At first thought, one might expect that many religious people will be repelled by the freezer program, refusing to share in it and even denouncing it as immoral. After all, there are several obvious ways in which the program may seem incompatible with religion, if one thinks hastily and superficially.
First, the idea that death is not absolute and final, but a matter of degree and reversible, seems to do violence to the notion of "soul," to the duality of body and spirit which plays an important part in most religions. Might it not be claimed that a freezee, after revival, would be a soulless monster or zombie? Or that to revive a corpse, and thereby recall a soul from its resting place, would be an act of blasphemy?
Second, there is implicit in the freezer program the view that modern man is not the acme of development, but represents only a rung on the evolutionary ladder; that we not only evolved from lower forms of life, but will continue to ascend, through manifold biological and bioengineering techniques, both racially and individually, changing profoundly in both outward and inward nature. Does this not put a severe strain on the idea that man was created in God's image? In particular, can a Christian accept the notion that Jesus, in His human form, did not represent the pinnacle of development?
Third, some churchmen will see looming larger the specter of creeping secularism. With unlimited physical life in prospect,
will the flocks forget about spiritual immortality? Will they turn en masse to materialism? Will they worship only the Golden Calf?
Several subsidiary and related questions also present themselves.
Forbidding as these questions may appear, 1 believe they will evaporate rather quickly, leaving behind only a few patches of fog which will continue to swirl for a long time.
Revival of the Dead: Not a New Problem
Hundreds of people have already been resurrected from the dead, with no fuss or question as to the abode of the soul during and after death. These were the victims of drowning, asphyxiation, heart failure, and the like, who suffered clinical death but were revived by the use of artificial respiration, heart massage, chemical stimulation, electrical stimulation, and other methods of modern medicine. An especially interesting case is that of Roger Arnsten, a Norwegian boy who drowned in 1962 and was dead for about 2.5 hours, including an estimated twenty-two minutes under water.
Roger, five, fell into an icy river on a cold winter's day. After drowning, his body temperature continued to fall, probably getting below 75F, and of course this hypothermia prevented swift deterioration of his brain. Dr. Tone Dahi Kvittingen applied artificial respiration with a tube down the windpipe, and rhythmic pressure on the chest to force blood circulation. At the hospital, an electrode needle pushed through the chest wall into the heart revealed no beat; but the attempt at resuscitation was continued, including exchange blood transfusions, and about 2 1/2 hours after drowning a natural heartbeat resumed. In the sequel, Roger remained unconscious for about six weeks, and even went temporarily blind, and at times appeared demented, but finally
made a nearly complete recovery, with slight impairment of some muscular coordination and peripheral vision. (58)
The point here is that nobody worried about little Roger's soul. Did God, knowing he would be revived, rule that this was not really death and simply leave the soul in the body? Or did He keep the soul in escrow, as it were, and return it to the body at the moment of resuscitation? If the boy did leave his body temporarily, was he conscious or unconscious? No one knows, and no one seems inclined to make an issue of it.
Why, then, should anyone be concerned about the souls of the frozen? The mere length of the hiatus can hardly be critical: in God's view, 300 years is only the blink of an eyelash, and presents no more difficulty than 2, 1/2 hours.
Except quantitatively, then, the problem is not new, and the religious communities have already made their decision. They have implicitly recognized that resuscitation, even if heroic measures are employed, is just a means of prolonging life, and that the apparent death was spurious.
The Question of God's Intentions
The cry will certainly be raised in far right religious quarters that freezing is "unnatural" and that it was not "intended" for cadavers to be revived. The answers to this should be quite obvious, but we may as well indicate them anyway.
Part of the answer lies in a recent version of a very old joke. A querulous lady objects to astronauts attempting to leave God's green earth for outer space. "It's against the will Of God," she says, "for man to try to live in the sky, going to the moon and Mars and such. Why can't those people just stay quietly at home and watch TV, like God intended?"
A somewhat earlier version concerns objections to Henry Ford's Model T. "If God had intended man to go forty miles an
hour, He would have provided him with wheels instead of legs."
