In this piece I want to lay some groundwork for further explorations, specifically around transhumanism. In particular I want to explore the often unconscious Christian theology at the heart of officially atheist/secular transhumanist thought. (The same could be said for much UFO religion incidentally but that's a topic for another day).
To set that groundwork I want to cover the core aspects of orthodox Christian theology.
The orthodox Christian narrative goes something like this:
The world was brought into form by a Supreme Creator with an intention to create everything in perfect harmony (Genesis 1). Eventually the human comes into being as the summation of the Creator’s handiwork. The human (adamah) lived in the paradise of Eden. According to orthodox Christian theology it was the Creator’s desire that the human live forever within such perfection.
The Creator drew but one boundary for the human—not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We all know the story from there. The serpent tempts the woman Eve who eats the fruit of the tree (never specifically named an apple by the way) gives some to Adam who eats of it. God knows that they have eaten, the two hide in shame for the act. Adam blames Eve; Eve blames the serpent. God brings down curses upon the serpent, the woman, and the man.
Then there is this utterly strange and fascinating verse:
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. —Gen. 3: 22-24
The serpent told Eve that the Lord was lying and that she would not in fact die if she ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Literally that was true, a fact that Gnostics often used in their arguments with the orthodox ever since. The orthodox in turn would reply that Eve and Adam did in fact “die” in that moment, i.e. they spiritually died or rather fell from a state of innocence into division and sin.
In orthodox Christian theology this is known as The Fall. For the orthodox The Fall brought sin and with sin death into the world. In this view Adam and Eve are presumed to have been immortal prior to the eating of the fruit of the tree. For the orthodox God prevents them from eating of the fruit of The Tree of Life because the humans must come to experience the consequences of their action (understood to be disobedience).
From that point in the narrative things go from bad to worse. Violence very quickly escalates as Cain murders Abel. Within only a few generations sin, violence, and harm have increased to such a degree that God decides to wipe out the human race in a flood (except for Noah and his family and the creatures aboard the ark).
At the core of that story is the disgust and pain in the heart of the Creator at seeing the creation become so twisted and perverted from the original blessing and harmonious intention set forth in the act of creation itself (Genesis 1).
After the flood God promises not to destroy the world again. Rather God tries a different approach by calling Abram (later Abraham) to found a people who will be a sign of God’s presence in the world, For Christians this is the first step in the narrative arc of redemption—of bringing the world back into right alignment.
From Abraham through the patriarchs and matriarchs the narrative eventually shifts into the slow motion enslavement of the Hebrew people who had originally moved to Egypt during the tenure of Joseph (a descendant of Abraham). God then calls Moses to free the slaves and make of them a people. After the flight from Egypt there is the Revelation of the Law at Mt. Sinai and the Wandering in the Wilderness until eventually coming into the Promised Land under Moses’ successor Joshua. There is the time of the Judges and eventually the rise of the monarchy with King Saul (and later David and his line). For Christians this is all part of the larger arc of redemption. (For Judaism it’s a bit more complex).
During the monarchy the Prophets come to the fore criticizing the injustice and inequalities of their day claiming that God will bring wrath upon the people if they do not adhere to the Divine Law. The 12 tribes split into Two Kingdoms. The Assyrians commit genocide against the Northern kingdom (Israel). The Southern Kingdom (Judah) survives a bit longer only to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire, complete with the destruction of the temple and the sacking of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem elites are sent off into exile in Babylon. The scriptures then articulate themes of God promising a return of the exiles and a restoration of the temple.
Eventually the Persian empire under Cyrus conquers the Babylonians leading to the return of (some? many?) the Jewish exiles to the Holy Land. Through this period there is further conquest and rule by foreigners (Greeks), a brief period of self-rule (Maccabean Revolt), and then once again imperial domination, this time from Rome. During this latter period a number of texts that didn’t make it directly into the canon of scripture but were influential came to be written, including many only rediscovered in the 20th century in the Dead Sea Scrolls. These texts—especially the apocalyptic ones—were very central in the formation of the Jewish sect that would eventually be known as Christianity.
(We may seem really far from transhumanism at the moment but trust me we’ll get there.)
For the Christians the original promises of God to restore the people of Israel, to rebuild the temple, to liberate the land, and to bring justice had not yet been fulfilled. Within the tradition there was the notion that God would send an emissary to establish this reality upon earth—sometimes seen as a final Prophet, a Warrior-King (like David), and/or a High Priest—known as the Messiah.
The Messiah would eventually establish the rule of God on earth—what Jesus would call the kingdom of God on earth—a cosmic and universal form of redemption in the “end times”. That messianic age would include immortality, something that had been lost since the fall from grace in Eden.
Christianity would of course argue that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah with mainstream Judaism disagreeing leading to the eventual split into two religions (that weirdly are trying to reconnect in certain ways nowadays as I’ve argued elsewhere).
For orthodox Christianity Jesus came as the emissary of God (“son of God”). His ministry included healing, exorcisms, sharing of meals, the forgiveness and restoration of the outsider (“the sinner”), and the desire to purify what he saw as the spiritual corruption of the temple. All of those were clear signs of Jesus claiming that his ministry was meant to enact the messianic age—the kingdom of heaven on earth.
