Physical Immortality and Religion
The Human Situation
Living in Denial
People who meet us often complain: why do you talk about death so much? They find us too negative for their idea of physical immortals. They would prefer us to promise a rosy new world where everyone lives happily ever after. "Think positive!" - what an attractive slogan. What an invitation to numbness. For us, being alive means being willing to feel everything. We have opened our hearts to experience all human existence, the worst of it as well as the best.
Charles was walking with a friend when they passed the wreck of a car accident. "My friend looked away. He was afraid that if he looked, the death cooties would get him." Our attitude is quite different. We are not looking away from death. We feel the need to see it for what it is.
According to research in America, only 16 percent of the population ever thinks about dying. This is a record of numbness, not of freedom from death. The message that life is terminal is drilled into everyone, without exception, and their behavior shows it.
People often accuse us of being driven by the fear of death. We used to deny this, because the fear of death cannot cause you to live. It's also true that most people are more scared of being alive than of being dead. But the fact is, the three of us are afraid of death. We think it's intelligent to fear death. In fact, we think it's intelligent to be disgusted by death.
Those who make easy calls for peace and love need to wake up to what is going on in this world. It's a constant daily slaughter, neither better nor worse than the wars, bombings or earthquakes that hit our television screens from time to time. Most people are rightly horrified by the holocaust of the 1930s and '40s. Few recognize the quiet holocaust that is continuing all around them - in the hospitals and homes. If people really feel the value of human life, why don't they cry out against the ceaseless toll of death? Why don't they do everything to call a halt to it, without weighing the cost, without measuring the possibilities? Why don't they live every moment like the rescue team at an earthquake - or better, the team to prevent earthquakes? We are proud of ourselves and the tremendous individuals with us who have taken a stand for human life. But we are also ashamed that for thousands of years, so few voices - so very few - have spoken up against the tyranny of the grave.
The Intelligence of Death
There are two barriers to experiencing this revulsion against death. The first is easy to deal with. The second presents a much greater challenge.
First, people say: how can I reject the inevitable? To this we reply: Who told you death is inevitable? Who proved it? Who knows for certain that we can't live forever?
The three of us experience, on the contrary, that death has already been abolished. Foreverness is encoded in the human body - but it hasn't been recognized. It's like a program that was packaged into the computer but never run by the users. Physical immortality is neither difficult nor mysterious. It is our natural condition. There is a much harder obstacle to overcome.
The second barrier is the tough one. People are attached to death - unconsciously, but passionately. Even the nicest, the most enlightened people, have a grip on death that is fearsome to experience. If you want to be popular, never mention living forever. Death has a lot more friends than you do.
We have a name for this unholy alliance. We call it "the intelligence of death." This is just a phrase, and we may change it in the future. We do not literally believe in demons, but there is a demonic quality in the way that human beings serve death, almost in spite of themselves.
Charles recalls the reactions he provoked when he first began speaking of physical immortality:
"I was talking to my father, who was a Christian minister with some quite progressive views. Suddenly, he raised his fist to strike me in the face. He seemed to bounce against an invisible barrier, and he fell back amazed. 'How could I do that?' he cried out. 'How could I want to strike my own son?"' It's as if Charles's father was possessed of an entity other than himself - yet it was himself, his own genetics, his programming from generation after generation given to death. He was utterly shaken to meet the end of this pattem in his own son. The barrier around Charles was not a magical protection. We are not invulnerable. But there is a biological energy of our bodies when we are fully alive that is sometimes almost tangible, almost visible.
On another occasion in those early years, Charles visited a woman who was lying in a coma. The doctors despaired of saving her, and they switched off the lifesupport machinery. "At this moment," Charles recalls, "I spoke to her of forevemess, calling her to live. She sat bolt upright in the bed, looked at me, and laughed in my face. Then she fell back and died."