This attitude is less amusing in the case of certain sects said to oppose the "interference" of physicians in the course of nature, even forbidding the use of silver nitrate in the eyes of the newborn, on the ground that God "intended" the child of a gonorrheal mother to be blinded.
It is exactly man's nature to "go against nature." Beasts live, even though miserably, in "harmony" with nature; but man must strive to improve both himself and his environment. It is a little dangerous to say simply, "God gave man a brain to use, because this kind of argument might pose a problem with respect to, say, the appendix, and also because the question is not just whether to use it but how to use it. Nevertheless, modern clergymen of most denominations are now thoroughly committed to the view that the advance of science does not imply a retreat from God.
Dr. G. Ernest Thomas, Director of Spiritual Life for the General Board of Evangelism of the Methodist Church, has written: "Religion needs science . . . The purposes of God are brought into clearer focus by every new discovery of truth which the scientist makes. . . . Because religion interprets God as interested no less in the fulfillment of man's greatest possibilities* as in the orderly functioning of the planets and the stars, religion honors Pasteur, Lister, Koch, Einstein, and other men of science. It recognizes the scientist as one who shares in the fulfillment of God's purposes for His world . . . I recognize that science holds the secret of a more abundant life than man has ever known." (115) (The italics are mine)
However, this does not mean that every activity of science, much less every activity of a scientist, is necessarily good, and some additional discussion of the "soul" puzzle may be useful to convince the doubtful that freezing is not sinful.
The Riddle of Soul
Besides being interesting in itself, especially in light of our later treatment of the problem of identity, a brief look at this very obscure question will serve an important purpose: without denying that the soul may exist, we shall show that its definition is so vague that no one, however religious, can claim to know much about it, much less lay down moral directives about it.
In modern times, intelligent religious people apparently make little attempt to characterize the soul. It is just another Divine Mystery, rooted in faith, revelation, and especially in a kind of misty tradition. People have them; lower animals do not. (or perhaps we should say, souls clothe themselves in the bodies of Homo Sapiens, but never in those of other species.)
When are matter and spirit joined? Dr. George W. Corner says, " . . . most Roman Catholic theologians, Orthodox rabbis, and some Protestants hold that the soul is infused into the body at the moment of fertilization. To the Roman Catholic, the loss of an embryo, even if too small to be seen without a microscope, of whose existence its own mother is not yet aware, means its soul must dwell forever in limbo, outside the gates of heaven." (14)
When medical knowledge was more primitive, ideas about the soul were correspondingly different. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas are said to have written that the fetus receives its soul in the seventh or eighth week of embryonic life, which is about the time it becomes an obviously recognizable human being. (14)
In 1677 Anthony van Leeuwenhoek of Delft is supposed to have regarded each sperm cell as a rudimentary embryo. His followers thought each sperm a little mannikin, itself having testes carrying tinier sperm, ad infinitum. On this basis, the
German philosopher Leibniz reasoned that the first man must have carried all his descendants in his genitals, including all their myriad souls, awaiting each his turn to develop. (14)
Our main lesson from this little bit of history is that notions of soul have followed and not preceded science, and doubtless will again.
Even professional theologians have the utmost difficulty in struggling with the problem of soul. Consider the following well-meaning but pitiful effort:
" ... those who oppose the materialists insist on another kind of reality, which is not accessible to the senses . . . but only to the mind . . . a nonmaterial or spiritual world, accessible only to the reason and not to the senses . . . as when you think of numbers and geometrical figures and other abstract ideas, such as unity and freedom and love, none of which can ever be seen or touched or smelled. [To this realm] belong man a soul . . . as well as God and whatever other spiritual beings there are." (41) (The quotations are slightly out of order.)
That writer cannot possibly mean that God, for example, is only an abstract idea; if He were, He would be incapable of acting except through the agency of another mind. The quotation undoubtedly represents a thought, and possibly a significant one; but if so, there has been a failure of communication.
As to what the soul may be from a scientific standpoint, it is again most difficult to say. So far as I know, no one has ever devised a way to detect its existence. Since beasts, and also postulated extra-terrestrial humanoids, seem to have intelligence, personality, character, feelings, conscience, and indeed every other physical and behavioral attribute capable of detection, and yet have no souls according to religious belief, the soul seems detectable only to God.
