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The Easter immortality project

 

Don’t die’. That’s the life goal of American billionaire and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, who hopes to cheat death by taking 100+ pills a day and subsisting on a strict diet while a crack team of doctors analyses his body’s every input and output. If this is staying alive then, as that Forever Young song goes, do you really want to live forever?

We kinda do. Eighty years alive amounts to some 29,000 days. Still not enough. You could see this weekend Easter weekend as a kind of shorthand for human hopes and fears. Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ was crucified, represents death, our inevitable end. Easter Sunday, when according to tradition he rose from the grave, represents the hope of new and lasting life. Meanwhile, life for us feels like Easter Saturday: stranded between death and life.

Today’s death deniers are often an irreligious bunch, but they reveal that we never truly abandoned religion. We simply put our faith in something else: progress or technological development, and the new high priests intent on upgrading human life.

In his letter addressed to Mother Nature, transhumanist Max More is both grateful and disgruntled: You have made us vulnerable to disease and damage. You compel us to age and die just as we’re beginning to attain wisdom… What you have made us is glorious, yet deeply flawed... We have decided that it is time to amend the human constitution.

Hence post-human ambitions to treat death as an engineering problem to be solved. But even if that technical feat is possible — and I’m not holding my breath — more problems await. Call me a pessimist but I don’t quite trust my greedy, selfish self with endless life, still less the rich and powerful hooked on endless growth and keen to conquer new markets from here to eternity. 

As if solving death would end our problems. What of the social ills we leave in our wake — from poverty to environmental ruin to the world’s deep, intractable conflicts? The truly flourishing life needs to be social, not only individual. 

But you may already think that the transhumanist grab for eternity is laughable. Still, we all aim at forever in our own way. The Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist and author Ernest Becker claimed we all conduct immortality projects as a way of coping with death. Some of us Johnson quite literally. 

 

'If God is dead, as the philosopher Nietzsche declared, Easter Saturday is our existential condition. We spend our days suspended between our regrets and fears, and wild hopes.' 

 

An immortality project is anything we do that seeks to put a dent in the universe, as Apple founder Steve Jobs once said. Write a book, have babies, get a building named after you, leave an inheritance for your kids. Win the Pulitzer. (Here’s a cosmic joke: Becker was awarded the gong 50 years ago, two months after he died). Our forever desires outstrip our mortal limits. 

This remains true even when our actions seem to go against the instinct to stay alive. Euthanasia and assisted dying offer us the opportunity to end our lives on our terms, to wrest control of our narratives. If life fails to measure up to our hopes, determining the manner and timing of our deaths is still a spin, even a counterintuitive one, on the immortality project.   

What if we leant further into the desire, not to end life, but to infinitely extend it?

The Christian author C.S. Lewis argued that the existence of sex, food, and water mean that our natural experiences of sexual desire, hunger, and thirst aren’t existential jokes. Rather, there exists real satisfaction for our longings. But what of desires to live forever, or desires for perfect justice, or the desire to be reunited with those we’ve loved and lost? If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, Lewis wrote, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

It’s an argument that our forever instincts are correct, even if we’re misguided in thinking we can science our way toward life eternal and the ideal society. These are good things worth striving for but not within human power to fully accomplish. 

In the Christian account of Easter, it is Jesus Christ, both fully man and fully God, who goes into the grave on Good Friday and rises to new and forever life on Easter Sunday. He promises not only the resurrection of the dead, but the undoing of every wrong and the perfection of everything right. Behold, I make all things new, is Jesus’ bold claim.

But if God is dead, as the philosopher Nietzsche declared, Easter Saturday is our existential condition. We spend our days suspended between our regrets and fears, and wild hopes. 

 

 

 


Dr Justine Toh is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Justine Toh, Easter, Immortality, Life, Death

 

 

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Existing comments

Easter

cross fixed,
in sacrifice
writ in crimson essence,
Love cheats death of permanence
with promises of paradise,
life beyond human demise


John Frawley | 28 March 2024  

I must confess that the Eastern Orthodox Easter Services embody what the Resurrection is about to me. C S Lewis -who was my late Headmaster's English tutor at Oxford - summed up Christianity in an easily comprehensible way it would do many learned theologians at Oxbridge, Heidelberg, UTC etc. well to emulate. Jesus explained things simply for everyone. I am delighted to read elsewhere that Christianity is staging a comeback in parts of Western Europe where it was once considered moribund. Thank you for this article, Justine. It could help to wake some people up.


Edward Fido | 30 March 2024  

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