The intelligence of death rarely shows itself so openly. For the most part, it is masked by a civilized surface and a vast collection of reasonable explanations. Of these, the most potent and enduring are the systems of religious belief.
All the great world religions have evolved to become religions of death. This assertion will seem strange if you associate religion with the ultimate expression of life. The three of us have felt the same shock, because we each have spent many years of religious devotion, in both the Christian and the oriental traditions. We know the depth of prayer and meditation, the ecstasy of worship, the power of faith. And we rejoice in every one of these experiences, because they brought us to each other. But we have also learned to see the dark side of religion.
Mind against Body
There are three ways in which religion supports death. The first - and most powerful - is to split the body from the mind or spirit. This split has reached so deep, people don't even hear the absurdity of talking about "my body." We've been trained to live and think as if there were a separate "me" inside the physical form. It's a kind of globally organized psychosis, and it has a definite purpose. Once you have disowned your body, you are prepared to throw it away.
The religious division of spirit and body is by no means evenhanded. It is designed to prejudice you against the flesh. For thousands of years, volumes of spoken and written expression have denounced the body as foul, base, unclean, sinful, insignificant or (in the orient) illusory. Generation after generation of little children have been taught, quite openly, to hate and distrust their flesh. The "value of life" promoted by religion is not the value of physical life, but the value of an ethereal and invisible entity that is carried around in a disposable package. Once you are convinced you are not your body, you are well on the way to accepting your own death - and other people's.
This shows up in a very practical way. The more you make a fetish of the mind, the more you ignore the language of your own organs. There's a natural intuition of the physical form that protects and builds aliveness. When we belittle the body, we shut this intuition down. People will go into a frenzy for an ethereal sign, a sign from another galaxy or another dimension. But they miss the signs of the physical body - the simple signs that cry for nourishment, movement, change, rest and the stimulation of one another. Splitting the mind from the body is not a philosophical problem. It's a medical problem. It hastens disease, aging and death.
In reality, no one has ever lived without a body. No one has ever loved, hated, thought or prayed without a body. No one ever had a "near death experience" without a body. There's not a shred of evidence of human life without the physical form. The split propagated by religion is a fantasy. You are your flesh.
Every thought, every emotion is a chemical action and reaction. If you feel reduced by this statement, it shows how deeply you've internalized the prejudice against the physical. You want to see yourself higher than "mere chemistry" because you've learnt that "mere chemistry" is low. Who told you so? Who says that the cellular life of the human body is not the most sacred reality in the universe? Who made an invisible entity more precious than your skin, blood and bones? Who split the miracle of poetry from the miracle of digestion, and made the one greater than the other? Who invented these values? The intelligence of your mind is tremendous, but no more so than the intelligence of your immune system. In fact, it's the same intelligence in a different expression. You are one, indivisible being - mind, body and soul.
Part of the confusion stems from the evidence of "psychic" phenomena, such as prayer or telepathy - energies that flow beyond the boundaries of the skin. These energies are very real and very exciting, especially when they connect us with each other. The body is like a radio station, and it sends its signals to the far ends of the universe. But without the station, there's no signal. Without the body, there's no radiation beyond the body. Splitting the flesh from the spirit is like splitting a violin from the sound it makes. It's simply impossible. The human form, with all its wonderful gifts and capacities, is a single whole. To the three of us, this wholeness is the most basic and obvious reality. It seems strange to other people only because they've been living in a global madhouse, where the psychiatrists teach schizophrenia.
The anti-body propaganda of religion reaches everywhere, because every aspect of human life is physical. Look at the prejudices that scar our society: against race, gender, age. Each of them is based on a difference in the physical body. Each of them is rooted in physical self-disgust. If you read the most extreme racist expressions, whether from German Nazis or American white supremacists, you'll be struck by the language of physical loathing. It's a language of ugliness, odor, disease and nausea. You'll find the same with misogyny, the hatred of women. Or in the contempt for the "old" or "disabled." All these bigotries are merely symptoms of the greatest prejudice of all - the prejudice against the body itself. This is why the three of us are not campaigning to end racism or sexism or ageism. We see no future in struggling with the symptoms. The time has come to root out the disease.
