The Dying of the Year | Big Freeze | Faith and Cryogenics

Been quiet here recently – just been taking it easy and working on some other writing, plus enjoying Christmas etc. But ended up musing this morning, connecting up a few random thoughts which I thought would make a timely post at the death of the year.

New Year’s eve is always a strange time I think. We are good at drinking in the new, but not so good at mourning the dying of the old – which is one of the reasons I really like Jonny’s bitter-sweet ritual. As the clock passes up to midnight and beyond, we can reflect on the dying of the year, and the flickers of hope in a new calendar as January is resurrected again and we move, second by second, towards Spring.

Winter is deeply connected with ideas of death, and with this winter having been one of the coldest on record in the UK – and with the huge blizzards in the east of the US, an article on cryogenics (in a rather horribly T-Mobile branded mag) that had been lying around for a while suddenly seemed relevant.

The idea that in some imaginable future a frozen person could be resurrected by more advanced civilizations is curiously appealing. In essence, it offers a scientific answer to the afterlife.

Cryogenics – or Cryonics – is still right on the margins. By deep-freezing a body, advocates hope that technology will emerge in the future which will allow them to be resuscitated and carry on living. It is resurrection for the materialist atheist.

A couple of things I think are interesting about this. Firstly – why do people do it? I can find no more succinct explanation than this:

Robert Ettinger, whose book essentially started the modern cryonics movement, is now ninety-one and will most likely be cryopreserved himself in the coming decade. At this point he is laconic about his own motivations. When asked, he simply replied, “Being alive is more interesting than being dead.”

What I hadn’t realised though is that significant numbers of people are going in for Cryonic preservation because they want to see what the future is like:

Mark Walker, an automation engineer in Ireland marvels at the innovations that might await him. He accepts that in the future everyone he knows and loves will be gone but adds with a chuckle, “all of that technology is something I would just hate to miss out on.” He is also cheerfully aware of the slim chances for success but sees it as a nothing-to-lose gamble. “After all,” he points out, “if it doesn’t work, I’ve still only died.”

This is brilliant stuff. We deep freeze our bodies in the hope that we’ll be woken up – friendless and totally without contemporaries – but able to get our hands on the latest gadgets.

Before we mock though, this ought to give us serious pause for thought for our own faith. As the year comes to its death, and a new one is defrosted, what are our hopes for resurrection? What do we really think will happen? Who might be left out? What kind of world do we think we might be woken up to face?

All of these questions force their way from the future to make us think very carefully about the present – something I talk about in Other in a section on ‘forgetting resurrection.’ Whether a Christian or a cryonist, hoping for a second life, whatever form that takes, can be a dangerous thing:

Perhaps this is an underlying paradox of cryonics – that its proponents are almost living to die, dedicating their lives to a certain way of dying in the hope of something better the second time round.

So here’s a question as we bury 2010 and begin to get to know 2011: are you living to die? Have you dedicated your life to a certain way of dying in the hope of something better? My advice: live as Jesus did. Forget resurrection. Live as if this were it, and if the cold tomb is disturbed some time in the future, then so be it.

Happy New Year everyone.


5 responses to “The Dying of the Year | Big Freeze | Faith and Cryogenics”

  1. I appreciate the challenge to keep thinking… even on New Year’s Eve! 🙂 What you describe seems almost like a 24-hour mini-lent, and I’m intrigued by that sort of intentionality.
    Question for you: you suggest that we live as Jesus did, forgetting resurrection. While I’m all for living as if this were it, I’m not so sure that’s how Jesus went about living. I would, however, love to be convinced. Thoughts?

  2. I think he did live that way. He said very little about being resurrected, and we have to believe that Gethsemane and calvary were genuine: he was going to die a painful death and was totally forsaken. To quote Levinas (a Jew) from ‘Other’ on p 84:

    “Death in its unmitigated reality permits the ethical, while the notion of resurrection contaminates it with self-interest.”

    It’s this paradox of belief in resurrection, while forgetting about it, that I think Jesus gets right. Happy to do more convincing when New Year’s is over!

  3. I disagree with the article that cryonics is about unshakable faith. It may sound that way on the surface, but I think for most of us it is actually more about rational decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. In a religious context you are not encouraged to even think God will not resurrect you with any probability; in cryonics you are encouraged to be very skeptical and treat it as a long bet, one which is worth making only because life is so worthwhile.

    Interestingly, I’ve noticed that some Christians who believe in the instant ascension of the soul tend to have higher skepticism of cryonics because it takes place after legal/clinical death, at a point when they predict the soul will have left the body already. I am curious as to whether the vindication of cryonics would lead to more favor for the concept of soul sleep, or whether the consensus would tend to be that the soul does not ascend until the brain has decayed past a certain point.

  4. Kester, Hebrews talks a lot about God’s idea if Today. This pushes the idea that Christ was more focused on the present; however I would suggest that He lived as though it was an ever present (eternal mentality, timeless while current, past and future events still had influence).

    Ice: I think it is premature to assume that our soul is a servant to our biological bodies. Meaning that it can only be free upon “physical death” or decay. I believe that while they were created to be a package deal, they weren’t created master-slave. Does the scriptures not mention a transformation of the body to be glorified. This can be a hard understanding with practices of cremation but I would again suggest that perhaps our idea of our physical bodies is polluted by our material bodies. We are too quick to assume the spirit and the soul are not physical. Maybe we should rethink these concepts.

  5. Kester, thanks for the ongoing thoughts. I absolutely track with you (and Levinas) in believing that the Gethsemane experience was quite genuine. I have this nagging voice, though, that quotes to me verses like Hebrews 12:2 – “…for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross…” Not to mention the whole “”rebuild this temple in three days” claim. What do you do with these biblical statements?