essay introduces the notion of transhumanist religions: their
rationale, their context within the history of religions, and
some fundamental constraints on their design and definition.
Some of the many possible arguments for and against the design
of such religions are discussed.
Religions, religious feelings, and religious
experiences have been prominent throughout history in almost all
human cultures. Religions, or cultural phenomena which can be
analyzed as religions, are still influential elements of culture
in all larger human societies.
Religions that may resemble the earliest form
of religions, those which anthropologists have called
‘primitive’ religions, continue today in some isolated
societies. Later types of religions, which incorporated elements
of those previous religions, have lasted for thousands of years
and continue today. New religions, and new sects of old
religions, continue to arise every year. Some of these new
religions grow in numbers of adherents, while others eventually
dwindle to none and disappear.
The evolution of religions is characterized by
variations on old themes as well as the introduction of new
themes. Concerns and issues that arise in any sphere of a
society’s culture can eventually affect religion.
In the contemporary world, one of the most
prominent cultural trends is the continuing increase in the
sophistication, diversity, and multiplying applications of new
The sheer achievement of science has caused modern man to
claim that ‘what no God did for his worshippers in thousands of
years, he has by his own efforts succeeded in bringing about.’
This has led some to observe that accelerating
advances in technology may soon lead to breakthrough
applications, such as dramatic extensions of lifespan and
dramatic increases in human physical and mental powers, which
will fundamentally alter the nature of humanity and the human
The philosophies associated with a positive
regard for this development, generally associated with the term
transhumanism, have created the right conditions for the
development of a new type of religion. A transhumanist religion
could incorporate an anticipation of the likely consequences of
highly advanced technologies, and positive views toward specific
applications of those technologies, into the sphere of religion,
religious feeling, and religious experience.
What is, or should be, considered
‘religious’ or a ‘religion’?
Religions are closely related to other elements
of culture, and there are no necessary hard-and-fast boundaries
between religious elements of culture and other elements of
In what anthropologists have called ‘primitive’
cultures, religions may not be distinguished as a separate
category of human thought or activity. Rather, those elements of
culture which we might classify as religious may be considered
continuous with, and indistinguishable from, everyday life and
areas of knowledge such as history, social mores, and medicine.
In these cultures, religion is indistinguishable from ‘what we
know’ and ‘how we live.’
This reminds us that religion is not a
universal category. But we do not need to conclude that religion
is not a useful category, if we can find it useful for our
purposes to distinguish religious aspects of a culture from
other aspects of the culture. For example, we may need a
category called ‘religion’ to better understand a society that
displays multiple, widely divergent world views and belief
systems. We may also need to discern religions in a society
simply because its members perceive what they call religions.
Our criteria for distinguishing what counts as
religion or religious, then, should be subjective and pragmatic,
relative to our need to understand social perceptions and to
organize our understanding of heterogeneous human cultures.
Attempts to define religion, or to determine the distinguishing
characteristics of religion, have generally failed to gather
The semantic boundaries of ‘religion’ in
English seem to revolve around a prototype, namely,
Christianity, along with other religions that are universally
recognized as religions, for example: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism,
and Judaism. A cultural phenomenon is a ‘religion’ to the extent
that it is or resembles one of those religions. More recently,
‘religion’ may be distinguished from ‘spiritualities’ (less
institutional forms of religiosity) or personal, idiosyncratic
philosophies of life.
The most prominent characteristics of
prototypical religion might be said to include the following (Alles
Belief in supernatural beings (gods).
A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods.
Characteristically religious feelings.
Prayer and other forms of communication with gods.
A world view, or a general picture of the world as a
whole and the place of the individual therein…
A more or less total organization of one’s life based on
the world view.
A social group bound together by the above.
A religion need not have all of these
characteristics in order to be perceived as a religion. For
example, a religion does not have to concern ritual, worship of
gods, or a moral code sanctioned by gods. But it is unclear how
many of these characteristics a cultural phenomenon must possess
in order to be perceived as a religion. Also, some of these
characteristics are rather vague or circular – for example,
‘religious’ feelings, or ‘sacred’ objects.
Some definitions of religion have started
instead with characterizing what should be considered ‘holy’ or
a ‘religious’ experience. For example, Friedrich Schleiermacher
referred to a ‘feeling of absolute dependence’, and Rudolf Otto
to ‘fear and fascination of the wholly Other.’
From the study of religious experience, we
might understand as religious those elements of a culture
which most characteristically
involve a sense of the
sacred or holy
deal with ecstatic or altered states of mind and
deal with ultimate mysteries of life and death, or
pose solutions to those mysteries
express the highest ideals and expectations of
life, especially in an overarching framework of meaning and
value in the world and human life, including profound beliefs
about purpose and meaning in the universe and human beings, and
human possibilities within it.
