In Defense of the Blindingly Obvious

If the Methuselah Foundation handed you a cure for aging, would you take it? If Star Trek science could let you and everyone you care about live indefinitely in healthy bodies, wouldn’t you want to? When I’ve asked people that, I have heard more people say no than yes. For some reason.

A large majority of everybody seems to be under the impression that aging and death are somehow good things. That the way things are is the way things ought to be. It’s the great circle of life, the thing we sing songs about to children while accompanied by adorable cartoon animals. I claim that death is not only wrong but evil.

This post is directed to Christians. There may come a post when I make a completely different set of arguments to a broader audience, but it is not this post. Christians—and I don’t know if this is true for religious people in general or just Christians—tend to hold it as part of their religion that everyone ought to die. This is despite the fact that it’s pretty directly contradicted in Scripture.

Everyone does die, sure. Granted. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” to take Hebrews 9:27 wildly out of context. (In the interest of fairness I should point out that that’s clearly not meant to be an absolute saying that everyone dies. Enoch and Elijah, anyone? (For anyone not familiar, those two got judged while alive, and got taken to heaven while skipping the bit about dying.)) But look at what the Bible says about death, and it’s pretty universally negative.

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” —1 Corinthians 15:26, being extremely clear.
(“Isn’t that a Death Eater idea?” —Harry Potter, falling victim to the assumption that only evil people dislike death.)
You can say that that verse means actual immortality isn’t possible until Jesus returns and fixes everything personally. That’s fine; I agree with you. Eternity is a long time. But if you can look at that verse and tell me that death isn’t an enemy to be fought, then good for you. You should consider using your powers for good some time.

“The wages of sin is death,” and “as by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Christ] has come the resurrection of the dead.” Death is not supposed to exist. It has no part in a perfect world, and Jesus went to quite some lengths to fix it! Christians of all people should reject death as part of any natural order.

Put it this way. “If you eat that fruit, you will surely die.” —God. Was “surely die” supposed to be a good thing, or a bad thing?

Hopefully at this point you agree that it’s an evil. But there’s an argument to be made for it being a necessary one.

A few verses later, Genesis says that fallen humans aren’t supposed to eat from the tree of life. So death has to last until sin has been eradicated. That’s why it’s the last enemy to be destroyed. But it’s one thing to say that everyone will die at some point and another to say that people should grow old and have their bodies stop functioning before they even reach 140. If you’d turn down the eternal youth thing from the first paragraph, this verse isn’t why. Picture a world where the most common cause of death (after accident, of course) is people dying voluntarily after a few centuries, like Aragorn. Whatever else you dislike about that world, it doesn’t contradict anything about the exile from the Tree of Life.
I’ve had some Christians say that fixing aging would be immoral because it’s messing with the end of life or interfering with the natural order of things (neither is my phrase). Short answer: Tell it to the ghost of smallpox.

Since everyone who has argued that can reasonably expect to live past fifty, they probably don’t object to the fact that medicine and infrastructure can allow people to live much longer than most of history. Just having easy access to clean drinking water is huge, and if that’s not unnatural enough for you then humans have eradicated smallpox. A disease. A force of nature. We’re fighting malaria and beating polio and all of this is completely unnatural.

If you’re a Christian, you’re probably thinking that’s different. We’re supposed to care for the sick, and wiping out diseases is just preemptively doing that. Aging isn’t a disease. So we’re perfectly free to let people’s bodies and even minds deteriorate because that’s the way it has always been, and it would be unChristian to do otherwise.

When the lightning rod was invented, Christians were opposed. It was meddling in God’s domain and upsetting the natural order, and it was obviously hubristic and unChristian. Most Christians didn’t think that, but many did. And now we laugh at them, because lightning rods are awesome. Arguing that something is unnatural is completely separate from arguing that it’s immoral.

A standard counterargument is that of course we shouldn’t want to live indefinitely. Even if it’s like Tolkien’s Elves, where they’ll still die eventually, the longer we live on this Earth the longer we’re staying away from heaven. After all, to live is Christ but to die is gain.

I am very glad that few people take that argument seriously. Otherwise you’d see Christians actively trying to die as quickly as possible short of violating the prohibition on suicide, and they’d all turn down any form of life-saving medical treatment. Nobody actually thinks we should minimize Christians’ life expectancy, and saving someone’s life is generally considered a good deed, but people still pull this out as an argument.
(The actual refutation, aside from the accusations of hypocrisy, is that Christians are supposed to delay their attendance at the afterlife in order to accomplish things here. Unless you somehow already know that you’ve done everything God wants you to do, in which case you have my permission to use this argument.)

An even more standard one is that anyone living for centuries would run out of things to live for and become terminally bored. Normally, this is just a really bad argument. But when Christians use it, it’s worse. Leave aside the reports of Moses living to 120 and Adam to 930 (not a typo), because interpretations are split on those. Instead, I’ll just point out that Christians expect to live forever. Not just indefinitely, like I’ve been talking about, but actually forever. You can argue against living longer than a few decades on this earth, but you REALLY don’t want to argue that long life is itself a bad thing. Not when eternal life is one of the more famous things that Jesus offers.

I’m writing this the day before Easter. It’s a holiday where Christians celebrate the fact that death is evil and has been beaten. For Christians, death is not so much an old friend to be greeted and embraced at the right time as it is an enemy whose head has been crushed under a powerful ally’s heel.

Tomorrow, Christians will sing quotes from the Bible, “Death, where is thy sting;” “death has been defeated,” and more I can’t think of off the top of my head. The following day, most of the singers will forget about it and continue thinking that death is natural and therefore good. When what the Bible says is that the whole thing is a problem that needs to be eliminated. Or, as John Donne put it,

Death, thou shalt die!