As further proof we need look no further than how Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On Earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
The prayer begins by acknowledging that The Divine (God) already resides in the state of perfection (“in heaven”). The prayer then shifts to invoking that already perfected heavenly reality to bring the messianic age into our reality—the kingdom come on earth as it (always already) is in heaven.
Then prayers are made for daily bread as well as forgiveness. In apocalyptic Jewish visions of the messianic age it was said that bread would fall from heaven as did the manna during the time of the Wilderness. And all debts/sins would be forgiven as in the Jubilee. Both of these are clear pointers to the messianic nature of Jesus’ theology.
The prayer concludes with the most apocalyptic line of all: deliver us from evil. The deliverance from evil here means total deliverance from any and all effects of The Fall: sin, death, division, chaos, cruelty, disharmony, etc. (Again this view will become crucially important in examining transhumanist visions).
That messianic dream underwent the horrific trauma of the public torture and execution of Jesus by the Roman state—possibly facilitated by a traitor among his own inner circle in coordination with the temple establishment subservient to the Roman imperial administration.
For orthodox Christianity (as opposed to Gnostic Christianity) it’s crucial to emphasize that Jesus really did die and really was buried. Orthodox Christian theology claims that in his death and descent to the underworld (“hell”) Jesus underwent fully the process that humanity had entered into via the Fall. According to this theology, since the Fall, Life was inexorably sliding into non-Being like a planet off its axis and wobbling wildly out of control. Death recall, in this account, entered as a consequence of the Fall and was not originally intended.
In the Resurrection Christians claim that The Creator and Redeemer raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Spirit thereby signalling his messianic character (Christ) and the dawning of a new age (new aeon). Death and sin had been defeated through the paradoxical way of the divine agent becoming sin and death.
Orthodox Christian theology then states that the resurrected Christ Jesus was assumed into heaven (“taken up”) and would return in the Final Days. Orthodox Christians are meant to treat the interim period between Jesus’ Ascension and Second Coming as a kind of “mop up operation” whereby the final victory has already been assured (in the Resurrection & Ascension) but isn’t yet fully manifest. The Kingdom of God is already at hand but not yet completely worked out as the theologians would have it.
Intriguingly, in Christian telling the last state will be greater the first. In a strange, almost Hegelian-twist, orthodox Christianity argues that the final state of the redeemed universe will in some way be more beautiful and wondrous not in spite of but precisely because of the “detour” through The Fall. As the Divine Liturgy for the Easter Vigil states:
“O Happy Fault,
O Necessary Sin,
That won for us so great a Redeemer.”
The “happy fault”, the sin that was “necessary” was the eating of the fruit and the bringing of death, sin, and mortality into the created order. For orthodox Christianity “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting” will be greater than the original immortal existence of Adam and Eve. A new heaven and a new earth will be formed (in this vision) where there will be no death only immortal everlasting perfection and proper harmony and justice.
Christian views of immortality then are about the transformation of matter into divine expression (aka deification or divination). Orthodox Christianity is not simply about dying and going to the great beyond in the sky but rather that the Earth and all its forms—technological, biological, political, cultural—will be materially changed into divine-like status. (This point about the material incarnation of immortality will be central in an examination of transhumanist theology.)
Between Jesus’ Ascension and the Final Divine Victory the believer is lead by the Holy Spirit who works primarily though not exclusively through the Holy Scriptures, the Church, and the Sacraments—what we might call “spiritual technologies”. For our purposes the key point here is that this intermediate period of time awaiting the final restoration cannot be forced by humans but ultimately is God’s work (as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier). For orthodox Christianity, humans may be conduits of the divine power and grace working in the world but ultimately the action belongs to the Sovereign Lord.
So to review:
—Creation was originally intended to be perfect but a fundamental error (“a fatal bug”) entered the process leading to suffering and death.
—Redemption is the reversing of that original error (The Fall) leading eventually to a state even greater the initial one which through divine spiritual technology will express itself as physically embodied immortality and pure abundance, a messianic age or heaven on earth.
—This coming age will be an apocalypse, literally “an unveiling” or “revelation” that will create an entirely other order of being that cannot be described beforehand. A “Singularity” in transhumanist-lingo.
—For the orthodox Christian this is God’s work not human work.
To preview the argument of the next piece in this series, transhumanism basically agrees with every piece there except the final point on God being the actor who brings the new age. But on every other point they are in full agreement: the “mission” is to overcome the flawed nature of creation manifest in suffering, especially death; physical immortality and complete abundance are the signs of that overcoming; that overcoming will manifest an entirely new age of reality which (at least metaphorically) could be considered like heaven on earth; and it will require merging with spiritualized technologies to achieve that end.
Transhumanism is completely rooted in Christian theology without acknowledging itself as so. This unconscious or shadow theology in transhumanism is particularly problematic given it’s officially secular-atheist self-description. It creates an ideological religious belief system that cannot be criticized because of it’s officially non-religious posture. But more on that in the next piece.