Posted: Thu, February 06, 2014 | By: Transhumanism
It is not a recent reaction to the accelerated evolution of medical technology. Prolonged life has been considered unnatural for centuries, sometimes for different reasons, mainly not being tolerated by religion, culture, and philosophy. That death is destiny and never something that is to be cured…
Obviously, this kind of attitude is outdated and an annoyance to the transhumanist community. Instead of being looked at as a treatment for the ailment of death, people consider it as a way to mock death. Which is where the beliefs come in, even early humans are known to have buried their dead with their possessions in thinking about their afterlife. Humans are obsessed with death and to go against this concept is to go against several hundred thousand years of traditions.
In literature, there are numerous examples of a being or beings trying to achieve immortality and becoming portrayed as abominations. Such is the case with Frankenstein, the tale of a Swiss scientist attempting to cure death, or in a commonly said way, to be “playing god.” When I read Frankenstein several years ago in high school, I did not connect the plot to extreme religious morals, simply an old book that at one time scared people. It was when my not subtly religious teacher had the class do assignments on tying Christianity to Frankenstein in the following ways. The Abrahamic imagery shown when the Creature was born and reached out to its creator, this is of course symbolizing The Creation of Adam painting. The Creature is not ignored either, the strewn together assortment of body parts not retaining any previous personality suggests at what point should someone not be considered human or rather not the same person? Then the murders committed by the Creature say that the goal of achieving immortality comes at the price of seeing your loved ones die. All based around the resulting creation being considered a deformed abomination as a testament to humanity’s arrogance.
What does this analysis of Frankenstein show us? That Mary Shelley vehemently opposed the very concept of immortality to such a degree that to represent it she conjures up a monster of unparalleled hideousness. These are all the reasons that religious fundamentalists of varying religions use to argue that extended life is an abomination, some applying more to certain religions than others. If you do not agree with this interpretation of a classic, as if the notion of a writer from the 19th century having a ridiculous belief is impossible, then you only need to read Mary Shelley’s short essay entitled, The Mortal Immortal. Literally detailing several of the points I have just given. Now, where this attitude came from is another matter. The idea of immortality is an ancient one indeed, certainly in most, if not all, religions. It would be reasonable to assume that the concept originated from immortality given to the gods and applied it to humans.
The roots of this attitude extend far in time, to the cradle of human civilization, in 18th century BCE Mesopotamia. The source is The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known works of literature and the core of Babylonian mythology. A demigod king named Gilgamesh that was so feared by his subjects that the gods sent him a wild man companion to focus on. They fight many battles together until they kill some beasts that were sacred, evoking the anger of the gods to place a fatal curse on Enkido.
It was after the death and mourning of Enkido that Gilgamesh realized he was still a third mortal and one day he too would die. It is at this point when a theme of the poem becomes predominately displayed. Fearing his death one day, Gilgamesh sought the human couple that had survived the world flood by building a boat with animals aboard as demanded by the Babylonian deities to preserve animal life and for their service the couple was granted immortality by the gods. This was almost undoubtedly the original story of Noah’s Ark that is in all the Abrahamic religions of today including other religions such as Greek mythology. When Gilgamesh finds the couple, they tell him that immortality is impossible unless bestowed upon by the gods. They then offer their wisdom to Gilgamesh that he does not need immortality, if he wishes to live forever he must instead do so by having a family to pass down his name and his fame to live on in legend too. However, all hope is not lost! He is told by the ancient couple that there is a plant at the bottom of the sea that might not grant immortality but youth. So Gilgamesh does the best idea he comes up with and ties rocks to his feet and walks along the sea bottom. When finding this plant, he goes back to shore with it, where he rests from the task. During that time a serpent sneaks past him and eats the plant. Upon waking up, Gilgamesh is distraught over his loss but reflects on the lessons taught to him by the couple on how he should instead try to obtain eternal life.
I understand those previous paragraphs seemed like a summary of the Epic of Gilgamesh but they explain the history to the current situation. Abrahamic religions and Western civilization as a result are based on this story. How are we told now to live forever? That we must get married, have children, and if you are lucky enough, have a place in history. Including the shared symbolism such as the world flood in the Torah with a modification to the passengers on the ark. There is also the plant eaten by a serpent thus taking away Gilgamesh’s hope of immortality is much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden that convinces Eve to partake in forbidden fruit, causing Yahweh to cast them out of Eden and stripping them of their eternal paradise. So in effect to want to live beyond mortal years is seen as opposing our divine punishment. We must understand the public disapproval to transhumanism if we hope to one day gain their support.