What may be the simplest definition of religion
is that of Clifford Geertz (1973) – that religion is what
integrates world view and ethos. That is, religion is what
relates the broadest and deepest possible understanding of the
world with the way of life, attitudes, and beliefs that
correspond to this world view in an emotional, value-laden way.
We can combine all of these insights and use
them in a practical way to help us understand what may be
socially perceived as religion and to help us decide what we
might distinguish as religious.
Transhumanism and religiosity
Technology is not a way of life or belief
system, but technology has come to enable ever more powerful,
efficient, and creative ways of living whatever sorts of life
may be believed in and chosen.
The most ambitious proposals favorable to
advancing the human condition by technology have come together
loosely as a movement called transhumanism.
The distinguishing concern of transhumanism – the application of
science and technology to advance the human condition – is
exceptional only by the nature and degree of technological
applications which it discerns as likely and desirable.
The intellectual and cultural
movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of
fundamentally improving the human condition through applied
reason, especially by developing and making widely available
technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human
intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
The study of the ramifications, promises, and
potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to
overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of
the ethical matters involved in developing and using such
technologies. (Bostrom et al. 1999)
According to the same source, transhumanism is
not a religion:
While not a religion, transhumanism might serve a few of the
same functions that people have traditionally sought in
religion. It offers a sense of direction and purpose and
suggests a vision that humans can achieve something greater than
our present condition.
face of it, transhumanism little resembles a prototypical
religion. It does not distinguish between the sacred and the
profane, exhibits no ritual acts, possesses no divinely
sanctioned morality, offers no form of prayer or communication
with divine beings, and is instantiated in only the loosest form
Transhumanism also allows
simultaneous profession of religions such as Christianity,
Buddhism, Islam, and Raelianism.
Most transhumanists, however, profess secular, humanist outlooks
(Hughes 2005), and transhumanism excludes reliance on the
supernatural in favor of the natural:
Unlike most religious believers, however,
transhumanists seek to make their dreams come true in this
world, by relying not on supernatural powers or divine
intervention but on rational thinking and empiricism, through
continued scientific, technological, economic, and human
development. (Bostrom et al. 1999)
However, as noted above, transhumanism serves
some of the “functions” of religion, with regard to providing a
sense of direction and purpose, and providing a vision of
something greater than the present condition. Transhumanism
concerns itself, among other things, with the prospects of “very
long lifespan, unfading bliss, and godlike intelligence” (Bostrom
et al. 1999). It is possible that transhumanism may come
to be considered a religion in spite of such denials.
Transhumanism implies the
possibility of ‘godlike’ beings. While these godlike beings
could not be ‘supernatural’ in the sense of being outside
of what is natural, they could be ‘supernatural’ in the sense of
attaining the fullest imaginable powers possible in nature, far
beyond what humans are presently capable of.
Such ‘godlike’ beings could
include the future forms or descendants of humans today.
Paralleling the distinction between polytheism and monotheism,
these beings might remain divided individuals, as in Deutsch
(1997), or converge into a more or less single being, as in
Teilhard de Chardin, Frank Tipler (1995), and Kurzweil (2005,
‘Godlike’ beings might also
include extraterrestrial intelligences who would likewise
have advanced by natural and technological means, or even more
Transhumanism may possess no
formal, dramatic rituals, but it could be said to possess
symbolic representations of shared meaning in the form of
transhumanist art, which includes symbols, vocabulary, images,
songs, film, and science-fiction literature.
Cryonic suspension after death
in order to preserve life for future reanimation, while not a
ritual or even a rite of passage, is nevertheless a distinctive
practice of transhumanists. Cryonic suspension requires both
community and institutions.
Awe and religious feeling
Transhumanists’ visions of the
future include limitless improvements in themselves, their
societies, and the world, visions more profound and far-reaching
than even the most optimistic scenarios of old-school futurists.
Surely these visions can inspire religious-like awe.
A vision of advanced
technologies which could ensure one’s own survival, and the
survival of the entire human species or even the universe, may
also inspire the distinctively religious feelings of ‘absolute
Neuroscience probably will
eventually explain the ecstatic states and altered states of
mind characteristic of some traditional religions, but advanced
technologies hold out the possibility of enabling entirely new
modes of thought and experience, thus adding to the palette of
possible religious feelings.
People in the future may even experience never-ending “gradients
of bliss” (Pearce).
There is also an emerging sense
of awe associated with the scientific world view and the
contemplation of nature. As Carl Sagan (1994) said, “a religion
old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as
revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves
of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.” In this sense,
the entirety of nature, and every specific thing in it, may be
able to be understood as the ‘wholly Other,’ the object
of fear and fascination in characteristically religious
Transhumanism is informed by
rationalism, philosophical naturalism, humanism, and empiricism,
but do these combine into a single, coherent world view, in
There is evidence that a
comprehensive world view based on such foundations is in the
process of forming. E. O. Wilson (1998) has written about a
converging consilience, and Deutsch (1997), among others,
has proposed a unified ‘theory of everything.’
