Chinese tech giant, Huawei, is on a campaign to compete with religion beyond the grave. More accurately, I suppose, one could argue that with the company's help, the Chinese government is trying to erase the need for religious convictions by making the grave irrelevant. Or that's the conclusion reached by Catholic Theologian, Thomas Williams.
Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai this week, Huawei's Kevin Ho, President of their handset products line, announced that soon children could use WeChat to communicate with grandparents whose consciousness had been downloaded onto a computer.
But Ho isn't alone. Silicon Valley's Peter Thiel of PayPal; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle; and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, are among those who are also engaged in the quest for immortality. Though, in their case, the attitude that each corporate leader has toward religion varies a good deal. Ellison and Brin are Jews (by birth and culture, if not by conviction) and Thiel is a Christian.
The proposal that Mr. Ho and others are pursuing is fraught with practical and moral difficulties:
The amount of memory that is required to download the consciousness of a single human being is both vast and expensive.
The cost of the process will memorialize income differences forever, creating a world of immortals that is the province of the rich and influential.
In order to preserve the consciousness of a human being one has to make the difficult calculation entailed in deciding when to end an embodied life before a consciousness is no longer capable of chatting.
It is not clear that consciousness resides in the brain alone.
Nor is it clear what kind of life-ending crisis might ensue when a consciousness is disembodied or what kind of angst ensues when someone discovers that their "life" is at the disposal of someone else who controls the off-switch.
Whether we download our consciousness onto a computer or, as some would have it, we improve the machine that we were given at birth, what seems to be missing in the conversation is a clear understanding of what Christians believe about Resurrection and eternal life. And, when one gets clear on that topic, it becomes clear, as well, that immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be - from a Christian point of view, that is.
One, Resurrection isn't just about beating the grave. It's about the vindication of God's claim to be God. The Resurrection is, in the first place, not about what happens to us, but about the claim that God makes to be the author of life. So, at most, our fate is of a secondary nature.
Two, eternal life isn't just about longevity. In fact, longevity is not even at the center of what matters about eternal life according to the Christian tradition. It's about life in the presence of God and about an ever, deeper journey into the life of God.
Three: Because eternal life is, first and foremost, about life in the presence of God, it is also both present and future possession. That journey can and does begin now and, in the Resurrected life, finds new fulfillment. In a sense, then, our lives in these bodies are of a piece with that journey. That is why the Christian tradition understands Resurrection as bodily, individual, and recognizable.
It is also why the Incarnation figures so prominently in the church's creeds. We live, learn, and grow inside of our bodies and, by God's grace, those bodies are meant for Resurrection, not an endless, disembodied, and downloaded future.
For those who really understand their faith and what it has to tell them about the nature of life, that disembodied future holds no attraction.
We can only wish Mr. Ho well on an eternity inside his phone.