new bodies

by Zach Kincaid
The nineteenth century stomped into the the twentieth with full guns ablaze, ready to roll out the marching orders of greedy capitalists and domineering socialists. They had set their philosophical stages to make possible the most brutal century in human history, rightly predicted by G.K. Chesterton: “Men will more and more realise that there is no meaning in democracy if there is no meaning in anything; and that there is no meaning in anything if the universe has not a centre of significance and an authority that is the author of our rights.” The century on-hand will likely offer violence that invades the territories of people much more than maps, guising technology in usefulness and medicine in necessity. Natural human functions will not provide stimuli enough for you to either live comfortably nor accomplish the demands wrought by society.

Take, for example, a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Be Everywhere Now.” It addresses the omnipresence of students. The author explains that students are nearly always in seven places at once and never any place wholly. With buds in their ears atmosphere gets textured into a Hollywood movie. Glued to laptops, screen layers flatten the world to a pancake. Language is econofied through phones and hand-held devices while blue teeth attached to ears enables the talking to fruit or wind commonplace.

Competitive sports demonstrates a similar effect. Physical ability is hardly the way to accomplish untouched success nowadays. Superheroes are what sell tickets and break records. Like our machines, we want greater performances, faster action, and new legacies. Who cares about that fat-ass Babe Ruth, anyway? We now have conditioning by pyramiding science and talent, gym candy and ability.

The doctor’s office may tackle transfiguration next. Did you see the CBS story on regenerative medicine that aired Easter Sunday? (Here’s a link.) It reported on a man who, after losing the tip of his finger in a work accident, sprinkled on the wound a powdery substance made from pig intestines. The finger grew back in four weeks. The scientists think they can trick the body to repair itself instead of nubbing off serious injury. Who’s behind the research? The military. Think eugenics... backwards. They hope the technology can reproduce skin cells and whole limbs, blood vessels and complete organs. Wearing out may be optional in the future.

Even better, maybe you can download your memory and knowledge onto a hard-drive in the future and upload yourself into another body.

Why not? Isn’t it true that the body is a mere shell served by the soul for a handful of years and then discarded? Aren’t we jars of clay made in our mother’s womb and pushed out into air? True, our soul is weaved into the hair of our head (for God says he knows the count), but is it dependent on it? (The bald would say no.) Aren’t we immortals with eternity carved into carnality?

It proves that humanity never forgot the serpent’s promise: “You will be like gods.” Cut off the flesh and affix to an eternal source... Epistasis!? No. Upostasis!? You no longer need to be caught between skies and gravity.

Death, where is your sting? Where, O death are your plagues? And grave, where is your destruction?

Here’s the catch: it’s all softly spoken and wears the mask of innocence.

Why not grow back your limb or down a pill to make your world normal? It avoids both lengthy hospital stays and check-ins at the asylum.

Why not artificially inseminate your womb? It beats suffering through prayers like Hannah and Elizabeth even if it’s necessary to thievishly pry open a window in heaven?

“Because Heaven should know better; God should too. Doesn’t he know what we're all suffering down here?”

Isn’t that what you’re really asking? Can the Unknowable really understand the knowable? Can the Maker of souls tap your interworkings or did he simply set your course? Can the timeless dip into time for you and me?

But there are other questions. A prominent one begins with “God gifted the hands of the surgeon and equipped her/him with knowledge to do this, so...” I only buy this to a point. It hinges on what your qualifying or justifying. Surgeons are equipped to give sex changes but that doesn’t make it right. Does it? How about breast enhancements? Or grandma on an oxygen machine? Are these okay? Maybe, maybe not.

If science is able to alleviate death, does the church have a role in society? Chances are, the promise given in Eden will circle back and science will figure on a way to make new habitats for memory and knowledge. Where is the soul? The Hebrews thought the liver, earlier Christians said the heart, and today we name the head. Science supports the contemporary theory: all veins lead to it and all functions, including the conscience, extend from it.

Yet, I wonder if the soul can fit inside the brain. Perhaps, if it is purely essence it doesn’t matter. The soul inhabits the big toe as much as the pancreas as much as the ear lobe. Certainly this is true to a point. There is no spare room on the soul’s house; you can’t compartmentalize it out. But, perhaps here is where transubstantiation - that act of bread and wine turning to Christ body and blood by a priest’s invitation - serves a powerful conclusion. God inhabits soul and flesh. You are mini-christ not only because of what you believe but who you are down to the cartilage. Remember that Jesus ascended in the flesh with all the scars of his earthly experience. And Scripture says your soul will reunite with your body when “day” loses its hooks. This is principally why Christians have disdained cremation. (Naive? Or are we more gnostic?)

Modernity put on the clothes of Nietzsche’s superman and our era is supplying flesh and bone. What we do with these new technologies matter. Jesus says he came to give life more abundantly. Science is preaching the same message. Jesus’ abundant life ends in death; there is no avoidance. Each day we die and at the end of our lives we die again. That’s the only way victory is afforded by the divine. Science hands out a different scenario. It loves life so much that it seeks to protect it at all costs. And one day it may shut up that gapping flaw in life’s structure: temporalness. The temptation is the same as Eden. Just remember that if you find your life you will lose it; give it up and find it again.

(April 2008)