IEET > Vision > Affiliate Scholar > Franco Cortese > HealthLongevity > Philosophy > Innovation
Rejuvenation in Religion (Part 2)
Franco Cortese   Sep 14, 2015   Terasem Journals  

Part 1 is HERE

We see far less emphasis on depicting immortality as desirable and attainable through the right variety of religious practices and/or moral codes in Norse religion and mythology. We do, however, find in it conceptions of life after death, as well as the notion of significantly prolonged life in the physical world:

“Haustlöng [c. 1000] calls Idun [the character in Norse Mythology thought to grant eternal life to other Norse gods] the ‘maiden who understood the eternal life of the aesir” but does not mention the apples, in Snorri’s version of the story Idun’s apples clearly function as a symbol of the immortality of the gods. Indeed, when he presents Idun in Gylfaginning, Snorri says she is the wife of Bragi: ‘She keeps in her bag the apples that the gods are to chew when they grow old, and then all become young again, and so shall it be until Ragnarök.’”

In both depictions of Idun we see the prolongation of life in the physical world contingent on specific factors (which is an aspect characterizing indefinite life extension), the contingent factor in this case being whether Idun decides to grant one eternal life or not. Prolongation of life is in this case dependent on the carrying out of specific methodological practices, and this depiction of life extension in Norse legend bears more similarity to contemporary existing and proposed methods of life extension than, for instance, automatic and non-contingent immortality granted via passage to an afterlife.

But the second depiction significantly depicts contingent life extension via specific material changes to the body – namely ingesting Idun’s apples. This bears even more similarity to modern approaches to life extension than the first case, in which the prolongation of life was contingent on methodological rather than material therapies.

We find a multitude of particularly long-lived people described in Abrahamic religious texts as well. We also find many instances reifying the often-unspoken desirability of longer life and an end to involuntary death, in the form of passages depicting unending (or sometimes simply extended) life as one of the “rewards” explicitly promised to the faithful upon their salvation (as opposed to being inherent in the promise of an afterlife). The first observation suggests that significantly extended life spans is not in contradiction with Christian belief, values, ethics or cosmology. The latter observation suggests that the Abrahamic religious tradition in general, and the Christian religious tradition in particular, hold life extension to be desirable, and that it may even constitute one of their fundamental values:

Methuselah is said to have lived 969 years: “And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died”. Indeed, the King James Version Bible lists eight persons aged over 900 when they died: Methuselah, who died at age 969, Adam at 900, Eve at 940, Seth at 912, Enos at 905, Kenan at 910, Jared at 962 and Noah at 950. The Bible also lists twelve other persons between the ages of 200 and 900, and at least ten persons with a lifespan between 100 and 200: Mahalalel is said to have died at age 895, Lemech at age 777, Shem at 600, Eber at age 464, Arpachshad at 438, Salah at 433, Job at 240, Reu at 239, Peleg at 239, Serug at 230, Terah at 205, Isaac at 180, Abraham at 175, Nahor at 148, Jacob at 147, Amram at 137, Jehoiada at 130 , Sarah at 127, Aaron at 123, Joshua at 110 and Joseph at 110.

Furthermore, the concept of definitively indefinite longevity, i.e. biological immortality (as opposed to greatly extended life spans as in the cases above), does not seem to be contradiction with fundamental Christian tenets or values either. In Genesis, for instance, Adam’s immortality, as well as the desirability of that immortality, is inherent in the warning God gives him:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”, as well as in the passage “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die”, again referring to eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.

Certain other passages indicate that the “Original Sin” committed by Adam and Eve that cast them out of Eden was the very act that took natural immortality away from humanity: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”. Additionally, the belief in an eternal afterlife exemplified by most sects of the Christian religious tradition also indicates that literal immortality, and not just greatly extended “mortal” life spans, is compatible with Christian beliefs and values as well.

We also see an emphasis on religion helping heal the sick and diseased in Christianity, which parallels the co-development of the ancient Indian tradition of medical rejuvenation (rasayana) and the ancient Indian religious tradition. Some of the most well known biblical passages regarding Jesus are about how he healed lepers and the blind. We also see the healing of sickness and disease depicted as a reward promised to the faithful.

