Transhumanism v. St. Anthony the Great

January 29, 2014 09:00 AM

By Raphael Ma

There is a story of a young law student whom St. Philip Neri called to see him. He embraced him, and began to recite to the young man all the ambitions that he had ever dreamed of. “Now you are studying: then you will be made doctor and begin to gain money, and to advance your family; you will be advocate, and then some day you may be raised to be a prelate… O happy you! Then you will think you have been recompensed according to your deserts, and will want nothing more.” And finally St. Philip whispered in his ear:

“And then?”

Transhumanism is a relatively new word for me. No, it’s not yet another category of LGBT or anything like that. It was originally defined in 1957 by Julian Huxley, the grandson of T.H. Huxley, Charles Darwin’s friend and advocate. Back then, he stated that through transhumanism, man, while remaining man, will be able to transcend himself, and at last consciously fulfill his real destiny. Today, transhumanists live in hopeful expectation of the biotechnological advances which will both extend our lifespan, and reverse the effects of aging. Yet, even this isn’t the goal.

“We assert the desirability of transcending human limitations by overcoming aging, enhancing cognition, abolishing involuntary suffering, and expanding beyond Earth. We intend to become more than Human.”
– Updated Transhumanist Declaration of 2013

Regenerative medicine is only a step, which will help us survive for decades, even centuries, until we won’t even need bodies at all—when we will have the technology to map and preserve all the information in our brain, and become immortal, able to store copies of ourselves in places all over the solar system, the galaxy, and beyond. Now I’ll admit it, I like science fiction. Alternate universes, aliens, ethical dilemmas, advanced technology, etc. In our present culture, progress is considered progress if it heads in that general direction. “Futuristic” is generally considered a good thing. A lot of diseases could be treated through regenerative medicine. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if we didn’t die? Isn’t there a desire in us all to live forever?

But what does it really mean to live forever? And how can I accomplish that?

One day when St. Anthony addressed his fellow monks in the desert who had gathered to hear him he said:

For the whole life of man is very short, measured by the ages to come, wherefore all our time is nothing compared with eternal life. And in the world everything is sold at its price, and a man exchanges one equivalent for another; but the promise of eternal life is bought for a trifle. For it is written, “The days of our life in them are threescore years and ten, but if they are in strength, fourscore years, and what is more than these is labour and sorrow.” Whenever, therefore, we live full fourscore years, or even a hundred in the discipline, not for a hundred years only shall we reign, but instead of a hundred we shall reign for ever and ever. And though we fought on earth, we shall not receive our inheritance on earth, but we have the promises in heaven; and having put off the body which is corrupt, we shall receive it incorrupt.
Life of St. Anthony, by St. Athanasius

Unfortunately for the transhumanists, their hopes and dreams have not in fact actually transcended this life. Even if they were to accomplish all that they planned, they would still live in fear of death, although perhaps in a different form—power outages, computer viruses, malfunctions, wear and tear. Because as long as we remain in a material universe, we need to rely on some kind of material to interact. And all material is subject to change and decay.  In the end, all they will have accomplished is to have “put off the body which is corrupt,” only to have replaced it with another one subject to corruption.

“And then?”

Raphael Ma first began discerning a vocation to the priesthood at the age of 17. Around that time, God challenged him through his life’s circumstances to take seriously the faith that he had been taking for granted all his life. He began as a seminarian for the Diocese of Hamilton, studying philosophy at St. Philip’s Seminary in Toronto, and theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary, also in Toronto. However, he recently discerned that God might be calling him to the religious life, and has entered as a prenovice in the Congregation of the Resurrection. He looks forward to continuing on the path that God has set him on.

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at

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