Are You Becoming a Transhumanist?
Technology may be reshaping us so that we will readily accept the philosophy and practices of transhumanism and posthumanism. That’s the basic thesis of Transhumanism and the Image of God by Jacob Shatzer, and I think he’s right.
Shatzer isn’t putting forward some wacky conspiracy theory about Silicon Valley’s bid to take over the world; he’s actual reasoning from the reality of discipleship. (Hence the book’s subtitle: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship.) Drawing on the idea that we are primarily lovers and that our loves are shaped through our habits (citing James K.A. Smith, of course), Shatzer argues that our use of technology has the potential to change us in deep ways even without our awareness. As he puts it, ‘Humans make tools, but tools also make humans’ (p.37). This reality provides a key way for Christians to evaluate technology. We shouldn’t only assess what new technology does or how it does it, we should also assess what it will do to us as we use it.
When we assess modern technology in this way, we find that technology tends to draw us into liturgies of control that teach us to value control as the ultimate good. This valuing of control is a key tenet of transhumanism and posthumanism and so we may be being primed to accept these philosophies without even knowing it. As Christians, since this liturgy of control clashes with the biblical vision of the good life, we must learn to become aware of how technology is shaping us, make decisions that will manage this shaping, and engage in counter-practices that will orientate our hearts towards love of God and love of our neighbour.
After the opening two chapters, which outline Shatzer’s approach to the formative power of technology (ch. 1) and offer an introduction to transhumanism (ch. 2), the next three chapters explore some key elements of transhumanism: morphological freedom (ch. 3), augmented reality (ch. 4), and artificial intelligence and mind uploading (ch.6). Each of these chapters defines the element and explores its place within transhumanism before offering a critique. For each, Shatzer also looks at the ways the practices many of us are already engaged in may be preparing us to accept the more extreme expressions of these elements in transhumanism. These sections are enlightening but also slightly unnerving.
The subsequent chapters explore four big questions that are raised by the use of modern technology: What is real? (ch.6); Where is real? (ch. 7); Who is real? (ch. 8); Am I real? (ch.9). Each of these chapters offers an exploration of the way technology is changing our answer to the question and then reflects on how Christian themes and practices can offer a counterbalance.
I found every part of Shatzer’s book enlightening and engaging. He engages with an impressive range of writers and offers some very insightful analysis. If there is a weakness to Transhumanism and the Image of God it is probably in the discussions of Christian counter-practices since these tend to be weak on concrete, applicable ideas. However, the final chapter (ch. 10) goes some way to making up for this, offering four very practical counter-practices and four small steps every Christian can take to better evaluate and engage with technology.
I expected Transhumanism and the Image of God to increase my understanding of transhumanism and to equip me with a good Christian critique of the movement. It has done that, but even more it has caused me to think about my own use of technology and the influence it has in my life. This, to me, is an example of the best type of book, one that has helped my understanding, will hugely influence my teaching, and has equipped me to become a better follower of Jesus.