Anti-Aging and the Christian

Anti-Aging and the Christian January 2, 2011

By Todd Daly at CT:

The more fundamental question is whether human aging is a malady in need of a cure. Should we treat aging as a disease? Is there anything wrong with hoping to live to age 150? And, particularly for Christians, is it wrong to want to live past threescore years and ten?

…  The point is not that the desert fathers recognized a link between fasting and aging well before it was “discovered” by scientists. Still less is this essay an argument to pursue life extension through the more “natural” means of fasting. But it is clear that behind these competing visions of longevity lie divergent notions of flourishing and what it means to have—indeed, to be—a human body.

The modern biomedical project is fueled by the idea that our bodies are morally neutral. They are subject to the whims of our will, profoundly shaped by the liberal understanding of freedom as freedom from limitations—hence, the unquestioned pursuit of technology to slow or eliminate the aging process.

… In light of the Christian narrative, current attempts to extend life have confused the Tree of Knowledge for the Tree of Life, from which we have been cut off. But life has come to us through another tree—the Cross—through which death has not been eliminated but conquered.

…  Indeed, ethicist Oliver O’Donovan of New College in Edinburgh says that Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation serve to vindicate the created order. This both underscores the goodness of our embodied finitude this side of eternity, as well as provides a picture of our future bodily existence in Christ’s presence. As Brent Waters observes in The Mortal Flesh: Incarnation and Bioethics, “It is this eschatological hope that enables Christians to consent to finite limitations, for through the gift of the Spirit, they have received the freedom to obey the constraints of their finitude, because these limitations have already been vindicated, redeemed, and taken up into the eternal life of God.”

In light of this promise, Waters concludes, “Christians should also resist the rhetoric of treating aging as a disease to be prevented, treated, and cured.”

Christians who choose to engage in regular fasting, and thereby increase the chances for an extended life, might, paradoxically, become the kind of people for whom an extended life is no longer a driving concern. We subsume the quest for a longer and healthier life under the greater goal of being formed in Christ’s image.

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