cryonics: bizarre, macabre and misguided; and why totalitarian regimes are often atheistic
A doubleheader: 2 topics in 2 essays
cryonics: bizarre, macabre and misguided
Cryonics is the low temperature preservation of human bodies in the hope of a future resuscitation with advanced medical technologies not currently available, but assumed to be available at some (distant) future point in time. The stuff of science fiction, or perhaps appropriate to the horror genre?
Cryonics, or the current consumer demand for it (among the wealthy who can afford it), is born of the hope for a physical, bodily resurrection here on this earth. This hope is vain as it is based on a flawed assumption that “personality” is stored in certain areas of the physical brain. Let me quote from this article on Wikipedia (the interested reader can do an Internet search on cryonics for many more articles and information):
A central premise of cryonics is that long-term memory, personality, and identity are stored in durable cell structures and patterns within the brain that do not require continuous brain activity to survive. (Color coding in original.)
found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryonics
While this may be true for a very short time, such as a few minutes when a heart attack victim or a drowning victim is being resuscitated, it is not true once death has occurred. As well, there may be “near death” experiences (NDEs), but by definition these are near death, and not returns from a post death state. Death is a clear break, from which we cannot return to this earthly existence. (And, why would any sane person want to return to such a troubled world full of suffering and injustice and discord?)
Yes, there are many who will disagree here. Clearly, those who believe in reincarnation will say that we do return, but in new lives and new bodies, not by coming back into the dead flesh of a previous life. These people give evidence of believing in a soul, or spiritual monad, that is not dependent upon the flesh and blood for its (continued) existence. (Believers in reincarnation are not our target audience here.)
There are many individuals (millions in fact) in this skeptical (even cynical) age that believe that physical, protoplasmic brain is the source of consciousness. They have their “peer reviewed” journal articles, written by like minded individuals, to support their beliefs. Many of these individuals will even go so far as to deny the possibility of a spiritual plane of existence. In an attempt to fortify their atheistic humanistic paradigm, some recent writers have even asserted that the religious impulse in mankind survived because it had evolutionary or natural selection advantages for homo sapiens. This, of course, denies the spiritual dimension of a human being.
We do not believe that science is capable of understanding all things. (We have alluded to this in a few previous essays.) Why? For 2 principal reasons. 1. The human mind has its limitations. We do not deify the human intellect. 2. There are phenomena that lie beyond the ability of science to effectively investigate. We are not being obscurantist here. The truth, unpleasant for many to ponder, is that science has its limitations. Its physical instruments, basically extensions of the human physical senses, are limited. They are limited even within the physical realm or dimension, and are certainly inappropriate for any investigations into the spiritual plane of existence.
What would you get if you could resuscitate or reactivate a super cooled corpse a few thousand years from now? (A few thousand years seems a reasonable time for amazing quantum leaps in medical technology.) In answer, we say you would not get the same John or Jane Doe whose name is on this corpse’s file. As to what would happen, we do not care to speculate very much other than to say the reanimated corpse might very well “behave” in very unexpected, disappointing, and distasteful ways.
Once consciousness (soul with its life force) leaves the physical body, the body by necessity “dies” – it really is composed of dead matter even while “alive”. Mind transcends physical brain. To do justice to your humanity, do not accept the very limiting and myopic view that we are just our bodies and nothing more. Even Joseph Campbell (American scholar, 1904 – 1987), not known for any love of religion, had mentioned in one of his talks that the body is a vehicle for consciousness and not consciousness itself. The same idea is expressed in the writings of Srila Prabhupada and his followers in their analogy of the soul being like the driver of an automobile. The driver (soul) is not the automobile (body). The driver, after turning off the engine or after the auto wears out and breaks down, exits the auto and leaves the scene.
Adherents of scientism will rail at me that: “You, Larry, provide no “facts” in support of these assertions. Where are any peer reviewed journal articles to support what you say?!”
Turnabout is fair play here. What facts have you, my “enlightened” critics, to support your denial of the existence of the soul? Oh, you cannot see it under a microscope, or capture it in a test tube or a specimen container. You cannot dissect it in the laboratory. And as to peers doing the reviewing, too many of these “peers” have closed minds and simply cannot be reached.
Denying God’s existence and the existence of our individual souls is a most “un-scientific” position to cling to as science is not competent, given its limitations, to pass judgement here. A more neutral approach would also be more honest. (Such as “Science takes no position as to the existence of the soul or of God as science is not able to effectively investigate these phenomena, and therefore cannot come to any conclusions.)
We think those affluent folks, who designated that a not insignificant portion of their estates be used for cryonic preservation of their corpses, would have done better designating those financial assets be given to legitimate and worthwhile charities.
why totalitarian regimes are often atheistic
Totalitarian regimes, and here we are thinking most notably about the communist variety, have the trappings of religion. These regimes have a high priest – the chairman of the communist party. They have their “scriptures” – the Communist Manifesto, Mao’s little Red Book, etc. They certainly give evidence, especially in those years of consolidating their power and combating “counter revolutionaries”, of being zealous, even fanatical, in their espousal of, and desire to spread, their dogmatic ideology.
The main reasons that totalitarian regimes are atheistic and intolerant of all religions are: 1. These regimes do not want any competition for the people’s loyalties. The State wants to “play God” and does not want the people to have any loyalty to any religions that might get in the way of, or otherwise prove inconvenient to, what the State wants to do. 2. The State does not want for there to be any appeals to a higher moral authority and any condemnations of what it does. (Which, as you know, usually involves “liquidating” millions of persons who just do not want to go along with or to fit into the communist utopia the state is working to build.)
Mao certainly was no friend of people who clung to their religious beliefs. Christians, a small minority in China, were vigorously persecuted from the late 1940s onward. As well, Mao showed no compassion (or tolerance) to the Buddhists (Lamaists) in Tibet. Mao sent Chinese armies into Tibet in 1950/1951, while the world was focused on his sending other Chinese armies into Korea to save communist North Korea from certain defeat.
The official atheism of communist tyrannies calls to mind an episode from the old Twilight Zone TV series (1958? – 1962?). In this particular episode, Burgess Meredith plays a man who clings to his religion after the totalitarians have gained power in his country. He is brought before an inquisitor who is standing in an elevated podium looking down upon him. They engage in a relevant discourse. The accused appeals to God or to his belief in God. The state’s inquisitor dismisses the accused’s appeal by stating (melodramatically):
“The State has proved there is no God.” He then picks up his bullhorn (low tech) and shouts to the rest of the auditorium kept in darkness: “I say again. The State has proved there is no God.”
A rather arrogant, pompous, bombastic claim.
One of my high school history teachers once said in class that some modern historians and history professors were of the view that civilization was currently in its teenage years. The teenage years, in individuals, are characterized by impulsive even reckless behavior due to a lack of good judgement (which seems to come only from experience). Such an assessment is not far wrong when you think about the state of the world. Perhaps, one day, in the distant future, mankind will reach sufficient maturity and possess better judgement so that the people can look back at the bloody 20th century, with all its failed and destructive social experiments (notably communism, fascism), and see it as a regrettable, embarrassing and shameful period of a troubled childhood.
As always, thank you for reading and thinking about these essays and their contents. For readers who reside in the USA, have a happy and safe Labor Day holiday weekend.