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Aspire to Embodied Immortality

31 March 2024

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Embodied Resurrection

This Easter morning, while thinking about the hope of resurrection, a friend reached out to me with questions about Bible descriptions of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He had asserted to some Christians that “Jesus was resurrected with his own flesh and bones.” The Christians disagreed, observing “the Bible says, … ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.” How might a proponent of embodied immortality respond?

Despite some Christian contestation, the idea of material embodied resurrection is rooted deeply in Christian tradition. And the idea has seen a modern resurgence, particularly in dialogue with Transhumanism. This dialogue is especially prevalent among Mormon Transhumanists, who champion the complementarity of theology and technology.

Central to the dialogue are interpretations of Biblical references to resurrection. Of course, as cited by some Christians to my friend, Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 15 are noteworthy. Here’s the whole passage from the Bible:

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Luke 24 is also particularly noteworthy. There, Jesus describes his own resurrected body. Here’s the whole passage from the Bible:

“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

There’s a difference between Paul’s description of immortality and that offered by Jesus. Paul mentions “blood” whereas Jesus mentions “bones.” At first, the difference might seem trivial, or perhaps contradictory. But the metaphysical implications may be profound.

Contemplating these passages of scripture, early Mormon leaders speculated that the difference between “flesh and blood” mortal existence and “flesh and bones” immortal existence may be displacement of blood by spirit. To understand their perspective well, keep in mind that Mormon scripture characterizes spirit as material, and equates or tightly associates spirit with light and intelligence. So their speculation wasn’t about a change to immateriality, but rather about changing the material structure of the body. Blood, they supposed, could be replaced with a more robust substance, which could yet serve an analogous anatomical function.

More recently, a modern president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Howard W. Hunter, expressed support for this idea of flesh and bone immortality. He claimed that resurrection would involve a renewed combination of spirit and body into a form that is “quickened by the spirit instead of blood.” Here’s the context of President Hunter’s remarks:

“There is a separation of the spirit and the body at the time of death. The resurrection will again unite the spirit with the body, and the body becomes a spiritual body, one of flesh and bones but quickened by the spirit instead of blood. Thus, our bodies after the resurrection, quickened by the spirit, shall become immortal and never die. This is the meaning of the statements of Paul that ‘there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body’ and ‘that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The natural body is flesh and blood, but quickened by the spirit instead of blood, it can and will enter the kingdom.”

Hope in physical resurrection of the body does not negate the spiritual aspects of hope in an afterlife. To the contrary, such hope frames spirituality in decidedly practical terms, provoking our imagination toward substantial pathways from human to superhuman existence. For Mormons, this hope reflects and reinforces other doctrines that integrate the physical with the spiritual, such as the physical embodiment of God, and the potential of Earth itself to become heaven. Resurrection can be associated with the soul’s heavenly ascent while also being associated with sublime physical revitalization.

Transfiguration and resurrection to immortality, conceived in both spiritual and materialistic terms, is an essential part of Mormon Transhumanist thought. We advocate for radical life extension and even detailed computer emulation of the human brain and body. We aspire to applying technology in ways that will facilitate and expedite transcendence of traditional notions of aging and death. And yet these are not negations of God or heaven, but rather embodied expressions of God and heaven – real expressions of God and heaven.

For Mormon Transhumanists, the pursuit of eternal life is the quest for superhuman existence, superhuman in capacity and virtue, and superhuman in very substance. We don’t use “eternal life” as a euphemism for death, as some Christians do. To the contrary, we aspire to eternal life that is as real as light and as warm as love. As part of that, we aspire to embodied immortality, as exemplified by Jesus.

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