An all-encompassing scientific
epistemology, combined with theories of sufficient provisional
explanatory powers, may soon give rise to a comprehensive world
view, one that explains almost everything of immediate
importance and interest to human beings and which provides the
methods and directions for discovering all other knowledge.
Powerful, new theories about human nature, the origin and
destiny of the universe, and the inner, subjective life of human
beings and the human mind will vastly expand the scope of this
new world view.
transhumanism, “critical ethical thinking is essential
for guiding our conduct and for selecting worthwhile aims to
work towards” (Bostrom et al. 1999).
transhumanist ethical values are humanist in the general sense:
Humanists believe that humans matter, that
individuals matter. We might not be perfect, but we can make
things better by promoting rational thinking, freedom,
tolerance, democracy, and concern for our fellow human beings.
(Bostrom et al. 1999)
Transhumanist values include logical consequences of humanist
values when applied to the prospect of advanced technological
solutions to human problems such as ameliorating pain,
suffering, ignorance, aging and death. They also include the
application of humanist values to prevent harm and risk to human
beings that might be caused by advanced technologies, especially
ethical values of transhumanism, even though they are derived
from “critical ethical thinking,” refer back to inscrutable
To a transhumanist, progress occurs when more
people become more able to shape themselves, their lives, and
the ways they relate to others, in accordance with their own
deepest values. Transhumanists place a high value on autonomy:
the ability and right of individuals to plan and choose their
own lives. (Bostrom et al. 1999)
Those who mock more religion-like transhumanist
notions as ‘technorapture,’ a clumsy amalgamation of
transhumanism and existing religions, or a wayward appropriation
of transhumanism by religion, may be missing the point of how
transhumanist and religious themes and concerns have converged.
The commonality of religion-like transhumanist
ideas and traditional religious ideas has not arisen
phylogenetically or by hybridization – transhumanists do not
come from one particular religion, transhumanists have not
adopted particular elements of traditional religions, and
members of traditional religions have not adopted transhumanist
Instead, whatever similarities exist between
transhumanism and traditional religions must have arisen from
commonalities in fundamental human ambitions, desires, and
longings. It is because of shared hopes and dreams that
traditional religions and transhumanism have some similar
For an example of how religious and
technological concerns might converge, consider space
exploration. In ancient religions, there were beliefs about
spirits or gods who lived in the sky, and stories about humans
who were whisked away to visit with them there, or transported
there in mystical visions. This curiosity about what was in the
sky and the desire to enter the sky were for so long without any
conceivable method of practical implementation that the ambition
was for the longest time reserved only for stories and imaginary
experiences. It was not until about a hundred years ago that
practical methods for bringing humans into the sky began to be
imaginable, with theory and application leading in less than
half a century to its implementation: human entry into ‘outer
space.’ Soon human beings passed through the realm that had been
considered the homeland of the gods, and they walked upon the
surface of what had once been worshipped as a god itself.
Oddly, because traditional religions had had a
long opportunity to adjust their cosmologies to avoid conflict
with the conclusions of scientific astronomy, the sense of
religious fulfillment which ought to have accompanied this human
entry into ‘heaven’ was largely absent. But the
themes of religion and
advanced technology had converged because of their common source
in human aspiration.
There have already been attempts in some
traditional religions to incorporate the consequences of
advanced technologies. For example, over a hundred years ago, in
the Russian Orthodox Church, Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov
advocated ‘cosmism,’ which included hope in radical life
extension, immortalism, and resurrection by scientific and
technological methods. His ‘common task’ bears many similarities
to the project of ‘universal immortalism’ among today’s
A little later, in the Roman Catholic Church,
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and paleontologist,
re-interpreted Christianity in light of evolution, with a
central role for future advanced technologies. Although his
Omega Point Theory was rejected by the church authorities, it
has continued to be popular, and has since spread to other
Some decades ago, an entirely distinct
religion, Raelianism, arose by reinterpreting and supplementing
the ‘prophecies’ of several previous religions in combination
with belief in cloning and extraterrestrial intelligences.
Transhumanist religion is not the only religion
that will respond, either positively or negatively, to the
possibilities of advanced technologies. Surely all religions
will eventually either develop ways of dealing with these new
phenomena, or spawn new sects or new religions to deal with
So in what sense could transhumanist
religiosity be consistently different from any approaches that
may be developed by traditional religions? The difference must
lie in certain fundamental differences between transhumanism and
all previous religions.
Among the characteristics of
transhumanism is its acceptance of philosophical naturalism,
critical rationalism, empiricism, and scientific method.
