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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  • Tim

    We’ve been cut off from the tree of life? Is that statement meant to be metaphorical? In any event, using the Genesis 2-3 myth as an even partial basis for rejecting extending one’s life through viable medical means seems just a tad silly to me. Sure there are a whole host of issues related to extending one’s life past what naturally could be achievable, but the relevance of Genesis 2-3 on that issue should be nill I would think.

    s far as the issue of the cross, I have to admit I get a few shivers down my spine when I think that people are so eager and ready to embrace the afterlife rather than continuing on in this realm. That kind of thinking can lead to some pretty scary places pretty fast. Life here on Earth is a gift. Enjoy it and make the most of it while it lasts. If modern medicine/science can help you do this a little longer, then maybe that’s a good thing – provided your quality of life can be maintained and your mind, or even your retirement finances for that matter, don’t wear out before your body.

  • Life is good and we should be good stewards of our bodies, getting proper exercise, maintaining a good diet and otherwise working to be healthy and productive as long as possible. At the same time, It is a great healthy delight to know that know that when I woke up this morning I was one day closer to seeing Jesus face to face.

    That is not perverted. It isn’t a wish to get life over with because “something better’ is up ahead. It is just the joy of a believer who knows that every breathe he takes is meaningful, is a gift, and is a stewardship to use now for the glory of my Lord for as long as possible AND there is even greater joy ahead when the sand in my hour glass runs out.

  • karen

    Scot: You blog about anti-aging and Joan Lunden appears advertising some anti-aging remedy. As far as I can tell death is the best anti-aging formula. Stops aging in its tracks.

  • smcknight

    Karen, that’s so funny. I didn’t see the ad at the bottom.

  • DRT

    Agreed. I am convinced that the first person that will live to 200 has probably already been born.

  • EricG

    As a 38 year old facing a likely terminal illness, I agree with the post. Our culture is very anti-aging and death-phobic, to a point that is unhealthy. We prefer to sweep such matters under the rug; old folks are put in separate homes, and we attempt to shield ourselves from serious consideration of death. We see death as unnatural. A stronger dose of Christian eschatology could lessen this. Perhaps, as Tim suggests, there is a danger in too much emphasis on the afterlife, but our bigger problem now is that death is such an unspeakable thing for many.

  • “Personally, I’ve been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I’m willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes.” – Patrick Nielsen Hayden

  • AHH

    One factor that should enter into this conversation is stewardship of God’s creation. Overpopulation is a big part of many of today’s problems. If those my age (late 40s) keep consuming energy and other resources until age 150, we’ll be contributing to suffering of future generations and to the spoiling of God’s Earth.

    And if you think the Social Security system is in trouble with current demographics …