It is also hard to see how the soul can determine identity, unless one is prepared to claim that beasts lack individuality, or
that identity has a different repository in beast and man.
Perhaps, in some unclear way, the soul is not the man, but is nevertheless his most important part, somewhat as your head is not exactly you but is still the main part of you. Possibly the body can be amputated from the soul without destroying the essence, more or less as the feet can be amputated from the body without mortal damage.
It is also conceivable that the soul is physically detectable after all, but only with extreme difficulty, like the neutrino. The crudeness of our observations may be at fault. There exists, of course, a substantial quasi-religious body, the Spiritualists (seances and all that), who seem to believe in a quasi-physical soul.
Some Christians, especially those literate in science, have been so impressed with the difficulties of "soul" that they advise abandoning the word altogether. Dr. Arthur F. Smethhurst, Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Salisbury, has written: "The word 'soul' is another term, the use of which might well be abandoned in view of the ambiguities which surround it . . . If we are to reject the use of the word 'soul,' what we should substitute in place of it is probably the word 'self.' By this we must mean a self conscious, rational human personality." (109) One suspects that the substitute word retains considerable ambiguity; but if this suggestion were widely adopted, there could be little question as to the soulfulness of the resuscitees.
Since the concept of soul in the Judaic and Christian traditions is so vague and changeable, it may not be out of order to mention the ideas of other religions and peoples. In the Shinto religion, for example, there seems to be the idea not of a soul, but simply of soul (kami). Kami refers to anything of the spirit, and it comes in variable quantities. (9)
In the Indian religions-Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and
Sikhism-there is belief in samsara, transmigration or reincarnation; a single soul tenants a succession of bodies. (9)
Speaking of multiple bodies brings to mind the converse idea of multiple souls. Can there be more than one to a customer? Is it possible that on clinical death the soul goes to its reward, and that if the body is revived another soul, a sort of twin-soul, occupies it? After all, we know that in the case of identical twins being born, the fertilized ovum was split into Two individuals with two souls; hence either there were two souls present before the split, or else an extra one was inserted when it became necessary. A similar device might handle the death-and-resurrection difficulty, if it is deemed necessary. But we hasten to repeat that the simplest solution is to regard revival as the extension of life and not its renewal, to assume that death was not real.
The theologians in good time will decide all such questions. Or rather, several schools of theologians will each evolve a whole series of accommodations to the developing insights of science and the developing pressures of society, in the usual way.
Suicide Is a Sin
Elusive as the soul may be, Christians seem pretty much agreed that it is sinful prematurely to separate it from the body. Both murder and suicide are regarded as sinful under most circumstances, and this whether by act of commission or omission.
Physicians are generally required, by religious morality as well as civil law, to take all available measures to save life and to prolong it, even if the measures are not certain of success. Temporary death, or clinical death with a recognized chance of resuscitation, can hardly be deemed death at all in this connection, and hence the freezers must be recognized as a probable means of saving or prolonging life.
It will then follow that failure to use the freezers is tantamount to suicide, if the decision is made for oneself, or to murder, if the decision is made for a member of your family.
Although this argument seems to me a very powerful one, not everyone will recognize it as compelling. There will be clerics on both sides of the fence.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, while in no way condoning mercy killings, is reported to believe that "extraordinary" medical measures should not be taken to prolong the lives of "hopelessly" ill patients. (23) Undoubtedly many other clergymen would vehemently disagree, since the line between "ordinary" and "extraordinary" measures is an arbitrary one, and the epithet "hopeless" always represents a guess. Some would say that the withholding of medical assistance. whether "ordinary" or not, does indeed constitute mercy killing.
What emerges, then, is that some few of the clergy will insist that the freezers represent an improbable means of saving life, and a disagreeable one besides, and a presumptuous and profane one as well, and will roundly condemn it. But I think the majority will take an initially cautious view, and before long will agree that failure-to-freeze represents a denial of life, and therefore of God.