Traditional religions reflexively conserve dogmas. They may
disjunctively tolerate science, by accommodating scientific
discoveries on a case-by-case basis, or by reinterpreting dogmas
as needed in response to scientific innovations. Transhumanism,
however, incorporates critical rationalism as its very core
epistemology. The religious consequences of this are rather
thing, accepting critical rationalism as the unique ‘way of
knowing’ means a fundamentally religious redefinition of truth
and knowledge. If the best explanations put forward, in light of
available evidence, must count as true knowledge of reality
(Deutsch 1997), then truth and knowledge must be understood as
provisional, and the creation of better theories must become a
pressing project for humanity in order to deepen knowledge and
expand the range of truth.
transhumanist religiosity is not dogmatic – not because of a
dogma against dogmas (which would be an ironic
self-contradiction), but as a logical, consistent consequence of
a redefinition of religious (and all) truth as the best existing
explanations (theories), which are nevertheless always in
simultaneous, urgent need of improvement (to better explain
reality). Not only is transhumanist religiosity not in conflict
with science, it actually implies science in its world view, and
it incorporates scientific projects, as well as technological
innovation, in its ethos. An acceptance of dynamic, evolving
theories, rather than dogmatic tenets, counts as knowledge and
truth in transhumanist religiosity.
Transhumanism is characterized by belief in the
“possibility and desirability” of developing advanced
technologies to “improve the human condition.”
This affirmation or belief is
an active sort of hope and optimism rather than a propositional
statement of fideistic certitude.
Human beings will survive, be able to deal with all obstacles
and problems, and change themselves and their ways of life for
the better. It is only in the context of this hope that working
toward a better future and working to avoid possible dangers
make sense. After all, if humanity were doomed to stagnation,
devolution, or extinction, then there would be no reason to work
toward a better future.
This transhumanist faith in the
future requires that humans, through cooperative effort and
foresight, work to build the better future. Human effort would
also be pointless if a better future were inevitable by
historical destiny, or vouchsafed by supernatural intervention.
Transhumanist faith is marked
by its willingness to extrapolate from this principle – that
once one understands the principles of what one desires, and
once one has a reliable and effective way of applying those
principles, then that which one desires can be realized. Thus,
since every desired state of affairs can be imagined as an
arrangement of known or knowable possibilities, then every
desired state of affairs can be arranged, given sufficient
knowledge or instrumental power. The desired states of affairs
include typical aspirations of religion: eternal life,
enlightenment, bliss, and so on.
extrapolations from present-day science and technology lead to
confidence that most, if not all, these religious-like
aspirations can be achieved by a continuation of the same sort
of thought and effort that have previously resulted in
present-day scientific and technological achievements. In fact,
observation of the accelerating rate of scientific and
technological advances leads to the conclusion that the
realization is not far off.
traditional religions are based on a theory that postulates an
essential, unchangeable, and immaterial human spirit or soul.
Transhumanists though, in line with current scientific thinking,
suppose instead that the human mind arises from the activity of
the human body’s nervous and hormonal system, especially the
brain. The project of ‘reverse-engineering’ the human brain in a
computer model assumes that all of human mind, intelligence, and
consciousness can be captured in the brain’s physical structure
and the dynamic patterns within it, that is, its ‘hardware’ and
Thus, the religious ‘soul’ can be redefined along informational
One of the
most momentous developments in the history of all religions and
human civilization will surely be the completion, likely in this
generation, of the scientific project to understand the human
mind. Completed neuroscience will have immense repercussions for
religions by allowing humans full insight into what they are and
how they function as subjective minds, personalities, selves,
and social beings. There will likely be many surprises and many
upsets along the way, as ignorance, denial, and hypocrisy give
way to critical knowledge and awareness. The consequences for
private and public morality and ethics will surely be profound.
In combination with the science
of mind will come technologies of mind. Technologies that enable
real-time, noninvasive scans of brains; interfaces of brains
with machines; and the instantiation of human and humanlike
sentience on machines, will carry through the profound
implications of neuroscience into myriad and astonishing
Transcendence in traditional religions tends to
relate to experiences of supernatural realms and entities, and
accessing their mysteries. Transhumanism’s world view implicitly
rejects the supernatural, but it does not follow that
transhumanism does not possess a profoundly religious vision of
Kurzweil (2005, p. 388), for example,
understands the religious notion of transcendence in a material
and in an evolutionary context:
“To transcend” means “to go beyond,” but this need not compel
us to adopt an ornate dualist view that regards transcendent
levels of reality (such as the spiritual level) to be not of
this world. We can “go beyond” the “ordinary” powers of the
material world through the power of patterns. . . . It’s through
the emergent powers of the pattern that we transcend. Since the
material stuff of which we are made turns over quickly, it is
the transcendent power of our pattern that persists.
