Thursday, May 08, 2014

Go for broke

This study is quite premature. For one thing, they haven't done long-term follow-up studies. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that blood transfusions from young donors is the fountain of youth. What would be the social and theological ramifications of that discovery?

i) Would it falsify the Bible? If death is a divine penalty for Adam's sin, and medical science figures out how to circumvent aging, does that falsify the Bible?

Not really. Even if death is a universal penalty for Adam's sin, that doesn't mean dying of old age must be the way in which that penalty is carried out. For instance, in Scripture, God sometimes executes sinners (many sinners) through natural disasters. 

To play along with the hypothetical, suppose humans stopped aging, stopped dying of old age. They lived for centuries. But depending on your eschatology, there'd be mass fatalities when the Lord returns. Just consider the eschatological plagues and battle scenes in Revelation. 

ii) What would be the social repercussions? Well, for one thing, most humans would become extremely risk-averse. Humans often engage in risky behavior because they know that sooner or later, they are going to die anyway. That's also a premise for certain kinds of altruism. I will risk my life for someone else knowing that my own death is inevitable. It's just a question of how and when. 

If, however, death was not unavoidable, then that would raise the stakes immeasurably. I'd have far more to lose. Not just in terms of losing my life, but, say, suffering spinal chord trauma from contact sports. Imagine being a quadriplegic for centuries? 

You'd have a society of hypochondriacs. Like Howard Hughes, Glenn Gould–or Mike Monroe, the "Bubble Man" in Northern Exposure. Ironically, some hypochondriacs are so overprotective of their health that they destroy their health in the process.

iii) But there'd be an even more dire consequence. Most people cling to life. They hang on until the last possible moment. As they age, their grip tightens. Death must pry their fingers loose, one-by-one. 

Even those who undergo voluntary euthanasia usually do so because the aging process has severely diminished their quality of life. 

Due to the fear of death, many people will do anything to stay alive. They will do anything to other humans to stay alive. That comes out in survival situations where you must compete to stay alive. Lifeboat ethics. The Hunger Games

If "vampire therapy" is truly the fountain of youth, young blood donors will be bred, fed, and kept captive to replenish the ruling class. Rather like the Daybreakers film. Secure blood banks where the ruling class receives periodic transfusions.

There won't be enough youthful blood for the entire populace to have a shot at immortality. So you'd have a stark class system, between mortals and immortals. A police state apparatus will be necessary to enforce the class system. And the security forces will demand access to the blood supply for itself and family. 

There'd be a black market for rejuvenating blood. Bribery would be rife. 

The class system would lead to civil war. Given the hope of immortality, the survival instinct is too strong to suppress a restive populace. There'd be a complete breakdown of civil authority. 

iv) This would have a winnowing effect on the church. There's a sense in which God makes it easier to die by making death inevitable. Whether you die serenely or fearfully makes no difference to the outcome. You can shake your fist like Dylan Thomas ("Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light"), but that's ineffectual. Empty bravado.

If, however, people had a choice between dying or indefinite life-extension, "vampire therapy" would be tremendously tempting. It would be easier for some members of the first generation (after the discovery of "vampire therapy") to resist the temptation if they already lost a loved one they can't live without. 

But for most churchgoers, this would be an acid test of faith. Do you choose death, hoping in the afterlife? Or do you choose immortality in this life?  

The Christian faith really does come down to the end of life. That's when it has to be real. What happens to me when I die? What happens to my loved ones? The Christian faith views life from a deathbed perspective. We die as individuals. In that sense, we die alone. 

More than anything else, mortality exposes our creatureliness. Our dependence. Vulnerability. Insecurity. Helplessness.

Christianity is a go-for-broke religion. Do you wager everything on the tangibles or the intangibles? This world or the world to come? Are you pinning all your hopes on heaven? 


  1. Also, if the only way to live longer is "vampire therapy" or something similarly unethical like cloning humans to use for "vampire therapy," then genuine Christians could elect to die normally rather than extend their own lives. It's possible the percentage of genuine Christians decreases while the percentage of non-Christians increases over time. If so, then it's possible the world would be increasingly deprived of Christian influence along with its concomitant benefits.

  2. This could foster a new response from marxists as well - the bloodgeoisie vs. the plasmatariat!

  3. If ageing is conquered, there's still accident, war, famine and disease. I'm guessing very few would finish their second century.