“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction”. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay”. “When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” . “You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you” . “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” . “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”. “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.”. “Now Isaiah had said, ‘Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover’ ”.

In these passages we see both the healing of specific diseases and ailments, as well as immunity to all disease and sickness in general, being promised to the faithful.

Perhaps even more contrary to the popular belief that religion is at odds with the contemporary attempt to achieve indefinite life spans is the depiction of life extension as a value and reward in and of itself within the Christian tradition. This can be seen in a number of passages wherein abiding by the moral codes of Christianity is rewarded with longer life. We see this, for instance, in such passages as “I will reward them with long life; I will save them.”, and “He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever”.

The previous passages can be interpreted as referring to immortality in the afterlife, which nonetheless still reifies the desirability of indefinite life spans and the avoidance of involuntary death at the heart of the contemporary life extension movement. But we see life extension in the physical world, as opposed to immortality in the afterlife, being offered as a reward for the faithful as well. We see this in such passages as “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.”, and “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”.

Passages locating life extension in one’s “mortal life” as a value and reward in and of itself, as characterized by the previous passages, are by contrast much less frequent in the Qur’an. We do find long-lived people in the Qur’an, however, especially regarding personages also described in the Bible and the Torah, like Moses and Noah: “And We certainly sent Noah to his people, and he remained among them a thousand years minus fifty years, and the flood seized them while they were wrongdoers”.

Indeed, because the longest-living personages in the Bible occurred in Genesis, and all constellating around the first half of the First Testament, the large majority of the long-lived personages (from the Bible) that were previously cited also apply to Judaism and Islam, which along with Christianity constitute the Abrahamic religious tradition. The concept of both immortality and prolonged life spans also abound in the religious and mythical traditions of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Here we find not only immortal deities (e.g. Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Dionysus, Hades, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Poseidon, Zeus, and Iapetus), but we also find interaction between mortals and the immortal deities. For instance, Greek deities were said to be able to procreate with mortals to form demigods, who were able to possess some of the powers of the gods, but who were still ultimately mortal and bound to die.

We also find the notion of immortality in the physical world in the Iranian mythological and religious tradition:

In ancient Iranian tradition, immortals are the ever-lasting individuals who continue their life after its normal earthly period in a state of perpetual sleep or hiding; they are to appear on Resurrection Day to assist the saviour to save all people. In Band Heš, it is mentioned that fifteen pious men and fifteen pious women on Resurrection Day will assist the saviour, including Toos, Kayxosrow, Giv, Pašutan, etc ... Toos is among those who, along with Fariboorz and Giv, accompany Kayxosrow in his final disappearance; this indicates Zorastrian’s belief in Toos’ immortality, as Toos is considered one of the immortals in Pahlavi religious texts as well.

Ancient Iranian religious texts (as well a geographically-related religious texts) also feature mortals being granted immortality by immortal deities and “angels”:

In Farškard, Saošyant (the Zoroastrian World Saviour) sets foot on the earth. When thirty, he is appointed as the prophet Mazdesina and his presence destroys Ahriman (the evil spirit). The immortal figures such as Kayxosrow, Giv, Pašutan, Garšasb and Toos assist Saošyant in the renovation of the world… According to Avesta texts, Kayxosrow is immune from sickness and death and monarchy becomes his legitimate right.

According to the Yašt… the prophet Zoraster praises Kaygoštasb in the following words: “you shall be immune to sickness and death like Kayxosrow”... Likewise, in Pahlavi texts, Kayxosrow is one of the immortals and resides in Gang Castle and sits on his throne, invisible to all eyes; and when Resurrection approaches, he and Saošyant would meet each other; Kayxosrow will be among the heroes who assist Saošyant in the war in the time of Resurrection.

Ghoštasb, after converting to Zoroastrianism, wants to know of his place in Eden. Three angels appear at his court… The angles assure them that God is their protector and would ensure their victory over the enemy. The King’s request for knowing of his place in the Eden is granted; the angels also award immortality to his son, Pašutan… According to Band Heš, Ayriraθ is one of the immortals of Zorastrians… In Pahlavi texts, Yašt Faryan is mentioned as an Immortal. In Band Heš, Zand, and Homan Yasen, Zoraster asks Ahura Mazda to give him immortality and requests of Ahura Mazda to grant him immortality like wan ī juyd-beš, Goyad Shah, Pašutan, Yašt Faryan Anoosheh.

