DeathIsWrongDeath seems an odd topic for a children’s book, but author Gennady Stolyarov II explains that he wrote his recently released Death Is Wrong to share with kids what he wished he would have learned growing up: that dying is not inevitable, that through science, medicine, and technology, human beings can and should pursue ways to eradicate death.

Stolyarov is one of a growing number of transhumanists, a loosely confederated group of academics and lay thinkers who seek to transcend human limitations through technological innovation. For many transhumanists, one of the limitations to be overcome is death; these so-called immortalists point to a number of organisms, including jellyfish, lobsters, and tortoises, as evidence of the possibility of extending all life, including and especially human life. Inspiring children to embrace this possibility and to strive toward its execution is the point of Stolyarov’s book. He has even launched an Indiegogo campaign to distribute Death Is Wrong to 1,000 children free of charge.

At first blush, Stolyarov’s argument is laughable: poor little finite creatures riddled with death and sin and weakness engaging in a benighted and futile effort to transcend such limitations through their own limited and meager resources. The unforeseen consequences of such grand designs are far from frivolous, however; they are fodder for many a science fiction and dystopian story that revels in revealing the perilous folly of man’s hubris.

As initially unsettling as some of Stolyarov’s ideas may be, of course, they resonate in a real way with core Christian convictions. As Romans 5 explains, death is not an essential feature of life. Sin brought death into this world, and it is sin that gives death sway over individuals and mankind. This entrapment, this state of being beholden to death, is what Stolyarov laments, and rightly so, but his lamentation misses the mark insofar as he aims to quash a biological symptom of evil without recognizing its spiritual source or true remedy. In light of biblical revelation, Stolyarov’s dream of extended life is merely a caricature of the eternal life available only through relationship with Christ. Thinking otherwise reveals a misunderstanding of the nature of man and the nature of sin.

The secular humanism from which transhumanism derives affirms human beings are valuable free agents but divorces that truth from its foundation—that we are created and sustained by God and bear His image. God is the Source of our life, our value, and our activity. Sin involves a denial of this divine will, a turn toward our own interests, achieved through our own means, and only Christ’s redemptive work through the cross and resurrection atones for sin and allows a rapprochement between sinful humanity and a holy God. This promise, we should remember, is available here and now, not awaiting us only beyond the grave.

John 17:3 tells us that to know God and Christ is eternal life. Aiōnios, the Greek word translated eternal here, bespeaks a quality of life, not merely a quantity. Our fulfillment is found in knowing God and Christ, not just knowing truths about God, but knowing God Himself, which can infuse our life even now with the touch of the eternal and the authentic ring of the transcendent rooted in divine reality rather than the wishful and dangerous thinking of extreme self-interest and self-reliance. That wishful and dangerous thinking is writ large in Stolyarov’s project—invoking as it does the specter of a modern-day Babel. More importantly, though, Stolyarov’s is a mindset of which we are all guilty in the countless ways we trust ourselves rather than God.

It’s a tempting trap, leaning on one’s own understanding. God has invested in us the capacity for rationality and creativity, the very qualities Stolyarov turns to in his search for deliverance from death. But as longtime Asbury College president and Old Testament scholar Dennis Kinlaw explains in The Mind of Christ, “nothing eternal takes place until God acts,” a truth Kinlaw notes that even Abram and Sarai forgot in their machinations to produce the child God promised them: “[Abram and Sarai] interfered with God’s will for their lives, because they did not believe God would miraculously accomplish what he had promised them. In their eager desire to find an heir, they engineered their own way to do what God had already assured them he would do.” In short, they looked to their own understanding and as a result compounded their troubles.

Only trusting the adequacy of God’s provision can instill a hope for salvation—including Death’s death—that won’t disappoint. Death is wrong, yes. It’s hideous and horrific, one of the last enemies to be overcome. Jesus came not only to defeat death, but to offer us eternal life, starting now, and because of his death and resurrection, death has been dealt a death blow. Like Paul, we can even trash talk death, because its sting has been removed. To all appearances it may look like the end, but those appearances are misleading. Death is not the victor; it’s a vanquished foe. And that’s the good news we can share with our children. 


4 Comments

  1. You have a very sympathetic and thoughtful review of this book, but even so, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at the cover illustration.

  2. I’m a bit confused. Are they for biological continuance, or for some kind of computery whattheheck that can maintain their thoughts/identity/consciousness? I imagine there would be a difference. Though Lord knows if it was biological continuance, we’d have to adjust for population or resources somewhere. Though computery whattheheck would take up some resources in space and electricity, I imagine, just less than the bio bits would.

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