God's Image and Religious Adaptability
The freezer program represents for us now living a bridge to an anticipated Golden Age, when we shall be reanimated to become supermen with indefinite life spans. Indeed, even the term "superman" may eventually become inappropriate, just as a man is not aptly described as a "super-amoeba" even though we evolved from a one celled organism.
At first thought, this cannot be other than a most disturbing prospect to the Christian, Moslem, and Jew, since it seems to
promise to leave Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses behind in the mists of the pre-dawn. And yet one must not underrate the adaptability of modern religions, and in fact I believe they will succeed in reinterpreting holy writ and tradition to keep pace with science and society, as they have done so often in the past.
In earlier days, there was raw conflict between science and religion. As a prominent Lutheran theologian, Dr. M. J. Heinecken, reminds us, "Whenever there was a new discovery which went counter to the traditional beliefs, the church and its leaders were quick to protest. . . . Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 because he no longer believed in a finite, enclosed universe. . . . In 1632, Galileo was forced to recant his conviction that the earth revolved and not the sun. . Martin Luther did not think well of Copernicus for contradicting the cosmology of the bible . . . [and] . . . the church opposed . . . inoculation, anesthesia, birth control, and above all, the theory of evolution." (41)
Happily, those days are long gone, and modern Christianity and Judaism are in the main admirably humane and forward-looking. The humanity and adaptability is wittily exemplified in two anecdotes, which came my way through Catholic friends.
The first concerns a priest who was asked by his friend, a rabbi, to contribute money to a project of the Jewish congregation, the building of a new synagogue on the site of the old. "I'm afraid," said the priest, "the bishop would not approve my helping build a new synagogue." He thought a bit, and continued. "However, there must be some expense involved in tearing down the old Synagogue, and to that I can contribute."
The second concerns a priest in a French village, in the aftermath of a battle in which invaders were successfully repulsed and one of the defenders, a Protestant soldier, died. The rules forbade burying the Protestant within the churchyard fence, and he was seemingly doomed to a lonely grave. But
the good Father was equal to the occasion: he buried the soldier just outside the fence, and then labored all night until he had moved the fence, so that in the morning the new grave was in the churchyard after all. This story is not quite so funny as the first, but strikes closer to home, since it concerns adaptability with respect to customs in the disposal of bodies.
Most Christian denominations have accommodated themselves to Darwin's theory of past evolution. Dr. E. C. Messenger has written, " . . . many think there is good reason to suppose that the 'dust of the earth' of the Scriptural text need not and should not be taken to signify that the immediate source of the first human body was in fact inanimate matter. They see no reason why, on the contrary, the first human body may not have been fashioned by God from some animal organism, and this hypothesis has now been officially recognized by the supreme authority in the Catholic Church as open to discussion." (71)
Accommodation to the doctrine of future evolution, of individuals as well as the species, may be in some ways more difficult. But the same writer quotes St. Augustine as saying, "Whatever men can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures ...(71) This sums it up, it seems to me, rather nicely, even though it is scarcely more than a truism and leaves open the question of "should" as opposed to "could."
The problem of "God's image" in its narrower aspect should not pose too much difficulty. To be sure, man may have originally "created" God in his own image-in particular, the ancient Hebrews, I suppose, pictured God as a kind of super-goatherd but educated moderns do not seem to insist on any special physical attributes for the deity. Jesus was physically a Hebrew, but no one will assert that a Negro or an Oriental bears a more distant resemblance to God than does a Jew; or that God has any physical likeness to some of the monstrous bodies that clothe
human souls. The "image" of which we speak is unquestionably a spiritual image in some sense. Maurice R. Holloway, a Jesuit writer, has said, " . . . the soul . . . is made to the image and likeness of God." (44)
Added Time for Growth and Redemption
When we say that the human soul is made in God's image, we have only broached a topic and not capped it. Much remains to be investigated.
Clearly, the soul is capable of growth and change. Just as clearly, while it may be an image of God, it is an imperfect image. Billy Graham, Billy the Kid, and Billy-down-the-block have souls differing markedly in texture from each other and from God. Every man has the duty to seek growth and betterment, both for himself and for others.
