Christians Need Us All To Eventually Die

The other day I was speaking with my father, who, as many of you already know, is a pastor of a protestant church.  Somehow we got to speaking about medicine and recent advances in technology, and I began telling him about synthetic organs.  Naturally I’m very excited about them.  I recently came across an article where a patient received a synthetically engineered windpipe, grown from the patient’s own stem cells.

Dad acknowledged the technology as being a great thing, but he was worried at the idea that mankind will eventually escape death, or at least attempt it.  The thought that we could stop aging, and replace any damaged internal organs by growing new ones didn’t seem to fly well with him.  He believed that God will have to intervene before that happens.  I wondered how we’re supposed to value human life, and do all we can to preserve it, and then not, both at the same time.

For example, he doesn’t believe in abortion.  That’s wrong.  No questions asked, it’s murder.  You ask him about assisted suicide, such as terminally ill patients, and that too is murder.  You do that and both the doctor and the patient are sent to hell for sure (absent the physician later repenting).  We must keep people alive for as long we can; that is our duty, and anything less is murder in the eyes of God.  Ok.  So then us scientists keep working on better and better technology, extending the human lifespan further and further.  Considering the human body is pretty much just a machine, and we’re learning how all its parts works, it’s inevitable that we’ll eventually end aging and death.  Then he gets uncomfortable.

Ultimately it comes down to this:  Christians want to save and preserve life, but only to a certain extent.  Eventually people need to die so that they can be judged by God for their actions.  Dad argued that he wouldn’t want evil people living forever.

Is there any room in Christian thinking for technology keeping us alive indefinitely?  I don’t think so.  They want us both to live and to die, and as technology improves, this going to become more and more of a problem.  True eternal life can only be granted by God, after you’ve been properly judged.  The Christian concept of heaven is a world where all the bad people have been jailed in hell, and only the saints are allowed into heaven.  Technology keeping us alive indefinitely ruins this entire paradigm, and even the need for a savior.  Maybe not all Christians think this way, but I’d be interested to hear how they intend to solve this problem.

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8 Responses to Christians Need Us All To Eventually Die

  1. Steve says:

    Jason, since I don’t have clergy in my family, I can afford not to give a damn about what Christians think about scientific life extension. As far as I’m concerned, Christianity, at least in anything approaching its mainstream or conventional form, is a load of nonsense, and abominable nonsense at that. “Abominable” in teaching that anyone deserves everlasting torture in hell for any reason and that hell is compatible with a good and loving God, and “nonsense” for more reasons than I’ll bore you with here.

    As for abortion, one argument I like to make to Christians is that if Christianity is correct in teaching that all souls of aborted fetuses go to heaven, the best thing that could be done for any fetal soul is to abort its body thereby guaranteeing it everlasting heavenly bliss and sparing it the “wide road” to eternal agonizing torment in God’s dungeon.

    But it seems to me that the bottom line is that if Christians believe that God will make sure that everyone receives His posthumous judgment, then they shouldn’t worry about science attempting to extend life indefinitely, because All Mighty God will make sure it doesn’t succeed.

    So, Christians can STFU, relax, and let those silly scientists persist in their folly until they either become wise or go straight to hell while the “saints” in heaven look down on their agonizing and laugh with glee at the torments of the deserving damned like good Christians should.

  2. I’ve been thinking lately the best way to defeat religion is to conquer natural death through science. That would free many minds up to do something much more productive with their time than count down the days until they can exist in some paradise nether realm.

    But I’m pretty sure that even if you could go to some facility and get your genes “fixed” to where you live forever (barring getting shot or hit by a truck or something) there would be a large segment of the population who would refuse to do it and consciously choose death. I’d put money on it.

    I also remember reading something you told me where some survey or something said that a lot of people “wouldn’t know what to do with the extra time” and a bunch of other excuses that made them want to choose death over life.

    Absolutely ridiculous.

  3. Great comments guys. You make a good point Steve. Why would a person even want to experience this life at all? If I’d been killed as an infant, I’d be experiencing bliss right now, walking the streets of gold. And as Greg points out, if heaven awaits you, it’s hard to see why a person could even be excited about this life. Any rational person who really believed the Christian message would be ecstatic about getting old and being close to death. Just a few more days until pure eternal ecstasy.

    After her divorce, my aunt once mentioned being tired of the struggles of life and that she would’ve committed suicide absent worries of hell. So life, to her at least, seems to be some sort of forced misery which must be endured because of a divine mandate. I’m sure there’s many like her.