Escape to the Afterlife
The second way that religion supports death follows from the first. It is the belief in an afterlife. All three of us had problems with this belief from an early age, even though we were brought up in devoutly Christian households. Jim remembers how he questioned his mother as a child:
"I said to her - 'Mom, why can't we have paradise here on earth? Why do we have to die and go someplace else?' She said - 'That's a nice idea, Jim, but it's not the way things are supposed to be."'
Charles had a more drastic experience. "At the age of twelve, I was sitting in church when the minister prophesied that I would soon die, because my father wasn't keeping up with his tithe. Of course, I was visibly upset. The minister said to me - 'Don't you worry. I have a son of your age who already went to heaven. You'll be able to play with him'. Thankfully, my father protested that God had no intention of terrifying little children, and led me out of the church."
Many children cannot relate to death. They need to see it happen, they need to have proof. They aren't attracted to another dimension, because they're so involved in this one. In too many people, this healthy passion for life gets eroded by the constant promotion of a heavenly alternative. Today, new "evidence" of the afterlife - for example, near-death experiences - causes tremendous waves of excitement. Why? Because people are disappointed by the lives they have now. They are tumed on by stories of angels because they are tumed off by each other.
It's time to end the fairy tales. Heaven is here with one another. Hell is ten feet under. It may be that the living person leaves an energy imprint, but this imprint has no consciousness - it's just the echo of a discontinued broadcast. For the three of us there is nowhere else to go, and we're glad of it. We don't want an afterlife. We don't want to go to heaven. We love the life we have. We love the flesh. We are totally fulfilled here on earth, physically, with each other. Sadly, this puts us in a minority.
The most extreme result of the afterlife belief is the Islamic suicide bomber, who is promised instant paradise in the moment of martyrdom. Survivors of an atrocity in Israel noticed that the perpetrator was sweating with anxiety before the explosion. He was sufficiently in touch with his body to fear death. But his fear of losing paradise was stronger. So he was willing to throw away his life, and the lives of others, to snatch an invisible reward. What kind of statement was he making about his own flesh, about the quality and feeling of his own life, about the people he loved - let alone the victims of his crime?
In our westem culture, the same logic operates, but in softer forms. People are careless of themselves and each other, because they are already invested elsewhere. The belief, or even the vague hope, that there is a heavenly afterlife creates a culture of recklessness, especially in human relations. You can see it in the way many people drive, or in the way they abuse and neglect their bodies, or in the cynical comments they make. Most of all, you can see it in the way they treat each other.
How can I be totally with you, if I always have one eye on the door? The belief in an afterlife is a running insult to the people you are with. It's like constantly looking over the shoulder of the person you are talking to. Or carrying a banner that says: "There is somewhere better to be than here. There is someone better to be with than you." This message opens the way to every kind of separation, indifference and aggression. At one end of the spectrum is the ignorant pastor who says, "God will take care of the innocent people we execute." At the other end is the loving, good-natured individual who lets his body run down, because - what the heck? - there'll be another chance next time.
Belief in the afterlife protects people from making changes in this life, which of course is attractive because change can be uncomfortable. Many believe that everything will be taken care of in heaven. But why should it be easier somewhere else to make the shifts you need to make now? The fantasy of the afterlife is an excuse for laziness here on earth.
The afterlife belief is an exit to death, a mental escape hatch from the excitement and challenge of physical living. It's shocking how jealously people will stand in your way if you try to close it. Once, the three of us spoke about physical immortality to a group of AIDS patients who were studying spiritual practices. When we were invited, we imagined that they'd be open to our progressive expression about ending death. On the contrary, they were furious. After we'd spoken for a few minutes, they began to drown us out with a chant of the holy Eastern syllable "Om." These people did not want to live. They were leaming to make death beautiful. They'd already given up on this life and were preparing for the next. Of course, this is not to say that all AIDS patients want to die. It is just one example of the investment many people have in an unseen world - and how quickly it builds a wall of separation.
