Homo Deus

Homo Deus July 6, 2017

In his book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “Despite all the talk of radical Islam and Christian fundamentalism, the most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is not the Islamic State or the Bible Belt, but Silicon Valley. That’s where hi-tech gurus are brewing for us brave new religions that have little to do with God, and everything to do with technology. They promise all the old prizes – happiness, peace, prosperity and even eternal life – but here on earth with the help of technology, rather than after death with the help of celestial beings” (Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus. New York: Harper, 2017, p.356).

I’m interested how many scholars of religion would agree with Harari. It is always hard to tell where things are headed. In some ways, it might sound like a message of hope, when Harari suggests that the real trajectories towards the future are found not in fundamentalism but in futurism. There is certainly a growing Christian transhumanist movement that I am aware of.

One great thing about exploring science fiction and religion is that the genre of sci-fi allows for opportunities to imagine what the future of religion might look like, in conjunction with the development of future technology, and to explore the possible relationship between the two. When sci-fi has projected fundamentalism into the future, we must remember that that is commentary on the present, and that what science fiction authors imagine happening in the realm of religion is not likely to be any more on target than what they have managed about the future of technology – or about the future of human clothing and dance, for that matter.

There is a review of Harari’s book that appeared in The Guardian last year, for those who want to find out more about it. And here on Patheos, the blogs Anxious Bench and Friendly Atheist have both explored this theme of the future of religion.

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  • Obscurely

    As a progressive pastor and huge Star Trek fan (Captain Janeway was my favorite, Picard a close second) I’ve always taken note of how the future depicted in the various series seems clearly to be one in which human civilization has matured beyond the need for a God — and yet in my view it’s also a future made possible by the gradual/eventual triumph of the Way Jesus taught, lived and died for …

    • John MacDonald

      I think churches that stress the traditional prohibitions (e.g., anti-fornication) will die out. Churches need to reinvent themselves to fit the spirit of the age.

      • David Evans

        Of the seven deadly sins, wrath, envy and pride will be possible even for posthuman beings. There may also be moral equivalents to lust and greed. And failure to love God will presumably still be a sin.

        • John MacDonald

          The sermons I see on T.V. tend to seem more like Self-Actualization seminars (e.g. Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life) than pious applications of Jesus’ way to modern life. The religious component almost seems to be an afterthought. Pastor Rod Parsley is like a superhero whose superpower is coming up with new reasons every episode for viewers to sew a seed into the ministry.

        • John MacDonald

          Dave said: “And failure to love God will presumably still be a sin.” I’m not sure how it would be a sin for people like me who have tried many times to have faith but simply failed to believe. You can’t force yourself to believe in God any more than you can force yourself to fall in love with someone.

      • Obscurely

        It’s interesting however how little casual sex the enlightened denizens of Star Trek Voyager actually have?

        • John MacDonald

          I find it very unlikely that there will be a time when someone will sign up for a ten year tour of duty that involves staring at the warp core all day. What will people do when the alcohol supply runs out (Unless someone actually does invent the holodeck and a food replicator). ?

          • Obscurely

            You’ve obviously missed or ignored my point, which was about how Star Trek Voyager as FICTION depicts morality in the future, NOT about how REAL people may actually behave in the 24th century …

          • John MacDonald

            There will always be “morality” in the sense that there will always be systems that value certain behaviors and frown on others. Regarding sexuality, polyamory seems to be picking up traction, and some folks don’t see anything wrong with incest between adult relatives:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X64Ba4XEV0w
            Part of the problem is distinguishing between “immoral” and “taboo.”

          • Nick G

            Yes, but asserting that they don’t have a lot of casual sex is like insisting that Hamlet never masturbates – just because it doesn’t appear in the script, doesn’t mean it doesn’t (or, of course, does) happen.

          • Obscurely

            Looks like you’ve missed my point also, friend — why do we persist in depicting moral ideals (through art like film) that conflict with the banal human reality you’re citing?

          • Nick G

            If the majority of people responding to your point have missed it, it’s just possible that the point made little or no sense.

            Incidentally, I’m not your friend. Perhaps you don’t actually have any friends, and so don’t know what that term normally implies.

          • Obscurely

            Why are you degrading yourself with juvenile trolling like this brother? I can see that you’re easily capable of so much better!!!

          • Nick G

            Nor am I your brother, thankfully.

        • Nick G

          On the contrary, they’re at it like pansexual rabbits whenever the cameras are off them!

          • Obscurely

            I was rather obviously talking about the fictional CHARACTERS not the actual actors …

          • Nick G

            So was I – see below.

    • Nick G

      Funny, I hadn’t realised the message of Star Trek was: “Take no thought for the morrow.”

      • Obscurely

        Religion has certainly played a role in the moral advance of our species — and tragically the abuse of religion has all too often resulted in our moral regress … when you’re ready for more serious and respectful dialogue, please let me know …

        • Nick G

          When you’re ready to be less pompous and condescending, please let me know.

  • map

    Makes me wonder…

    What would the Gospel be like if humans don’t die?
    How useful will the Bible’s focus on sexual sin be in a world without sex or gender?
    When we begin reshaping homo sapiens to fit other environments and develop new or subspecies will spirituality be something that we should preserve or even enhance?

  • Gary

    Homo of the future may be a silicon carbon hybrid. “Putting life into rock”. I wonder if it has the potential to be better. Reminds me of the Futurama episode where silicon based life forms evolved from nano to robot.

    Or imagine if the Iceland bacteria with hybrid Silicon bonds escape from the lab. The new YAHWEH may be the Rock of Gibraltar.

    https://youtu.be/h_OTCQ_fxuc

  • Nick G

    I dislike this facile identification of social phenomena as “religions” when they lack most of the usual identifying characteristics. Of course “religion” is a “family resemblance” term, but when a so-called religion lacks supernatural content, specific rituals, a priesthood, prayer, sacred music… it’s not a religion. I am not encouraged to read Harari’s book. Nor by superficially clever but false aphorisms such as that quoted in the review:

    Modernity is a deal.The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.

    • Obscurely

      You make good points about the divergence of religion and secular morality — but Harari of course recognizes that, and is more interested in the obvious convergence of the two: “… brave new religions have little to do with God, and everything to do with technology. They promise all the old prizes – happiness, peace, prosperity and even eternal life – but here on earth with the help of technology, rather than after death with the help of celestial beings.”

      • Nick G

        I didn’t say anything at all about morality. Do you have any response to the point I actually made – that these so-called new religions are not, by any reasonable criterion, religions at all? Socio-political movements have been promising happiness, peace and prosperity at least since the 18th century. They may have some features in common with religions, just as elephants have some features in common with mice*. It doesn’t make them religions. Even transhumanism such as Kurzweill’s does not, in fact promise eternal life, only indefinitely prolonged life**. The “Singularity” is indeed referred to mockingly as “The Rapture of the nerds”, but making highly dubious promises is transhumanism’s main similarity to religion.

        *Just to be clear, elephants are not, in fact, mice.

        **Current physics and cosmology strongly suggest that no form of life can continue forever, Freeman Dyson notwithstanding.