Mormons ask, "What if we didn't die from old age?"
21 November 2007 (updated 12 March 2011)
Today at the Mormon blog, New Cool Thang, one of the contributors asked, “What if we didn’t die from old age?” As part of his thoughts in response to his own question, he linked to a video of Aubrey de Grey. Subsequently, he and others made various comments about death and its perceived value. I posted some comments in response, which I now post below for additional readers.
“God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit . . . that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest . . . if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars . . . all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times - According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest.” (D&C 121)
Joseph was prophetic. With our new knowledge, we now navigate depths of the sea that sunlight does not reach and rocket through the sky at speeds greater than that of sound. Computers that once filled entire warehouses now fit in the palms of our hands. We’ve used them to form the Internet and map the human genome. We’ve visited the Moon, our robots are scouting Mars, and private reusable spacecraft are preparing the way for space tourism. We’ve demonstrated the feasibility of what Harry Potter might call “invisibility”, “levitation” and “telepathy”. Trends of exponential advance in biological, miniaturization and information technology suggest increasingly transformative revolutions in the near future. We read of skin cells converted to stem cells for curing diverse human frailties. We hear of research toward indefinite life extension.
Wonder. Here we are, in the dispensation of the fullness of times, as Joseph called it. Where is it going? What is on the other side of the risks? What kind of world are we, with God, creating? Joseph shared other thoughts about the future:
“For the great Millennium, of which I have spoken by the mouth of my servants, shall come. For Satan shall be bound, and when he is loosed again he shall only reign for a little season, and then cometh the end of the earth. And he that liveth in righteousness shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and the earth shall pass away so as by fire.” (D&C 43)
“And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face. And in that day whatsoever any man shall ask, it shall be given unto him. And in that day Satan shall not have power to tempt any man. And there shall be no sorrow because there is no death. In that day an infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree; And when he dies he shall not sleep, that is to say in the earth, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and shall be caught up, and his rest shall be glorious. Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things - Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof - Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.” (D&C 101)
“Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come; When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.” (D&C 63)
Do we believe Joseph will prove prophetic again? Do we believe in a world of harmony between humans and other animals? Do we believe superabundance and new knowledge possible? Do we believe in a world without death, where we are transfigured to immortality at the end of a long healthy life? And, if so, do we believe we have anything to do with the work required to make this all happen?
“Prepare to die, is not the exhortation in this Church and Kingdom; but prepare to live is the word with us, and improve all we can in the life hereafter, wherein we may enjoy a more exalted condition of intelligence, wisdom, light, knowledge, power, glory, and exaltation. Then let us seek to extend the present life to the uttermost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation, and thus prepare for a better life. Let us teach these principles to our children, that, in the morning of their days, they may be taught to lay the foundation of health and strength and constitution and power of life in their bodies.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11: 132)
“You may now be inclined to say, ‘We wish to hear the mysteries of the kingdoms of the Gods who have existed from eternity, and of all the kingdoms in which they will dwell; we desire to have these things portrayed to our understandings.’ Allow me to inform you that you are in the midst of it all now, that you are in just as good a kingdom as you will ever attain to, from now to all eternity, unless you make it yourselves by the grace of God, by the will of God, which is a code of laws perfectly calculated to govern and control eternal matter.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3: 336)
If Brigham is right, and we want to live in the sort of Millennial world Joseph described, we have work to do. Moreover, if we see, as Nephi describes it in the Book of Mormon, that death is an awful monster, we have a duty that is well articulated by Captain Moroni:
“And now, my beloved brethren - for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings - Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain. Do ye suppose that, because so many of your brethren have been killed it is because of their wickedness? I say unto you, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain; for I say unto you, there are many who have fallen by the sword; and behold it is to your condemnation; For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God. And now behold, I say unto you, I fear exceedingly that the judgments of God will come upon this people, because of their exceeding slothfulness, yea, even the slothfulness of our government, and their exceedingly great neglect towards their brethren, yea, towards those who have been slain . . . Have ye forgotten the commandments of the Lord your God? Yea, have ye forgotten the captivity of our fathers? Have ye forgotten the many times we have been delivered out of the hands of our enemies? Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us? Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding? Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.”
I imagine Nephi would invite us to liken that scripture to us. 100,000 of us are dying of age-related causes each day, and untold billions of our brothers and sisters are dead and separated from their bodies – “For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage” (D&C 138). Aubrey de Grey and others, as if prophetic, are proclaiming a hearty and working faith toward life. I’m with them. That’s where I feel the spirit of God. That’s where I see the Christ and saviours on Mount Zion.