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The Future Part 2

Carrying on from last week's article about technology prolonging life, Todd ponders why humans might want to extend their time on earth. Why be afraid of moving on? Is it good to live longer or are we trying to outsmart God? -Editor.

Last week I introduced you to Raymond Kurzweil, a prominent inventor and futurist. Kurzweil believes computer intelligence is advancing so rapidly that in a couple of decades, machines will be as intelligent as humans. Soon after that they will surpass humans and start creating even smarter technology. By the middle of this century, the only way for us to keep up will be to merge with the machines so that their superior intelligence can boost our weak little brains and beef up our pitiful, illness-prone bodies. His predictions for the future are somewhat like the Borg from Star Trek, in that we will be assimilated into cyborgs, but with a more immediate timeline for these developments that is like the Terminator movies. Oh, except in Kurzweil's future the machines will be nice. Great!

For his part, Kurzweil desperately wants to be a part of this re-imagined future. To help him achieve this he takes about 150-200 pills – natural supplements - a day that are to help ensure he'll live to 2045-ish so that his body can be mechanically enhanced and live forever (and yes, if you're interested, he does sell the supplements too). He also states that one of his goals is to bring his late father back to life. He's got some DNA of his dad that he can use, and he's kept copious records of his father's life including letters written, bank statements, anything that he can feed back into the “new” dad so as to best replicate his father.

I don't know about you, but this is about the time where I start thinking ol' Kurzweil is taking some crazy pills. Even if he can recreate a near copy of his late father, doesn't this genius realize that the copy isn't actually his father? At the base of all this craziness about the future is really a fear of death, right? In one sense I really admire his dedication and discipline to his goals, and quite honestly I'm fascinated by the idea that we could live, albeit mechanically enhanced, on earth forever. Would you do it? Would you allow yourself to be mechanically enhanced?

In some ways we're already seeing the beginnings of it with hearing aids, cochlear implants, prosthetic limbs and voice boxes. Nobody is saying these are bad things. These machines are friendly. They add to our life. Do they change our outlook on death? Perhaps. A person who lost a leg in battle might wish for death initially, but with the prosthetic limb now lives a full and happy life. While arguments like that could be made, these devices don't fundamentally change the question of death to the point of making physical death a choice. That's what Kurzweil is predicting and chasing: making death a choice. So much for the inevitability of death and taxes!

I'm all for freedom, but this feels like we're missing something here. The Lord does not want us to fear death! He tells us that there is no need to fear death! Swedenborg writes:

[These spirits] instilled that calm and delight into me I felt it filling my chest and heart; at the same time those desires and anxious cares about things to come which lead to the absence of peace and joy, disturbing the mind and creating all kinds of turmoil there, were removed... Those spirits told me that their people have no fear of death, except for the little they have over the loss of husband or wife and of children. They have no fear of it because they know for certain that the death of the body is a continuation of life, and that subsequently they become all the happier... [D]ying is not called dying by them but being “heavenized.” (Arcana Coelestia 8113, 8850)

Being “heavenized” puts a different spin on it, doesn't it? This seems to me to be the way that we are to live. Not in fear of death, but rather seeing this world for what it is - a school - and seeing our departure from it as a continuation or graduation into a new and happier place. But the trouble is that so many of us just don't believe in it any more. We hope there is an afterlife, and many believe there is an afterlife, but really, we should know there is an afterlife.

A couple of years ago, when I was promoting the church at a Mind, Body and Spirit show, I was talking to a fellow exhibitor and we were observing all the people who were in line to talk with the psychics to have their future told. “A lot of scared people over there.” he said. I'd never thought of it that way before, but I've come to think he's right. A lot of those people are probably eager to have a glimpse of their future are likely worried about it. Perhaps they're looking to reconnect with a heavenized loved one, or want to know if their current relationship will last... but no matter what it is they're looking for, aren't they looking because they're hoping or believing, but not knowing? Isn't this at the core of Kurzweil's hope for the future? That he won't have to go through the indignity of death, and that nobody will ever have to feel the pain of losing somebody dear to them.

It sounds good in a way, but ultimately it is another case of us thinking we know what is better for ourselves than the Lord does. Somewhere, the devil is laughing. Just as he tricked Esau into despising and giving away his inheritance (see Genesis 25), his birthright, for some stew, he's tricking us into forgoing our birthright – an eternity of peace and happiness beyond our comprehension – for an extended stay on this crummy rock.

Now, in once sense we can say, “No big deal” if people want to live forever on earth. Kurzweil assures that the problems of climate change, overpopulation, ability to produce food, etc., will also be addressed by technology, so we don't have to worry about them either. However, I'll finish up next week with another person's view of the more distant future. He describes a potential future for humanity if we can get past the fear of death. Let's just say that things will be different... To be concluded.

Todd Beiswenger

Todd is currently serving as Pastor to the Hurstville New Church, in Sydney Australia. The emphasis of his ministry has been promoting practical teachings for everyday living that combine compassion with personal responsibility to help people be at peace within their own head.