    I agree that religion will die out once science advances far enough to keep us alive indefinitely. Thinking on that note, I was invited to a church picnic a while back, and after being nagged incessantly by my parents, I attended. I was soon cornered by some of the church members, who proceeded to ask me if I believed in the devil, whether I thought hell was real, and what I thought of the Christian worldview in general. Not wanting to offend nor argue, I kept my comments brief. Even still, Dad doesn’t seem to understand why I don’t like attending church functions — who wants to get preached to for hours? As the evening progressed, a group came up to me and handed me a book entitled ‘One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey Into Eternity’ by Mark Cahill. If the title doesn’t give the book’s contents away, the text on the back cover certainly does:

    “You were born. You learned to walk and talk. You went to kindergarten and then elementary school. You learned to play sports. You went to junior high school. You were overly concerned about your grade point average. You got your driver’s license. You went to college. You went to some concerts. You got a job. You got married. You had some kids. You cheered your favorite sports teams. You retired. You died. Now what? What happens after we take that last breath? Is there something out there after we die? Your life is a journey that will end — sometime and somewhere. Is that all there is? This life and nothing more? What are we even here for? In this book you will find answers to all these questions, presented in a logical, interesting and straightforward manner. Enjoy!”

    So let’s open it up, shall we? It’s only Chapter 1 and they waste no time in drumming up fear. We’re welcomed by this introductory quote:

    “He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment but a fool forever.” — John Tillotson

    We’re later barraged by more and more fear-mongering. “The truth is that each one of us at any moment can be one heartbeat away from eternity. Your heat beats about 100,000 times in a twenty-four-hour period. One day, one of those beats will be your last.”

    Next we come to Chapter 2 entitled “Nobel Prize”. They go on to mock science, and tell how scientists really don’t understand half of the things they claim to understand. Does evolution really explain the origins of life? The complexity? The magnificence? He who doesn’t believe in God is a fool!

    “Many people believe there is no God because they are convinced that science has fully explained how our universe came to be. If there is a natural explanation of our origins, they think, who needs a supernatural one? Perhaps, like many, you see a contest between science and religion, and believe that science has been declared the winner hands down. But does science alone explain this incredibly beautiful and complex creation in which we live? Doesn’t its magnificence make you wonder?”

    I find such statements incredibly disingenuous. All the magnificence and wonder? Have they noticed that the majority of mankind, even today, lives in abject poverty? They live on less than $1.25 a day, many of them starving to death, dieing of preventable disease, and drinking muddy, polluted water. Oh the magnificence!

    Just look at all the animals eating one another to survive! How they live in constant hunger, dragged on from place to place in search for their next meal — and once they find it, they’re going to tear it limb from limb with their teeth, stingers, and claws. Their stomachs are filled with parasites and tapeworms. Their skin is crawling with fleas, and ticks are embedded away, sucking their blood out of their body. Oh yes, the magnificence!

    And Mr. Cahill, we need to talk a little bit about all that science which you’re insulting. Our progress in understanding the world is pretty much the only thing which has brought the developed nations out of that misery. Most of humanity’s existence has been toil, sickness, disease, and struggle. They followed herds of animals and died if they were injured, slowly bleeding to death, and suffering from infections. They didn’t even make it to age 25. I read this book and marvel how a person can be so blind. How can he not see the suffering around him?

    How can he not realize that his book is nothing but fear and helplessness? It’s not a book of hope; it’s a book telling you that life has no meaning at all, and its only message is a warning call to make sure you get your ticket out of this place, and pronto, because you never know when you’re going to die and be called before the cruel tyrant of the universe, who you better praise and adore, or he’ll throw you in hellfire.

    I’m not going to go any further with this. As Steve points out, there’s no need to bore us all with this nonsense. I point this out for evidence that Greg is probably right. If science advances to a place where it can cure any disease and keep us from aging, and our loved ones never die, nobody is going to care about any of this. Their message will fade into obscurity, and nobody will care.

  4. Naheed says:

    Isn’t it possible to believe in both science, God and afterlife? Isn’t it possible to strive to make this world a better place, to continue to make more advances in science and to be passionate about knowing this incredible world more and more but at the same time to believe in a Day of Judgment where the ‘unfairness’ and ‘suffering’ of this world will be addressed and everyone given their due share- in short, when justice will at last be served? Or are all these things mutually exclusive?