. . . Although some regard what is referred to as “spiritual”
as the true meaning of transcendence, transcendence refers to
all levels of reality: the creation of the natural world,
including ourselves, as well as our own creations in the form of
art, culture, technology, and emotional and spiritual
expression. Evolution concerns patterns, and it is specifically
the depth and order of patterns that grow in an evolutionary
process. As a consummation of the evolution in our midst, the
Singularity will deepen all these manifestations of
An evolutionary view of the world can see
change and advance over time as a transcendence of one pattern
by another pattern. In the next step in human evolution, human
beings will be able to transcend their ordinary human nature,
the ordinary limitations of their minds and bodies, through
increasing order, depth of pattern, and perfection of their own
bodies and minds as well as their artistic, cultural, emotional,
and spiritual creations. Humans will be able to rise above
themselves, through themselves, by means of self-directed
evolution. They will access the naturally emergent properties of
higher order which may not be evident or even imaginable to
lower levels of order, that is, current human beings.
It is possible to
see evolution as forming a kind of sacred history – an
understanding of the past, and how the present came to be, which
informs religious attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Evolution,
which is a verified theory by critical rationalist criteria,
functions as a substitute for the creation myths of previous
religions. Those myths are regarded as failed and superseded
theories. However, sacred histories are not only about origin;
they are also about destiny.
The transhumanist visions of the future usually
typically involve what is called the ‘technological
The technological singularity is the moment in the future,
accelerating advance of technology (possibly following the
invention of recursively self-improving superhuman
intelligence), after which the course of human history is
supposed to become highly unpredictable from today’s
The unpredictability of human affairs beyond
the technological singularity derives from the extreme speed of
increases in intelligence and technological sophistication which
are expected to occur at that time, along with the ensuing,
cumulative advances in all fields of science and every human
endeavor. Transhumanists typically expect that humans will so
thoroughly transform themselves during this time that they will
become incomparable to present-day humans – that is, ‘posthuman.’
Singularitarians, especially, view the singularity as a
religious event, a time when human consciousness will expand
beyond itself and throughout the universe:
The matter and energy in our vicinity will become infused
with the intelligence, knowledge, creativity, beauty, and
emotional intelligence (the ability to love, for example) of our
human-machine civilization. Our civilization will expand
outward, turning all the dumb matter and energy we encounter
into sublimely intelligent – transcendent – matter and energy.
So in a sense, we can say that the Singularity will ultimately
infuse the world with spirit.
According to these Singularitarians, this
expansion of consciousness after the Singularity will also be an
approach to the divine:
Evolution moves toward greater complexity, greater elegance,
greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater
creativity, and greater levels of subtle attributes such as
love. In every monotheistic tradition God is likewise described
as all of these qualities, only without any limitation: infinite
knowledge, infinite intelligence, infinite beauty, infinite
creativity, infinite love, and so on. Of course, even the
accelerating growth of evolution never achieves an infinite
level, but as it explodes exponentially it certainly moves
rapidly in that direction. So evolution moves inexorably toward
this conception of God, although never quite reaching this
ideal. We can regard, therefore, the freeing of our thinking
from the severe limitations of its biological form to be an
essentially spiritual undertaking. (Kurzweil 2005, 389)
The transhumanist religious space
As the previous discussion indicates, even if
transhumanism is not perceived as a religion, it could easily be
analyzed as one. Perhaps the best way to understand
transhumanism in a religious context is that it implies a
religion, or many possible religions.
Transhumanism as an intellectual and cultural
movement has opened up the space in which one or more religions
could find their cultural context. These cultural phenomena
might be more readily perceived as religious and religion if
they possessing those characteristics which are more typically
religious or if they need to be more and more distinguished from
other ways of life in a society. A diversity of transhumanist
religious phenomena could either be considered a typological
family of religions, or a single religion with many distinct
Some small, tentative religions have already
arisen in the transhumanist religious space – e.g., The Church
of Virus, The Church of Mez, Transtopianism, The Society for
Venturism, The Society for Universal Immortalism, the Church of
the Fulfillment, and Singularitarianism.
We can consider them religions either because their adherents
consider them religions or because they are cultural phenomena
that can be readily analyzed as religions. However, it is too
soon yet to tell whether any of them will persist or grow.
Diversity in the transhumanist religious space
can revolve around the many differences among transhumanists,
for example, with regard to styles of life, personal values,
emphases, visions of the telos of the directed evolution
of human beings, or particular preferred applications of
Some of the more prominent divergences among
transhumanists today involve priority values (individual liberty
versus social cooperation), preferred body substrate (organic,
robotic, or virtual), and the desired locus of future directed
evolution (humans, human-machine mergers, or machines not
derivative of humanlike mind).
If transhumanist religions recycle and
translate reusable components from one or more previous,
traditional religions, the resulting religions might have some
superficial resemblances to their donor religions.
