This article is reprinted with permission from First Things (March 24, 2022)
So-called “Christian transhumanism,” or the attempt to blend the transhumanist agenda with the precepts of Christian theology, has been around for some time. But there has been a recent resurgence of interest in the project. The book Religious Transhumanism and Its Critics, published in 2019, claims to offer “first-hand testimony to the value of the transhumanist vision perceived by the religious mind.” The volume includes contributions from a number of Christians. The “Christian Transhumanist Association” (CTA), formed in 2014, is actively dedicated to promoting transhumanism as a means of “participating with God in the redemption, reconciliation, and renewal of the world.”
The problem with these efforts is that the transhumanist worldview and the Christian faith are incompatible. One cannot be a “Christian transhumanist”—any more than one can be a Christian Buddhist or Christian Muslim.
Transhumanism is a futuristic social movement. Its adherents believe that immortality is attainable in the corporeal world through the wonders of applied technology. The goal is to become “H+,” or more than human. Transhumanist proselytizers include academics like Oxford’s Nick Bostrom, Big Tech gurus like Ray Kurzweil, and popularizers like 2016 presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan. They promise that “the singularity” is coming—the time when a crescendo of scientific advances will make the movement unstoppable and transhumanists will transform themselves into super-beings who can enjoy physical life without end.
That transhumanism became a phenomenon is not surprising. Western society is becoming increasingly secular, with an exponential growth of “nones” among the young. Such a societal shift has consequences. Removing God from the human equation engenders hopelessness and breeds nihilism. This is the crucial weakness of modern materialism, one that transhumanism seeks to remedy. By offering adherents the hope of technological rescue from the ultimate obliteration of death, transhumanism offers nonbelievers a postmodern twist on faith’s promise of eternal life. I can live forever, the transhumanist believes fervently, if we just develop the technology soon enough.
But any attempt to merge transhumanism and Christianity is misguided, for the two are contradictory belief systems. Transhumanist dogma is entirely materialistic. Its focus is solipsistic, its purpose eugenic. Moreover, it rejects basic Christian tenets like sin, the need for divine forgiveness, the value of redemptive suffering, and eternal salvation. To obfuscate that truth, the CTA website assiduously avoids discussing the actual tenets of transhumanism. It offers jejune statements such as, “We believe that God’s mission involves the transformation and renewal of creation,” and “We seek growth and progress along every dimension of our humanity.” In this way, the CTA conflates the pursuit of technological advances—which Christians certainly can support—with transhumanism’s fixation on technology as savior.
Nor does the CTA website discuss the “means” that transhumanist advocates plan to use to attain this utopian vision—not to mention their ethical implications. For example, some transhumanists hope to repeatedly renew their bodies through breeding clones as sources of organ replacements. Others plan to have their heads cryogenically frozen to allow eventual surgical attachment on a different body or a cyborg. But transhumanists’ greatest passion is to eternally save their minds—as opposed to souls, which is not a transhumanist concept—via uploading into computer programs, a concept known as “digital immortality.” This is hardly what St. Paul meant when he asked, “Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?”
Transhumanists not only believe that life is too short, but that human capacities are inadequate. Thus, the second great goal of transhumanism is “morphological freedom,” i.e., radical quality improvement—not through self-discipline, embracing the virtues, or focused efforts at character building, but via materialistic means such as gene editing, brain implants, and merging with AI technologies.
The ultimate purpose of this quest isn’t spiritual—not theosis or sanctification—but to become super-beings in a materialistic sense. As Istvan wrote in 2016 in the Huffington Post: “We must force our evolution in the present day via our reasoning, inventiveness, and especially our scientific technology. In short, we must embrace transhumanism—the radical field of science that aims to turn humans into, for lack of a better word, gods.” It’s hard to see how any of that squares with the Christian’s call to humility.
Transhumanists don’t just want to manipulate their own bodies, but also those of their children. They hope to do this through genetic engineering and unnatural means of family formation. According to the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, “All sentient entities are entitled to reproductive freedom, including through novel means such as the creation of mind clones, monoparent children, or benevolent artificial general intelligence.” And I haven’t even gotten into how, by granting rights to AI computers and proposing to “upgrade” animals into rational beings, the movement rejects Christianity’s view of human uniqueness.
Readers won’t find any of this on the CTA website. Rather, the CTA claims that by embracing transhumanism, Christians can “grow into our identity as humans made in the image of God.” But Christians embrace spiritual growth through prayer, fasting, and acts of asceticism, not superficial technological improvements in our physicality. Christians don’t view the ill and disabled as somehow lesser. Moreover, the Christian faith calls us to show compassion toward others, rather than being obsessed with self. Christians are commanded to feed the hungry, invite the stranger in, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned, for by doing these acts of mercy to the least among us, we do them unto Christ.
First principles matter, and those of transhumanism and Christianity could not be more contradictory. Transhumanism is materialistic. Christianity is theistic. Transhumanism is utopian. Christianity sees the fallen world realistically. Transhumanism perceives immortality as something that can be achieved by men. Christianity identifies eternal salvation as the mercy of a loving God. Its eschatology focuses on God’s promises, not upon advanced scientific applications.
One can certainly be Christian, and as a secondary matter, a technophile. But one cannot be a “Christian transhumanist.” The two religions—because that is essentially what transhumanism has become—simply cannot occupy the same space.