    Also about the complexity- I believe that the world is not perfect in the sense it is unfair and that there is so much suffering- but having studied cellular and molecular biology and having observed- things such as the formation of rain, the process of DNA replication, the whole genetic component of our bodies, our brain, the different kinds of soil and their properties… I think they are all too complex to have just occurred by chance- I believe in evolution by design- that is there was evolution involved but by an Intelligent Creator- evolution was the method not the cause.

    Lastly, even if science advances to a place where loved ones never die, I believe some part of us will continue to hunger for a meaning beyond immortality of our bodily selves and beyond knowing the future- we will still want to know about the past- how and why it all started, we will still need to know why are we here and, we will still want to know whether all the wrong, hideous crimes that were perpetrated on this earth would ever be fairly addressed and if so, how?


  5. Naheed, here’s the central problem. The more things we attribute to the hand of God, the less we search for answers to life’s biggest questions. People used to believe the Earth was divinely created, snapped into place just as it is. Nobody believed in evolution, as the idea was that we were created out of the dust. People didn’t even search for answers because they already thought they had the correct worldview. In fact, they tried to kill anyone who told people otherwise because that threatened the heretic’s eternal soul. When asked about why things are the way they are, the clergy would reply, “God works in mysterious ways.” People didn’t search for natural causes, but they instead told themselves that God did what He did, and He has His reasons. Since we can’t communicate with Him, who knows what was on His mind?

    You can believe that God had his hand in the design of things, but what does that add to the conversation? How does that help us? It doesn’t explain anything new, or lend new explanatory insights. Right now a lot of Christians like to believe God was behind the Big Bang, but I suspect that as physics develops, we’ll probably figure out why that happened and it will be explainable by natural processes following mathematical laws. However, when we do finally figure out what’s going on, maybe proving something like M-theory and parallel universes, or something, that will open up new unexplained mysteries, and people will go on and claim God was behind all of that instead.

    Do you see the problem? The claim that “God did it” leaves a person with a feeling that they understand things when they don’t, it shuts down investigative thought, and makes people search for answers through an anthropomorphic lense, as if humanity is somehow special in the cosmos, the center of the divine creator’s attention. That shapes how a person looks for answers, and can make you overlook important factors.

    To address your questions of life after death and concerns for judgement, I believe in morality, but I don’t like to attribute it to a person’s “free will”. I view things very differently than you, though it might take a bit to explain my position. Let’s use the same exact logic on this situation. The more we attribute a person’s actions to their “free will”, the less we can say why a person did what they did. People with a strong belief in free will are also very strict believers in personal responsibility and are very slow to give people a pass when they do something wrong. And that’s not a bad position to hold.

    But if you’re too strict with it, we are tempted to overlook the environmental factors that were involved, possible brain diseases, and so forth, and we don’t ask what could be changed to prevent it in the future. If a person’s actions are solely guided by their free will, say by a person’s spirit which exists outside this world, there’s no causal reason why a person does what they do. In other words, nothing forced them to do a good or bad deed. There’s never an excuse. It was their choice and there was no compulsion. A person makes the decisions they make and that’s the end of it. There can’t be a reason why someone did what they did.

    But think about it a bit more deeply. When a person gets drunk and does something stupid, we blame them for drinking the alcohol, but we all know their judgement is impaired while they’re under the influence. We no longer attribute their actions to “free will”, but to the alcohol. Say I kidnapped you, drugged you up, and then released you, and while under the effects of the drug you end up doing some terrible things. Who would hold you responsible? But what if the bad actions people do are manifestations of how their brain works, though it’s just more subtle than drugs or alcohol? What if we can put every selfish and greedy person under an MRI scan and locate brain regions responsible for that sort of behavior? Every person who demonstrates kind behaviors has this certain type of brain, whereas those who are selfish and evil have another type of brain. What then? That’s actually the situation we’re in today. For example, we find that with psychopaths, the area of the brain responsible for empathy and moral judgement is either underdeveloped or is damaged. It seems that if we were skilled enough surgeons, we could go in and “repair” them, and they’d be a sweet and wonderful person, totally different than who they are now. How do you then look at the situation? How does that change your perspective? It’s not really a burning question today because our treatments aren’t that powerful, but in the future they will be.

    The question is whether or not we have free will at all, and how much of a role is played simply by our brains and brain chemistry? I think the evidence suggests we’re not free in the sense you seem to believe in.