This diversity within the transhumanist
religious space may enable the religious manifestations of
transhumanism to appeal to different human or posthuman
Objections to transhumanist religion
It would be impossible within the scope of this
paper to address every conceivable objection to transhumanist
religion, but at least a few major objections can be dealt with.
(1) Religions' effects and influences are
generally undesirable, especially because they lead to religious
Determining whether or not a given religion
exerts an undesirable influence is of course a subjective
matter, and criteria for determining it already imply religious
or at least value-laden assumptions.
But any religious or value-laden assumptions
not contradictory to transhumanism could support criteria by
which, in theory, at least one transhumanist religion (possible
or real) could be considered not undesirable. Therefore, while
it may be arguable from within the transhumanist framework that
a transhumanist religion is undesirable, it could not be argued
that any conceivable transhumanist religion would necessarily be
undesirable. The transhumanist religion space is simply too
It is outside the scope of this essay to argue
the nature and causes of religious wars. On the face of it, it
is no wonder that feelings about such profound matters as
religion (meaning, purpose, values, and ways of life) should be
strong and deep. But I would suggest that religious wars may be
better analyzed as wars over community identities, similar to
wars over tribe, ethnicity, language, political ideology, or
While religious behaviors may be observed to
play a role in religious wars, in such wars religions may serve
mainly as labels for community identity. If the perception of
diverging community identities is at the root of human warfare,
the tendency to perceive community identities as diverging,
under circumstances such as population expansion, may derive
from inherited human tendencies to territorial aggression.
Relinquishing religions, then, will not bring
an end to wars over other types of community identities.
Relinquishing religions will also not eliminate the desire or
need to understand and form opinions on religious issues, and
one cannot guess the final outcome of smothering diverse
opinions under the cloak of pretended collective agreement. It
is advanced sciences and technologies of the human mind and body
which hold out the possibility of modifying innate human
tendencies to territorial aggression, if they exist.
(2) New religions cannot be taken
seriously, since all noteworthy religions must be ancient
However ancient they may be, all religions have
origins. The origins of some ancient religions (e.g., Islam,
Buddhism) are fairly well understood, and the origins of many
more recent religions are even better documented. A religion
originates in the creative acts of the first believers,
adherents, or practitioners of the religion. With the passage of
time, the religion evolves along with a community and eventually
characterizes that community. In this way, those born in the
community are raised in the religion and may have a high and
special regard for it, for that reason.
In general, prejudices against new religions,
and biases toward ancient religions whose origins may be more
obscure and mysterious, are irrational. There is no logical
reason to venerate the wisdom of ancients more than the wisdom
of those alive today, just because of the time period in which
they lived. A realistic view of the past does not imagine
‘golden ages’ in which people of the past were wiser than people
today. If one accepts the historical observation that religions
have arisen in the past and displaced previous religions, then
one must accept the uniformitarian consequence that religions of
a similar nature could arise in the future and displace
(3) No one today is worthy enough to
found a religion deserving of adequate reverence.
This objection implies that religions ought to
be associated with a Founder, a human being exemplary in every
way that matters to the religion, a historical realization of
all the aims of the religion in advancing the character and
condition of its members. This Founder would serve as example,
proof, and source of all the religion's wisdom, as Siddhartha
Gautama (Buddha) did for Buddhism, Zarathustra for
Zoroastrianism, Abraham and Moses for Judaism, Jesus of Nazareth
for Christianity, Muhammad for Islam, and so on.
But not all religions, not even ancient,
traditional religions, have a single Founder of this sort. The
early developing theisms are an example of religions without a
main Founder – for example, the ancient ethnic polytheisms and
local cults found in ancient Greece and Rome – but also
religions of today such as Hinduism or Shinto. New religions can
arise from a single human innovator, when the religion is
adopted by others, but religions can also arise from the
development of a perception of distinctive identity in religious
practices that already happen to characterize a community.
Obviously, uniquely talented or charismatic
individuals play an influential role in all human social groups,
including religious communities. But surely religion in the
transhumanist religion space would have a more realistic and
detached view of the role of individuals in its development and
Transhumanism looks to the future enhancement
of human beings; therefore, it would be contradictory for
transhumanist religion to view any human being today –
unenhanced, beset by many weaknesses and inadequacies of the
body and mind – to be a prototype of any transhumanist telos.
Since transhumanist religion is not dogmatic, but instead
committed to dynamic, evolving truth and knowledge, a Founder
could not even convey a rigid program for developing such a
transhuman prototype. At most, individuals could put forward
provisional theories which could be tested, critiqued, improved
upon, and ultimately displaced. So transhumanist religion is
unlikely to have a Founder corresponding to the roles played by
those in some major religions today.
(4) Humans have an innate tendency to
irrationality, uncritical thinking, superstition, and fideistic
‘leaps of faith,’ so transhumanist religion cannot work.
