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.
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)