Belief in an afterlife of some kind is not exclusively Christian or Islamic - it seems to be almost universal. We met a brilliant Yoga teacher who trained in India. For seven long years he meditated alone on death, every day for several hours. He was literally practicing being dead. His experience is very instructive. Meditation in itself can be a relaxing and healthful experience. But a great deal of the teaching around it is designed to make death more acceptable. For many practitioners, the culture of meditation supports a disconnection from the body, and from other people.
India has provided the West with one very popular version of the afterlife belief: reincarnation. The idea is that you are an eternal entity that comes to earth from time to time and inhabits a physical body. The flesh is like a suit of clothes that you wear for a while and then discard. This belief supports the split of spirit and body, to the detriment of the flesh. It keeps people in a transitional state of mind. It reduces our life together to a "level" that we are simply passing through, like grade school. More than most religious ideas, reincarnation keeps people on the search for truth. To live as a seeker is to live in constant frustration. The truth, even if you reach it, will never nourish you the way people can. Nietzsche once pointed out that western philosophy has been chasing after truth since the days of Plato - but there is not a shred of evidence that the truth ever benefited humankind. Many people make a god out of truth. They will die for the truth and kill for the truth, because they have lost touch with the feeling of the body. The three of us gave up truth-seeking when we found each other.
The popularity of reincarnation is supported by the memories people report of previous lives. Undoubtedly, many of these recollections are authentic. This does not surprise us. We believe that every human life is recorded in every cell of every person - because the human body is biologically connected with its own kind, past and present. The real question about reincarnation is a practical one: why create all the grief and pain of dying and leaving your loved ones in order to learn something new? Just learn. We'll develop a whole lot faster by staying together.
A refinement of the afterlife belief is the promise of a savior - a dramatic visitation from another world that will transform our war-torn societies into a paradise on earth. For the Jews it's the messiah, for the Christians it's the second coming, for the New-Agers it's a miscellany of angels and ETs and crop-circle artists. The three of us do not believe in any savior. Or rather, the savior is already here. It is not an individual from outer space, but a collective happening of real human beings - people coming together in a biological connection that's totally physical and totally limitless. The "savior" is people taking responsibility to clear up their own mess.
The People Shrinker
The third main way that religion supports death is to diminish humankind. The adoration of a vast, unseen being makes people feel worthless. In fact, a great deal of religious language and behavior is designed to destroy human self-esteem. "God is big and you are small." This message is planted in us from an early age. If you have any doubts, make a tour of Europe and look at the medieval cathedrals. These massive masterpieces were deliberately constructed to dwarf the surrounding villages. "What little creatures you are," they say. "How insignificant in the presence of the Lord." (The corporate cathedrals of present-day America serve a similar purpose, incidentally.) When we constantly measure ourselves against a huge, intangible being, we give ourselves the message: "You don't deserve to live." The traditional Christian churches have hammered this idea home with a vengeance. Congregations are drilled in self-remorse. Individuals are schooled in guilt. This is the guts of the religious alliance with death. Immortality is reserved for God, because he's good enough and you're not.
It's no mystery that religions have led to more terror and violence on this planet than any other single cause. Most God-worship is actually the worship of death. When people say about someone who has died, "God took her," they are actually saying: "God killed her." The soft language hides a barbaric mentality. If the God you pray to can decide whether you live or die, you are praying to a murderer. As a species, we have advanced so far technologically, yet our premises for living are prehistoric. Technology simply makes human beings more dangerous to each other. Now, in the name of our despotic gods, we can kill more people faster.