Indeed, the first known myth ever, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, concerns a Sumerian King’s quest to gain physical immortality through a fabled plant. He gains the plant and loses it to unforeseen circumstances. In the end, Gilgamesh decides that true immortality is for the gods, and that mortals should be content with heroic immortality – that is, with doing great deeds and being remembered for it for years to come. However, in the epic he initially seeks immortality from Utnapishtim, a human survivor of the “Great Flood” who was granted immortality from the gods. So the epic does in fact depict indefinite life spans in humans, despite the fact that Gilgamesh himself in the end does not attain it.

The Sumerian Kings list also indicates the prominence that the concept of immortality took on in the minds of Sumerians. According to their records (which today are typically considered through the same sort of allegorical lens that most religious and mythic texts are), Alulim reigned for 28,000 years, Alalngar reigned for 36,000 years, En-men-lu-ana for 43,200 years, En-men-gal-ana for 28,800 years, Dumuzid, the Shepherd for 36,000 years, En-sipad-zid- ana for 28,800 years, En-men-dur-ana for 21,000 years, Ubara-Tutu for 18,600 years, Jushur for 1200 years, Kullassina-bel for 960 years, Nangishlishma for 670 years, En-tarah-ana for 420 years, Babum for 300 years, Puannum for 840 years, Kalibum for 960 years, Kalumum for 840 years, Zuqaqip for 900 years, Atab (or A-ba) for 600 years, Mashda for 840 years, Arwium for 720 years, Etana for 1500 years, Balih for 400 years, En-me-nuna for 660 years, Melem-Kish for 900 years, Barsal-nuna for 1200 years, Zamug for 140 years, Tizqar for 305 years, Ilku for 900 years, Iltasadum for 1200 years, En-me-barage-si (c. 2600 BCE) for 900 years, Aga of Kish for 625 years, Mesh-ki-ang-gasher of E-ana for 324 years, Enmerkar for 420 years, Lugalbanda for 1200 years, Dumuzid for 100 years, Gilgamesh for 126 years, Ur-Nungal (Gilgamesh’s son) for 30 years, Udul-kalama for 15 years, La-ba’shum for 9 years, En-nun-tarah-ana for 8 years, and so on.

The Sumerian kings listed thereafter begin to list reigns of 10-100 years, gradually dwindling in much the same manner as the ages of biblical personages dwindled in age progressively throughout the First Testament. Although one does still find long reins interspersed throughout the shorter reigns, for instance in Ur-Zababa’s listing, which lists him as reining for 200 years c. 2300 BCE, preceded by Puzur-Suen who reigned for twenty-five years and Zimudar who reigned for thirty years.

Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find any ancient religious or mythical tradition wherein deities can age and die – the exception being the Norse mythology, where Norse gods must consume Idun’s apples in order to periodically restore their youth. The nearly-ubiquitous conception of indefinite longevity across all ancient religions and mythologies, even during periods where cross-cultural communication is thought to have been non-existent (suggesting that the concurrent conception of immortality are truly independent of one another), indicates that indefinite longevity is one of humanity’s most deep-rooted, long-standing and natural longings – a desire that transcends cultural distance and deep historical time.

Religion (and especially those religions promising an eternal afterlife) does constitute a detriment to contemporary progress in life extension because they remove the central motivator for hastening progress in the field, namely the complete cessation of existence (i.e. death without an afterlife). If we don’t consider death to really be death at all, then we lack any pressing need to do away with it.

Yet at the same time humanity’s religious and mythic traditions constitute perhaps the strongest historical legitimator of longevity’s value and desirability, indicating humanity’s deep-rooted longing for longer life in general, and indefinitely extended life spans in particular, perhaps better than any other cultural or historical heritage. Religion, insofar as regenerative medicine and rejuvenation science are concerned, is at odds with itself.