    When it comes to personal responsibility, my views are quite wonderfully presented in these videos:

    So to answer your question, no I’m not concerned about judgement or being compensated for ills done in this life. Threats and the use of force can be used as a detractor in this life to mold a person’s actions, though it’s rarely the best route to use. It’s not something that should be applied past the bounds of human life, and even in this life, inflicting pain and suffering on people should only be done as a last resort. When you look at people as products of their brains, you just don’t view bad behavior that way anymore. You search for a cause, and that’s the scientific way of dealing with the situation.

    As for the point you bring up about longing to understand our origins, I too share this sentiment, but since I don’t believe we were created by this deity you’re supposing to exist, naturally I will look for different answers to those questions. You may think that we’ll only feel satisfied if we have faith in this creator, but I’ve held religious beliefs in my youth and I find them very unsatisfying. Science seems much more firmly rooted in reality, though we still have a lot to account for. Though we might not have answers to everything, that doesn’t mean religion has the answers either.

  6. Naheed says:

    I still have to think through about what you wrote but here are a few points- “You can believe that God had his hand in the design of things, but what does that add to the conversation? How does that help us?” But it won’t detract from the conversation or our efforts either would it if it doesn’t add to them? Maybe I am wrong but weren’t some of the world’s best scientists (I think Newton was one) interested in theology too and believed in God?

    Perhaps you are right and religion is popular because there is suffering and if there were no suffering one would perhaps not feel the need to have faith and make sense of an unrewarding life. But the thing is that belief in God should not be considered detracting from the goal of discovering the world and learning more about it. As far as I understand, don’t all religions ask humans to observe and reflect? Yes, as you say, people may claim that God is behind any new cause that is discovered because theists think God to be the ’cause of all causes.’ But again, the belief won’t detract from the discovery or would it? I fail to understand how belief can influence outlook when it comes to learning more about the world. Both theists and atheists should be equally capable of unraveling the mysteries of this universe…and finding the truth.

    I did see the two videos you posted and I believe there are various disorders and mental illnesses ( owing to the malfunction in genes or the way they respond to an undesirable environment or event) but when i think about free will, it is more about being aware of right and wrong and then choosing one or the other- if it were not the case there would be no conscience, and no guilt- if an individual had no responsibility- then no murderer would ever hesitate before doing murder; if its all pre-decided by the genetic makeup who gets to be ‘good’ and who gets to be ‘bad’ then why do good people have to control their temptations to be good and why do bad people have to overcome their conscience so they can be bad?

    I believe brain is a major factor determining our actions but concluding that our actions are just the product of our brain chemistry would perhaps be oversimplifying the matter…we need to know more about conscious thought and how it works before we can conclude that

    Finally, I view religion and God as separate, different things. To have faith in God, one doesn’t necessarily have to have faith in a particular religion. I agree that religion doesn’t have the answers but I also believe that belief in God and belief in science to help us understand more about the origins of this world, our future, and ourselves are not mutually exclusive.

    Lastly, love your blog 🙂

  7. Naheed says:

    Also this may be a bit of digression but I would just like to add that ‘religion’ is possibly one of the most exploited and misunderstood phenomenon of our times. I doubt all the prophets of various religions who advised people to be kind to their neighbors, be generous and look out for orphans, would recognize whatever is being propagated in the name of ‘religion’ as their original teachings. I feel religion has been done injustice- for the most part by people who claim to be ‘religious’ but also by people who are quick to condemn religion based on the ‘religiosity’ the ‘religious’ people portray…

  8. I appreciate your comments Naheed and I’m glad you like my blog. Does God distract us from discovery? I think any idea of God, spirits, or a “supernatural” world does. If we say God is the cause of something, we turn off our mind and say, “God decided to do that by His divine wisdom and will. We can’t understand it.” We end up turning off our mind in whatever areas we believe are divinely controlled. As we were discussing in issues of free will, whatever behavior we attribute to free will, we say that it is uncaused by anything in this natural universe. The decision took place in some divine “spiritual” place where a person’s real self resides. Whenever you observe the world and say that the cause is outside of anything we observe, you turn off your mind and say, “Well, there’s no way we could ever understand it.”

    For the issues of conscience, those are the exact sort of things I meant. Neuroscientists can identify the exact areas of the brain responsible for all those things. We know how the brain works nowadays. There’s no magic to it. Our moral ideas and feelings are just as much a product of our brains as anything else we experience. For example, oxytocin and testosterone play large roles in feelings of empathy, trust, and our desire for justice. Here’s a short talk on it:

    And another.

    I think the evidence supports that our thoughts are a product of brain chemistry.

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