From the U.K.’s Telegraph comes an article that is a four-course feast for thought. If scientist Ray Kurzweil is to be believed, we will all be capable of immortality within twenty years . How’s that for health care reform?

The idea here is that through nanotechnology, we will swap the organs we were born with for bionic replacements. Not only will aging be arrested, it will be tried, convicted, and reversed. And death? Let’s just say you picked the wrong time to go to mortician’s school.

So here at last we have it: heaven on earth. (And they said “utopia” was a dirty word). Now, before we get too delirious, we should acknowledge that this is bound to raise all manner of issues. Let’s consider just a scant few.  

Twenty years from now, what sucker is going to get married, knowing that it’s not just for life—it’s forever? And speaking of marriage, what are the theological implications, for those us who still try to appease the big bully in the sky?

In Matthew 22:23-28, for example, those saucy Sadducees attempt to embarrass Jesus, asking him to define the spousal status of a widow who marries a succession of his brothers, each of whom dies in turn. “At the resurrection,” they challenge, “whose wife will she be?”

Well, I suppose you could look at this at least two ways. First, in the Kingdom of Nanoa, such a question would never arise. Second, perhaps Jesus wasn’t really getting all ontological when he replies, “As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God? ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Maybe he was just way ahead of his time. Maybe Jesus was the Tao of physics, man!

In any event, there’s another issue that straddles both the secular and the sacred: In order for the earth to sustain our insistent, remaining presence, we’d eventually have to drop to a zero birth rate. That is, unless we’re colonizing other planets on a large scale by then. Don’t be so skeptical. If we can live forever, why can’t we have a McDonald’s on Mars?

But, for the sake of this little exercise, let’s say we haven’t gotten all the kinks out of space travel, or that some snobs prefer the sight of Potomac cherry blossoms to the views from Saturn or Uranus?

What it will mean is that others can no longer be born. We will, in effect, need to deny the possibility of life to those “others”, latent and unnamed, in our DNA.

An interesting thing, is it not? Might even call it a mystery. As things stand, we have to die so that others may experience existence. But, we’ve been heading in the direction of zero for a while now—even without the promise of the messiah, Nano, coming to us on a cloud of silicone.

In a collective behavior some have dubbed “demographic suicide”, we in the West deny the possibility of life to our progeny largely in order to expand the comforts of our own. It strikes me as the mega-irony of the nano-utopia: If life is so good, why not share it? If it’s so pointless, why cling to it?

This may all be rather moot, though. If nanotechnology doesn’t come with software that installs a more benevolent morality or a wiser will, there may yet be trouble. From what I gather, the soon-to-be-bionic versions of us would be just as incapable of surviving something like a nuclear blast and, just as tempted to trigger one.

Articles by Tim Kelleher

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