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March 09, 2008



The ancient Hebrews didn't have much of a conception of hell because they didn't care much about what happened to the goyim. You were simply left out of the book of life and that was that. Our modern conception of hell owes a lot to Dante.

I really doubt that anyone in the first century could have imagined technology based immortality. There was hardly any technological advancement in the Roman era, and a backward tribe of the sort that produced Jesus would have been even less cognizant of it. My favorite speculation about the "real Jesus" is here.


I think most people want immortality, but there's a dissonance between that wish, and the obvious fact that everybody dies. To get over that hump, most folks glom onto one of the prevailing fairytales; usually, the one they were raised with. Of the few who can't go that route...well, I suppose a small number go for the life extension stuff. But for somebody who's already skeptical, the immortalized human on earth scenario is probably not very realistic. I mean, show me the track record so far...no immortals around yet, as far as I can see. I think the answer for most of these folks comes through the more psychologically subtle approach: vicarious immortality through children, work, or artistic acheivment. For others, there's identification through race, or some other cultural route, which gives them the false feeling of personal survival through generations past and present.

Personally, I find great solace in the concept of annihilation; the idea of everlasting life bores me to no end. Actually, I'm looking forward to that last, long afernoon nap that stretches on into infinity. If I could pray, my only prayer would be that, for everyone, the going might come easily. Unfortunately, that's not often the case. Bummer.

Nick Tarleton

Hmm. I'll be thinking about your first paragraph for a while.

One idea: most atheists reject everything that smacks of religion. including the idea of immortality (or radically extended life). Another idea: religious people are not actually "working towards immortality" in any sense that an atheist immortalist (longevity advocate) could empathize with, but just perform certain rituals in the course of living their day-to-day life; these rituals happen to nominally promise immortality, but in spite of this those practicing them don't actually think about the immortality aspect that much, or at least aren't motivated by it so much as by tradition, social acceptance, the momentary feeling of religious experience, or whatever.



You might be right as far as the immortality thing goes, if you're talking about immortality within the sphere of metaphysics. It seems like the 'radically extended life' scenario might have more to do with scientism than religion, though.

I'd also agree with you about the aspects of religion, other than an afterlife, that appeal to people; though, I'm not as tempted to understate the religionist's hope for eternal life as, perhaps, you are. But essentially, you're correct when you infer that religion fulfills many personal and communal needs, the belief in a particular afterlife scenario being just one of them.


Jim: "I think most people want immortality, but there's a dissonance between that wish, and the obvious fact that everybody dies."

- indeed. Do not underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance to mess with people's minds, and cause them to come up with very odd thought patterns.

Also, I think that we may be underestimating the power of what people are brought up with. It'll be interesting to see whether, if 30 years time, the situation changes radically because lots of younger people today are being exposed to the life extension meme.

retired urologist

HA: In a former life, I intended to be a Baptist Christian missionary; I'm very familiar with the scripts. What I have never understood is the conflict between what they describe as "heaven", and their attitudes toward going there. The heaven definition I was given was: perfection in every way. What about missing loved ones left behind? Can't happen: wouldn't be perfection. What about the rest of the stuff that you'll miss if you die? Can't happen: wouldn't be perfection. What about sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll? Perfect. And so on. There can be no downside to it at all. All Christians want to go there, but I can't recall ever meeting one who wanted to go today. I don' t think they really believe it, as Roko's and Jim's comments on dissonance suggests.

On the other hand, the really wacko religious cults show much more devotion to their beliefs in the reward of afterlife, and frequently they have little hesitation to show it. Remember that cult in New Mexico that believed the Hale-Bopp comet was a screen for a spaceship that was coming to get them for a trip to eternal paradise? The catch was you had to end your earthly life first. What did they do? They stepped right up and ended it. (BTW, I never did see the follow-up; was there really a spaceship?) It's like Robin Hanson telling me that it's OK for him to have health insurance, even though he has proven that the only medical care one should elect is that for which one is willing to pay out-of-pocket. He says, "Yeah, but I was willing to pay for it; I just didn't need to, because I had insurance. This is different than the other bozos who used their insurance, because they didn't stop to consider whether they were willing to pay for it." Well, we'll never know if he was really willing to pay for it, because he didn't. And all those Christians may really believe in heaven, but they don't act like it, because they're not anxious to get there.

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