An ability to believe counterfactual theories
and embrace internally inconsistent beliefs might have served
adaptation in the past by making humans braver or more willing
to experiment. However, even if this were true, the existence
today of fairly rational people, rational procedures such as
logic, rational projects such as the sciences, and rational
ideologies such as humanism would seem to indicate that humans
have discovered methods of mitigating such innate tendencies, if
they exist. These methods are at least partly effective in some
people, and transhumanist religion might gain traction in at
least those populations.
Just as every religion is experienced and
realized differently for its different practitioners, it is
likely that the understanding and practice of transhumanist
religion by its practitioners would take a variety of forms,
reflecting the variety in character of mind, intelligence,
experience, and so on of those individual practitioners. For
this reason, it is possible that adherence to transhumanist
religion could spread even among populations which diverge
widely with regard to rationality, critical thinking, or
superstition, as long as all those populations, in their own
way, accepted the outcomes of rationality, critical thinking,
Ultimately, advanced neuroscience and mind
technology should allow human beings to overcome any innate
tendencies that exist.
(5) Religion is simply a bad idea.
Secularism is preferable.
This objection seems largely a matter of
aesthetic taste. Certainly, many people are simply disinterested
in religions, and prefer to live an almost purely secular
However, it might be argued that in many such
cases formal, explicit religious identity has simply been
replaced by a generic social life-philosophy, a private
life-philosophy, a deinstitutionalized ‘spirituality,’ or a
complex, ad-hoc redaction of acquired culture through the medium
of individual choice. All of these could be analyzed as
To the extent that a world view and ethos are
widely shared, they may come to seem invisible, the way they are
in primitive societies (‘what we know’ and ‘how we live’). A
secular culture, even a transhumanist one, might be
‘religionless’ in that sense.
So it could be argued that it is a matter of
taste as to whether world view and ethos should be explicit and
categorized. But there other matters of taste at issue here,
such as the importance of being conscious and aware of our
cultural lives – for example, how we think, why we think that
way, and how we decide how we should live.
Would it be better or worse for us if we
were unconscious about such phenomena? Whether we call it
religion or philosophy or worldview or life stance or ideology
or by any other name, the general model of religion continues to
be a viable format for distinguishing religious differences,
expressing and developing religious concerns, relating religious
concerns to everyday life and practice, exploring religious
feelings, and coordinating shared values.
Potential benefits of transhumanist
Many thoughtful people come to consider or form
opinions about the concerns of religion – including
considerations of larger meaning, value, and purpose in life –
at some stage of their lives. Religions provide a context in
which these concerns and issues can be explored and expressed.
Religious practices may also help some in their efforts to
achieve goals related to these issues and concerns. Religions
can help societies coordinate decision-making and community
action along issues of religious concern. It is thus no surprise
that religions continue to be important today, since issues such
as the mysteries of life, ideals, meaning, value, and purpose
continue to be considered of pressing importance.
The importance of these issues and concerns,
and the urgent need to make decisions about them, are only
likely to be increased, not reduced, by the enlargement of human
understanding and powers envisioned by transhumanism.
Humans will face enormous ethical,
psychological, social, and personal challenges as they begin to
experience the opportunities resulting from accelerating
technology in the future. As everything from the most intimate
aspects of life to the large-scale functioning of societies
begins to change drastically, science, technology, everyday
life, and the highest and most sacred concerns of humanity will
converge in a manner that is without historical precedent.
Transhumanist religion may hold out the possibility of helping
people understand the changes happening in the world around them
and managing the difficult transition. Because future advanced
technologies will interact strongly with many religious
concerns, it is appropriate that at least one religion handle
those concerns in ways that are compatible with transhumanism.
technological singularity occurs soon,
transhumanist religion will likely still be in its infancy when
the human self-transformation to higher mentality begins. The
singularity may rapidly advance the exploration of the
transhumanist religion space and increase the number and
diversity of transhumanist religious practices, but it may also
be at this time that religion again becomes invisible, as
transhumanist religion decisively displaces traditional
religions for the majority of sentient beings, and becomes
instead merely ‘what we know’ and ‘how we live.’
On the other hand, it may be that different
subjectivities, natures, personality-types, temperaments, shared
experiences, and other tendencies will lead different
individuals and societies in different directions. If each
'direction' corresponded to a separate transhumanist community
with its own religion, such religious heterogeneity might
amplify tendencies toward alienation of the descendant clades of
posthumanity. However, it may also be that the heightened powers
of communication and understanding presumably possessed by
posthumanity would enable a continuing interface as a single
community with a larger society with which it shared many values
and principles. This 'greater posthuman family,' even if they
adhered to a variety of distinct religions, might still have
more in common with regard to religious concerns than humanity
Next steps in transhumanist religion
The transhumanist religious space has the
potential to be as different from today’s traditional religions
as those religions are different from their primitive
precursors. But transhumanist religion will fulfill its promise
only if it is fully realized in its religious dimensions, and
only if it improves upon religions of the past.