Many secularists today would argue that fear of, or at least dissatisfaction with “utter death” (i.e. physical death without an afterlife) is one of the largest motivating factors for creating and sustaining a religion in the first place. Promises of an end to death through death, in the form of an afterlife, became so unanimously popular because humanity is and should be dissatisfied with death. While there may have been other motivating factors at play, I think most secular people would agree that dissatisfaction with death was one of the main motivating factors for conceiving of an afterlife.

If we take this as true, then contemporary religion is ironically thwarting one of the very impulses that drove its conception in the first place. By believing in an afterlife due to our dissatisfaction with death we unwittingly deter the continuing development of the field that can finally put a real end to our own resented finality. Religion was created in part because we wish to avoid death, and today that very same institution slows progress in actually achieving a scientific end to involuntary death.

This problem, the fact that belief in an afterlife negates the central impetus for desiring indefinite life spans in the physical world, is particularly notable when we consider the fact that the majority of people still believe in one form of an afterlife or another. Recent polls indicate that approximately 80% of Americans and over 50% of global citizens believe in an afterlife. If these polls are accurate, then the majority of humans are likely to see no great or pressing need to significantly extend their life spans in the physical world.

And while secularism has been increasing over time, and should be expected to continue increasing, every day the achievement of indefinite-longevity therapies is delayed costs us 100,000 human lives, irreversibly lost to causes that are in principle preventable and reversible. But the time it takes to make progress in the field of biomedical gerontology is a direct function of how much society demands it and expresses its desire for it. Progress in the field of life extension is a function of funding, and funding is by and large determined by how much people want something, or by how urgent a given problem is.

The more we demand it and express our desire for it, the more attention and funding it will receive, and the faster it will be achieved.

We have endeavored to show that the notion of greatly extended life spans – as long as a thousand years in the case of the Christianity, Judaism and Islam, a thousand years in case of Hinduism, and nine million years in the case of Buddhism – is not at odds with the beliefs or the values of the large majority of religious and mythic traditions. We have further endeavored to show that in many cases greatly prolonged life in the physical world is actually offered as a value and reward in and of itself in many religious traditions as well.

Neither of these theses precludes the fact that widespread belief in an afterlife is going to almost invariably decrease the perceived necessity of ending involuntary death in the physical world. But these theses do help ameliorate the incorrect public perception that religion is actually at odds with life extension, or that life extension is directly or indirectly contrary to the values and/or core beliefs of the various religious traditions considered here.

Indeed, we have attempted to substantiate the claim that, on the contrary, life extension is in certain cases neutral in regards to core religious beliefs and values while in other cases being compatible with them, and furthermore that, in certain other significant cases cited and outlined above, life extension in the physical world actually constitutes a religious practice and value in the Mesopotamian, Norse, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Eastern and Abrahamic religious traditions, both through the promise of indefinite longevity in an afterlife and the promise (and in some cases practice) of life extension in the physical world.

In order to combat the arguably under informed public perception that religion is at odds with the aims of biomedical gerontology, we should cite the large body of primary literature suggesting that religion and rejuvenation are not at odds with each other, but are instead in varying instances (1) neutral with regards to each other, (2) compatible with each other and (3) actually coincident in terms of values and beliefs. We should attempt to develop communities that explore the intersections between history’s philosophical, religious and mythical traditions and the contemporary field of biomedical gerontology, and which reach out to religious communities in an attempt to demonstrate via hermeneutical interpretation that rejuvenation and religion are not as at-odds with each other as they are often thought to be.

“The idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear, beating against the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death. It is the rainbow—Hope shining upon the tears of grief.” ~ Robert Green Ingersoll, The Ghosts, 1877 ~

Footnotes are at the original paper at Terasem Journals, HERE

Image #1: Idun and the apples of immortality
Image #2: Methuselah sculpture
Image #3: Zoroaster

Franco Cortese is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, and won our #1 Editor’s Choice Award in 2013. His other positions include Research Scientist at ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, Assistant Editor at Ria University Press, Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute, Ambassador at The Seasteading Institute, and an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation, occupying positions on their Life Extension Scientific Advisory Board and Futurists Advisory Board.

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