Jesus was a cyborg

As custom, posthuman films, including Her, Transcendence, and Lucy, prescribe qualities on the anthropological project. Questions for viewers arise: What does it mean to be human? Are humans unique because their conscience? Is it necessary to have a body to be human? These films convey simply that to be human means to demonstrate a will and have a conscience. There is a complete lack of body-presence. For instance, in Her the male-bodied human has an emotional and sexual attraction to the artificially intelligent Operating System, Samantha. They perform all the features of a romantic human relationship, although one is without a body.

creation of the cyborg

Cue cyborg-talk

With the rise of prominent electronic technologies, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, we recognize our dependence on these technologies. As an example, I use my smartphone as an alarm, radio/music, television, clock, notebook, book, phone, and about a billion other things. Recently, new concerns about a smartphone user’s posture has an actual term: Text Neck. Yet, it has been argued that even before our use of electronic technologies that we were already cyborgs.

cy·borg (ˈsīˌbôrg) noun
a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

First, already we see that this definition is biased. It believes that cyborgs are “fictional or hypothetical.” Second, without that qualifier at the beginning, it presents a solid definition of how we have been cyborgs! Globally, humans use technologies attached to their bodies that help them function beyond human limitation. For me, at least, I need glasses to properly see my surroundings. As well, I use an umbrella in the rain, wear snow boots in winter storms, and have sunscreen for the hot sun.

Humans make use of non-electronic technologies daily and without it the world would look much more chaotic (and blurry!). This idea about cyborgs, I believe, ruptures a belief in human nature , i.e. natural law, original sin. That we have never been purely human. We are a mix technologies that help us to survive and thrive in the world. In this sense, we should be glad to have such wonderful technologies helping us, but our theology should reflect such realities.

If you would have asked me in second grade what I would look like in heaven, the first thing that would’ve come out of my mouth would be that I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses anymore. As a child, heaven was the perfection of all things and a barrier for me was my glasses. Over time that has changed and now I feel fashionable with glasses and couldn’t live without them. In a way, the theology of my youth reflected what I thought it meant to be purely human.

What does it mean to include cyborgs into our theological anthropology?

1. Humans have a conscience, but the body must not be forgotten.
With all this cyborg-talk, we must remember that we are bodies. We are breathing, head-bobbing, blood-pumping, heart-beating, entanglement of emotions, sound-collections, and memory-capturing bodies. We are always in transition. Our bodies change everyday, every hour, every second. They shed skin, lose blood, grow hair, and earwax multiplies. Thus, BODIES ARE NOT STATIC! They cannot be pinned down to essences.

2. The fluidity of our bodies should reflect our theological anthropology.
When asked what it means to be made in the image of God, most Christians rely on the Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God created them; male and female God created them” (NRSV). To dig deeper in what this means they answer that humans have God’s “moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.” I propose that we should include bodies, especially if we take a process panentheistic approach. Everything is in God anyway! The body acts as God acts in the world, changing, growing, and transforming. Or a recent comment from an amazing professor, “God’s body is a woman’s body.”

3. We need be cautious with our christology.
To say that Jesus is deeply divine and human directs us in the way of ontology. Sadly, we rarely include anything about Jesus’ body in terms of theology. We are told to be human means to care for others, our neighbors, and those closest to us. The scholar activist Walter Wink even described Jesus as being the only Human Being and many others in the Christian tradition have agreed with him. Could this partially be untrue, since Jesus certainly used the technologies of his day? Must we search for a cyborg-christology?

Where does this leave us?

This leaves us between humanity and posthumanity, between human nature and fluidity, between divinity beyond and divinity always present. We must write theology that reflects our reality. Cheers to a new era of body-cyborg theology!

 

For Further Reading:

The Cyborg Handbook edited by Donna Haraway

Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman by Jeanine Thweatt-Bates (she blogs here: rude truth)

From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World by Brent Waters

 

 

God’s Promiscuous, Indiscriminatory Love

Her broadened my view of incarnation. I was so fascinated with Samantha (the operating system) and the ways she fleshed her voice while interacting with Theodore. This is not your normal romcom. It pushes the limit for what it means to be in a relationship, how one can love non-bodies, and the power of love. Theodore and Samantha shared all the benefits of a relationship even fighting. When their relationship started to hit the rocks, Theodore asked Samantha how many other people she loved. Her compelling response,

“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.”

This quote quite wonderfully sums up process theology’s doctrine of God. To get a little technical, in God’s Consequent Nature (Whitehead term, classically it’s called the Economic Trinity), God grows in love as time paces on. In a sense, God evolves with the world. Samantha, too, has intuition to react, love, and grow with Theodore and everyone else who has her as an operating system. This does not mean that God cannot be personal or that God has faults. Rather, God’s love pursues all, and by all, I do indeed mean other animals, plants, rivers, rocks, etc. as well as humanity. Laurel Schneider wrote a piece a few years ago titled “Promiscuous Incarnations.” This strongly connects with Her and, of course, V-Day with a beautiful re-interpretation of John 3:16.

“Promiscuous incarnation suggests excess and indiscrimination in divine love. It puts power and the inexorable pull of gravitational attraction in “God so loved the world.” It restores sexual bounty and openness to God, which means that it welcomes the end of racialized hierarchies that depend upon sexualized regimes of control. It dismisses purity as a divine attribute and replaces it with the cacophonous mixture of differences that constitute divine time-being” (245).

Schneider, I believe, rightly describes God’s love for the world as promiscuous. In her article, she defines promiscuity in three ways. Only two of them though define what she means when she attributes it to God, namely a third gender, and to indiscriminately love all. Schneider’s goal is to change the discourse about divinity and flesh from the commonly held idea that divinity imparts itself on flesh, i.e. it is God who works through the body that’s totally depraved. Rather the flesh/body show us the divine (233).

Body/flesh in Western culture and society is seen as a burden that we must bear. Arcade Fire sings “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key.” We need to shed the body to set the spirit free, which is ultimate freedom. What then if God works through the flesh, the body, that which is not spirit? Possibly then we could argue that spirit and flesh is not so different. That God is in all and beyond all. God is the More and with that is indiscriminate.

Let me end with the last paragraph from “Promiscuous Incarnations.”

“Promiscuous incarnation implies a God outside of human control and even outside of religious rules but not outside of human life and experience, not outside of human hungers and desires, not ever far away from ecstasy or grief. Somehow, if indeed the stories of Jesus are to be the way to divine incarnation, Christians can claim that God always becomes flesh for a purpose and so can be found whenever that is pursued. That purpose is radical, compassionate, promiscuous love of the world to such an extent that suffering in any person, any body, is a wound in God’s flesh, a diminishment of God’s own beloved, a gravitational pull on God to come, again. And again” (245).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

AnarchoLove

*This post was inspired by the work of Laurel Schneider at Vanderbilt University. She wrote an article, available for download, on her website titled “Promiscuous Incarnation,” which portrays God’s love for everyone and everything.  It’s a must read.