Redeeming artificial design
traditional religions, even though they are artificial human
creations, claim to have originated in supernatural sources
through unique prophetic revelations or as preserved through
ancient traditions. Transhumanist religion cannot give rise to
such an illusion. Instead, it should emphasize and foreground
this feature as an improvement over religions of the past.
Transhumanist religion can boast of being self-consciously
artificial, that is, explicitly humanly designed. It is planned,
designed, created, and instituted by contemporary humans for
traditional religions are reflexively conservative. They boast
of maintaining long, unbroken traditions and preserving dogmas,
rituals, and so on intact from the remotest antiquity. They also
maintain faith in a fixed, eternal truth or source of truth.
Transhumanist religion holds in its epistemological core
ever-shifting grounds of knowledge and truth. Its ever-changing,
ever-improving world view will automatically be consonant with
and incorporate the latest extensions of knowledge. These
continual improvements in world view will also be linked to
corresponding continual improvements in ethos or way of life.
It will be important for
transhumanist religion designers to foreground this phenomenon
as a positive feature, as with artificial design.
conservative religious impulse may still be exercised in the
conservation of phenomena that are of continuing benefit, or
neutral phenomena. But transhumanist religion
will be able to boast of the continual, directed evolution of
better ways of life, better habits of thinking, better values,
better religious experiences, better visions of the future,
better awe, and better religious practices, if it can deliver on
Diversity in religious
Transhumanist religion will
need to form a sufficiently distinct identity so that at least
its practitioners, if not the general public, will have a sense
of its difference from previous, traditional religions. But
transhumanist religion does not need to retain the notion of one
normative ideal for religious experience, practice, knowledge,
or feeling. The transhumanist religious space is far larger in
its potential than the space for any other religion.
Starting over again
designers should start over again with the basic issues and
concerns of religions, rather than merely continuing
developments of previous, traditional religions. They would do
well to become careful students of the history of religions,
philosophies, ethics, and mysticism, as well as careful students
of humanist critiques of all of the above, so that they do not
either ‘reinvent the wheel’ or repeat ancient mistakes.
individual meaning and purpose
Transhumanist religion will need to address
individual concerns about personal meaning and purpose and
values, and highest ideals or expectations in life.
Transhumanism respects individual values, but there is a role
for religions to help individuals uncover, analyze, understand,
and make connections between their values, and to organize and
relate values in general so they individuals can better make
connections with others and coordinate values they share with
others, if possible.
The humanist ideals of helping humanity and
“making the world a better place” are starting points, not end
points, for the development of specific personal values and ways
of life, and the connection of those to communal, shared values
and ways of life. Transhumanist religion is free of the need to
develop a fixed ethos, but it is not free of the need to help
individuals and communities form provisional ways of life,
although choices may vary by individuals and communities.
Instead of designing “a
moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods,” transhumanist
religion could develop ways of life that best enable its
practitioners to attain godlike forms. All paths
leading in this direction could be considered sacred, by
comparison to alternative paths.
If transhumanist religion spreads, it is likely
to pick up practitioners and designers who are better at
experiencing transhumanist religious feelings and who are better
able to direct them into transhumanist art, and perhaps even
symbolic drama (liturgical ritual). Transhumanist religion will
need to keep the door open, so to speak, to these possibilities
and encourage the development of diverse forms of transhumanist
religious expression, art, and symbolism.
Practitioners of transhumanist
religion need the benefits of community, some of which can be
organized along ‘cyber’ modalities, but some of which cannot yet
be fulfilled in that way.
The development of
transhumanist institutions has been spurred on by general
cooperative efforts, for example, cooperatively funding or
investing in scientific research and technological development,
sharing knowledge about radical life extension, helping people
stay abreast of scientific discoveries and technological
inventions, and coordinating political involvement in
technological issues or cultural involvement in matters related
But more characteristically
religious transhumanist institutions have formed around projects
such as arrangements for cryonic suspension (as in The
Society for Venturism), cultivating the hope of resurrecting all
who have ever lived (as in The Society for Universal Immortalism),
and hastening a technological singularity (as in
It is time for transhumanists to open up a new
front for understanding, facilitating, and communicating
tentative conclusions about the interaction of advanced
technology with religious concerns.
Religious work can supplement the continuing
academic, secular philosophical, and practical work that already
constitute transhumanism. Transhumanist religion can provide a
new context in which transhumanism can be developed, discussed,
The development of religious self-understanding
and the development of a religious language might give
transhumanists the tools they need to better communicate their
message to others. As the singularity draws near, transhumanist
religion may also become critical in helping humans make the
transition to posthumanity.
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