The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing — particularly among the young — and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West.
But it seems to me that we aren’t really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that in which they put their faith. For some, it is the neo-earth religion of radical environmentalism that personalizes nature and advocates “nature rights” for “Pachamama,” (the Incan earth goddess), or sees the earth as akin to a sentient organism, as in Gaia theory.
Transhumanism comes even closer to that mark. The movement began advocating the right to engage in radical body alterations, such as brain implants to increase intelligence or genetic engineering to grant one the powers of a comic book super hero. Lately, it has evolved (if you will) to promise that we never have to die if we only harness the wonders of technology. There is even a prophetic point in time, known as the “Singularity” — akin to the fundamentalist concept of Rapture — when the cascade of AI and other tech advances will birth a corporeal New Jerusalem.
Here’s a description of this idea just published in The Guardian:
Imagine that a person’s brain could be scanned in great detail and recreated in a computer simulation. The person’s mind and memories, emotions and personality would be duplicated. In effect, a new and equally valid version of that person would now exist, in a potentially immortal, digital form.
What good is that, you ask?
At the simplest level, mind uploading would preserve people in an indefinite afterlife. Families could have Christmas dinner with sim Grandma joining in on video conference, the tablet screen propped up at the end of the table – presuming she has time for her bio family any more, given the rich possibilities in the simulated playground. It’s this kind of idealised afterlife that people have in mind, when they think about the benefits of mind uploading. It’s a human-made heaven.
I hate to disappoint the transhumanists, but their minds and personalities uploaded into a computer would be no more “them” than the animatronic Abraham Lincoln at Disney World is the real Honest Abe. It would be a mimic computer program. Wherever “you” were, it wouldn’t be in cyberspace.
The neo-religions we see emerging in the contemporary era tend to be anti-human. Radical environmentalism perceives us as the cancer afflicting Gaia. Transhumanism posits that we are are so inadequate that we have to be remade in our own image.
But both — and others — offer their believers meaning, which is no small thing. Transhumanism also provides its mostly atheistic or agnostic adherents hope that is destroyed by naked materialism — and with the additional “benefit” of never having to atone for sin.
As the West becomes less theistically religious generally and increasingly anti-Christian specifically, expect new forms of faith to continue emerging. A society crafted along the lines of John Lennon’s “Imagine” is unattainable. The need to believe is hard-wired in our beings. We will always have religion.