The New Age prides itself in being more progressive than old-fashioned religion. For the New-Agers, there is no God "out there." Instead, they discover the "God within." Of course, this is much sweeter than violent fundamentalism. But it is just as alienating. The "God within" creates a strange split. Within what? Who are you and who is "the God within"? Are you not enough in your own name? Is your body just a limousine? Are you merely God's chauffeur? All three of us have encountered many people who live in this context - people who will say to us: "We love your personality, but not your body." Or: "We love your spirit, but not you." This kind of fragmentation prepares the way for separation and death,just as surely as the fire and brimstone of the Southern Baptists. The key to the New Age mindset is the idea of "universal life." This is oneness without the body, without the responsibility of a face-to-face daily living. When we are all connected to "universal life," we can float in and out of each other's lives like soap bubbles. The New Age metaphysicians have elevated the value of "mind" over the value of the body. Some even claim this as the key to immortality, to "mastering the physical universe." The three of us are not looking for mastery. We are looking for people. That's why spiritual immortality doesn't excite us. We find it passionless and lifeless. We prefer to be together in the flesh, day after day, century after century.
Although we are impatient with religion, we do not consider ourselves atheists. An atheist is in rebellion against God, and is still trapped in a polarity. We have no rebellion. Each of us has experienced devotion to God. He was our source of nourishment for many years. We have not turned against God. We have fulfilled him. We know, however, that to go beyond God in this way is frightening for most people. It was for us. When Charles first spoke of fulfilling God, Bernie was absolutely horrified. She experienced his expression as a threat to everything she had trusted and believed in. It was like an eclipse, a plunge into darkness. "I was bathing our two children, and thinking about what Charles was saying, and feeling so awful. Suddenly, I began to lose my eyesight. It was terrifying. Everything became a fog. I lay down, and I felt there was nothing I could do. Charles tried to comfort me, but I couldn't receive him. Nothing worked. I couldn't see. Then I spoke to myself. I said: 'I'm going with Chuck, even if it kills me.' Immediately, my sight came back. Today I realize that although I called out to God so many times, God never did anything for me. It was always people who gave to me. Always."
The decision Bemie made - the decision to fall into another person - is what cuts the religious knot. How easy this should be! If it isn't, that's because we have been trained so intensely to discount the flesh, and to distrust one another.
Jim was a college student when he first met the same issue head-on. "The professor was explaining about ancient religions. She described how nomadic people settled down and began farming. And the god they created was a sun god - because the sun was what they most depended on. Later civilizations created other gods, reflecting their hopes and fears. For me, this was amazing. I realized that I was free to choose my own destiny. I didn't feel any negativity towards God. I felt I was ready to move on, to really live for the first time. I was so excited, I had to speak to someone, so I ran up to the professor after the class. I said to her: 'I see it now. Man has always created his god to fit his own needs. It's us all the time!' She gave me a very cold look, and took me by the arm. She said to me: 'You're right. But don't you ever say that in my class. Because people need their gods, and I don't want to take that away from them."'
Today, the three of us are happy to be free of God. But we still believe very strongly in a power greater than ourselves. The higher power is ourselves together with other people. "We" are greater than "me." It's together that we uncover our immortality, not as lone identities. The adoration once given to an invisible entity now belongs to human flesh - people we can love, touch, play with, fight with and grow with. We have given up religion, but our "religious" emotion has not diminished. We feel a sacredness as never before - the sacredness of human flesh.
A Multitude of Gods
The influence of religion spreads way beyond those who call themselves believers. It's part of the program that's written deep into the body, by generation after generation of suppression and control. There are many more gods than the one worshipped in churches and temples. The god of success, the god of nation, the god of knowledge, the god of individuality, the god of fate, the god of money... it's a whole pantheon. All these deities share the same underlying characteristics. They disconnect the person from the flesh. They promote a future that insults the present. They diminish humankind in relation to a vaster entity. Religion of every kind keeps people locked on a path to a destination that can never be reached. "When I'm rich, when the nation is free, when there's enough knowledge ...". And these paths are inherently lonely, even if it seems you have company on the way. So much devotion is invested in an intangible "something" that there's little feeling left for people. It's a vicious circle. The disconnection from each other creates a sense of emptiness. So you grab onto some kind of god to fill the gap. The god takes you further apart, and the emptiness grows.
