Imagine… It’s Sunday morning. You and your spouse are up and ready for church. One child is coughing; the other is still in bed. Should you go or stay home?
In the future, the answer may be Yes!
From the comfort of a couch, you command the smart home’s fully equipped Virtual Reality (VR) system: Take us to church. Environmental projection then, or some other form of holographic AI-assisted technology, kicks in, allowing you to be, at once (as if you were, and in fact are now) in the sanctuary: interacting with fellow members; singing songs; reciting creeds; offering prayers; experiencing the sermon; and, of course, contributing tithes and offerings.
Far-fetched? Not at all. Indeed this, and undoubtedly far more, lies just ahead at the intersection of faith, technology, and the future.
Such are the thoughts that drive my growing interest: consideration of what is surely coming and, more specifically, the future impact of technological disruption on the local church.
Recently, this interest led me to a small room at Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN, where together with just over 100 others I participated in the first Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA) Conference.
Hosted by Micah Redding, CTA’s executive director, and following a gracious, solidly Christ-centered opening prayer, the conference featured an array of diverse speakers from a variety of (primarily) scientific and technological disciplines. An admitted agnostic (celebrated biomedical gerontologist and mathematician, Aubrey de Gray), as well as the former director of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (Blaire Ostler), also participated and, in my opinion, were among the most intriguing speakers of the day. With this in mind, Redding and the entire CTA team is to be commended for fostering an open yet unapologetically Christian environment in which such people, that is, those with varying understandings of God and faith, were otherwise warmly embraced and invited to coalesce in consideration of human flourishing and the common good.
For those new to Christian Transhumanism, Redding’s centering talk was helpful toward defining basic tenets. According to Redding, Christian Transhumanism (and by extension, CTA) seeks to foster:
- A conversation, cultivating connections between people inhabiting the worlds of faith, science, and technology
Given fast-paced technological advancement, Christians must not shrink back from but run to these conversations, bringing a constructive, positive, and Christ-honoring perspective to them, so as to inform the change that is surely coming. “Many of the people leading the charge to get us off planet or to solve the world’s problems,” Redding said, “are not people of faith, and generally speaking, Christians have no window into that world. It’s a recipe for disaster, and awkward at the moment for Christians to discuss.” To influence outcomes Christians, he continued, “will have to build relationships, be humble, willing to listen, to learn, and to do this work if ultimately we are to have something to offer.”
- An emerging theology of technology
Again, according to Redding, there are two typical Christian responses to technology. The first response is one of fear and distrust concerning what it is the future holds. Typically, people do not yet comprehend such things as superintelligence, quantum computing, and biomedically enhanced aging, etc., and thus remain disinterested, disengaged, or dismissive. The second common response of Christians is “to treat technology like a fashion item: I want to get it, use it, and be ahead of the curve.” Again, through Christian Transhumanism, Redding believes we can and should (as the conference espoused) consider our technological future through the lens of Christian theology and by developing a more robust, biblical rationale for what it means to be fully human.
- Positive, relational values within the transhumanist project
Since CTA’s founding in 2014, “We (Christians) have been well received in and by the broader transhumanist community,” said Redding. In order to contribute where technology and the future is concerned, he suggests Christians should continue to engage by “allowing ourselves to be challenged and critiqued along the way.”
- A positive religious vision that calls Christians to serve on behalf of the world
As with race, class, and cultural disruption today, technology is forcing us, as Christians, to dig deeper into our faith: in light of what is surely coming, what does God wants us to do, and how shall we then bring about the mission of God. As Redding suggests, “Many Christians have embraced escapism, hoping to bide their time until eternity punches their tickets for the rocket ride out of here someday.” He continues: “This is so different than to what the Bible calls us… to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.” Indeed, technology may very well be the way to actualize the prayer of Christ in the years ahead: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, what is Christian Transhumanism?
As the conference espoused, it’s an emerging movement forming at the intersection of faith, technology, and the future - and I would add, the local church - that can and will likely move us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and conformed to the image, will, and mission of God.
Redding concluded his talk by asking, "What does it mean to be human; what has it meant; what should it mean; and what do we want it to mean? These questions are at the heart of what faith tries to address. It’s amazing to me that more people of faith are not yet engaging the conversation, involved in these issues, shaping the future.”
It's amazing to me, as well.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. Why do you think Christians are, or may be viewed as being, fearful of the future where the interconnection of humans and technology is concerned?
Q2. Do you agree that Christians should be proactively engaged in the conversation and working alongside researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs to shape the future where technology is concerned?
Q3. How might technology advance the mission of God; social justice; the very Gospel itself, in the days to come?