhancements promoted by transhumanists in the relations of debate which are discussed in terms of psychological evaluations; are they really able to bring people out of suffering? Are they able to answer human anxieties?

    It is precisely on those questions we can discuss religion, including Christianity, in the age of transhumanism. I still believe that as long as religions do not lose their psychological aspects, in the sense that one can rely their existential issues on religions, then religions will remain relevant in any condition. Or, perhaps, it is true that religion is solely about psychological issues? []

    References 

    Bishop, J. P. (2018). Nietzsche’s power ontology and transhumanism: Or why Christians cannot be transhumanists. In Christian Perspectives on Transhumanism and the Church (pp. 117-135). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

    Cole-Turner, R. (2017). Christian Transhumanism. In Religion and Human Enhancement (pp. 35-47). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

    Manzocco, R. (2019). Transhumanism: Engineering the Human Condition: History, Philosophy and Current Status. Springer.

    End Notes

    [1] http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/05/22/christianity-is-transhumanism/, accessed on 29th May 2020.

    [2] https://www.christiantranshumanism.org/, accessed on 30th May 2020

    [3] https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2016/07/26/u-s-public-wary-of-biomedical-technologies-to-enhance-human-abilities/, accessed on 30th May 2020

    Featured images: christianitytoday.com

    Related articles

    Leave a reply

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here