Physical immortality, as we experience it, is not another religion. It is not a "something" to fill ourselves with. It is not another path. In itself, physical immortality is nothing. The only real substance is human flesh. All the paths end when we find each other. We are our destination - and we are already here. We have nowhere else to go. We have only to awaken to who we are.
Many of those who claim to be free of religion espouse the philosophy of "naturalism." This is the belief that human beings are an extension of the animal kingdom, and are subject to the natural cycles of birth and death. It looks very rational and scientific, but it's just another religion - nature-worship in disguise. Naturalism confers immortality on the species, or the planet, or the universe and reduces humankind to a sort of super-ape. But this misses the human difference. We are not animals. We have a choice. We are creators. We can take responsibility for our existence, for the direction of our lives. We are on the earth, but not of the earth. Nature itself is blind - and brutal. People often think of "nature" as pretty flowers and waterfalls. It is also the greed and selfcenteredness of a cat tormenting a half-dead mouse. Human beings certainly have the option to live a natural life. The exciting part is that we also have the option not to.
Science can tell us a lot about the mechanics of the body, but when it comes to the cellular awareness that makes us human, science begins to look rather dumb. There is more happening in a child's smile than you will find in the whole of Darwin, the whole of Newton and the whole of Einstein stitched together. However complex our knowledge becomes, it will never capture the richhess of a single human life. To us, it's silly to complain that physical immortality is not scientifically accountable. Human beings are not scientifically accountable, even without immortality. We are already far too big for the scientific box.
The worship of nature, with scientists and doctors as the priests, is just another way to shrink the human form - to make you small enough to fit in a coffin. We welcome the gifts of science, so far as they build life, but we don't buy the religion of science. We will say who we are, not the scientists.
The Fear of Change
For all recorded history, human beings have sickened, aged and died. Now, here we are claiming that this whole process is unnecessary. Are we saying that everyone else before us got it wrong? Yes, we are. Yes, we are saying that until now, the entire human race has been traveling in the wrong direction. Not surprisingly, people accuse us of arrogance. We don't mind this, but it's not the real issue. The problem is that most people have an intense loyalty to their historical roots, starting with their parents and reaching back into the mists of time. "Ancestor worship" is commonplace in China and the Far East. It is equally commonplace in the West, though better disguised. To say "My parents were wrong" is upsetting to many people. To say, "All my ancestors were wrong" can be terrifying. The reason is that people want to be loved and accepted by their genetic forebears - including those who are dead. Indeed, the promise of death is to be reunited with all those who went before. No one wants to offend the family.
But it's exactly this fear of saying "They were wrong" that keeps the duplication going. Loyalty to ancestors keeps us locked on a path of separation, limitation and death. What this planet needs right now is whistle-blowers. It needs people willing to expose and reject the corporate agreement with death. It needs people who are sufficiently arrogant about living, and about their passion for one another, to start a whole new ball game. That's what we - and those with us - are all about.
Christian Barnard, the world-famous heart surgeon, has spoken as a scientist that physical immortality is a real possibility for the human body. But he says it will never work, because humans are so resistant to change. Death is necessary, he believes, because only new generations will take the initiatives needed for the species to survive. We see plenty of evidence of Dr. Barnard's pessimism. But we also know that there is an alternative. What blocks change is separation. When the boundaries between people dissolve, there's a new willingness to take risks, to break patterns, to live creatively. There's a rigidity about the individual that only melts in the presence of others.
This is the core of the human situation.
All material is the copyright of the various authors.