Reading Kerry Howley’s wonderful piece on cryogenics has me thinking about the conflicts and tensions between life-extending science and religion. It occurs to me that if the progress of science and the treatment of disease and aging ever advances to the point where humans can live forever, it will create a paradox whereby heaven is an impossibility for most believers.
The problem is that in most religions suicide is a very serious sin, and life saving medical treatments should not be refused unless they present undue suffering or burden. See Catechism 2278, for instance. This presents the paradox for believers: the only way to go to heaven is to die, but the only way to die is to commit a sin that prevents you from going to heaven.
How can you die without sinning in a world where immortality is an option? It’s likely that some forms of death would be untreatable, like being exploded so badly that only dust remains. You could simply increase your odds of dying by taking extremely dangerous careers or hobbies that puts you in a high probability of sudden, irreversible, and perhaps explosive, death. The subsequent large supply of labor and low wages in risky industries will mean it’s even easier for non-believers to avoid death.
Maybe the future will see a rise in religious terrorists who target science in an attempt to prevent us from ever achieving immortality. These martyrs would prevent the paradox from occurring, and thus save billions of souls from being locked out of heaven. From the believers perspective, that is a much greater thing to achieve for God than anything todays terrorists seek to accomplish.
Another potential outcome is that people will abandon religion altogether. After all, without the possibility of the reward of a heavenly afterlife, much of the promise of religion goes away. Immortality also allows the avoidance of hell, and so much of the threat of religion goes away as well.
Or perhaps the option of immortality will lead to a rise in the popularity of religions like Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses for whom medical treatments are themselves the sins.
This is one good reason for believers to avoid cryogenics: die now, while you still can.