Here, then, is another chance for the religious community to view the freezer program as a challenge and an opportunity, rather than a threat. With an extended life span, the soul has a chance to grow nearer perfection. Three score and ten simply is not enough time for respectable accomplishment, in most cases; too many jobs remain undone, too many duties undischarged, too many visions too dimly seen.
In early Christian days, the apostles expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes; later, Judgment Day was anticipated at the end of the first millennium. Now, some few sects preach an imminent Second Coming, but most Christians seem willing to agree that our earthly human history may lie mostly in the future. Likewise, in Jesus' day the average life span may have been around forty; in America now, owing to improved medical arts,
including the freezer program, the average man may live for thousands of years.
In the case of the unconverted soul, surely the pious must welcome a chance to preserve his life and thereby extend the opportunity to save him. Letting him rot would seem to condemn his soul to Hell, whereas freezing him would allow future missionaries (or the same missionaries after their reanimation) another chance at him. I am convinced that conscientious Christians will take this argument very seriously.
Dr. Edwin T. Dahlberg, a former president of the National Council of Churches, has written something which seems relevant here: " . . . the present-day leaders of religion are beginning to appreciate the fact that science is not an enemy to be denounced but rather an ally to be welcomed as one of the *redeeming forces* in the life of mankind." (16) (The *italics* are mine.)
Further, we must again emphasize that the religious problems associated with increased longevity will inevitably appear whether or not the freezer program is shared by the religious. Sooner or later medical science will succeed in increasing the human life span. This has already been explicitly recognized by Christian writers.
Dr. Gene Lund, professor of religion at Concordia College, is one. "Who knows but what a decade or two hence the average man will comfortably reach an age of one hundred years-at least." (63) He goes on to say, "But science does not have, and never will have, the power to eliminate death."
In other words, the Christian can expect, and welcome, the prospect of increased longevity, and cannot set any limits on it. At the same time, permanent death will surely come some day, however long deferred; science can give us indefinite life, but not literal immortality, not mathematical eternity. Hence the freezer program, if we take a sufficiently long view, is not so
radical after all, but merely another incident in the cosmic drama. The freezer program is merely a medical means which will allow the present generation to share the longevity which our descendants will have in any case.
Conflict with Revelation
Some Protestant denominations, in particular, make much of Revelations in the New Testament, and can be expected to oppose a program that does not seem to fit their view of God's plan for history. But Christianity as a whole is unlikely to make a stand on this issue, because the pertinent passages are so obscure and there is so much disagreement about their meaning.
For example, Dr. Merrill C. Tenney, writing about the Millennial Kingdom, tells us: "There are three main interpretations of this passage. (20: 1-6) The post-millennial view looks upon the Millennium as a period closing the conquest of the world by the preaching of the Gospel . . . His Kingdom comes. At the end of an indefinite period of peace and righteousness, He will return to judge the living and the dead, and the ages of eternity will begin.
"The amillennial view treats the thousand years as wholly figurative . . . There will be no outward and visible reign of Christ on earth until after the judgment.
"The premillennarian view holds that Christ will return to earth to abolish all outward opposition, that He will establish here an outward visible Kingdom lasting one thousand years more or less ..."(115)
There is certainly ample room here for the view that the freezer program is part of God's plan.
It is interesting to remark the accommodation that has been made by certain modern Jews in Israel with respect to the prophecies of Messiah. Christians, of course, believe Jesus was the
Jewish Messiah, although He did not seem to fill the bill well enough to convince many Jews; some modern Jews still expect Messiah to appear; but a substantial body of modern Jewish opinion, if I understand correctly, holds that the State of Israel embodies the concept of Messiah, with no haloed individual to be expected.
In a vaguely similar way, then, perhaps it is even conceivable that the freezer era-if it develops into an age of brotherly love and a living Golden Rule, as I believe it will-may be accepted by some as the embodiment of the Millennium.
The Threat Of Materialism
The pious have long been afraid of the know-it-all attitude sometimes engendered by science; they decry the loss of the sense of wonder at the mysterious universe. In this connection, Dr. Gene Lund has quoted a verse attributed to Peter Marshall:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star-
I know exactly what you are:
An incandescent ball of gas,
Condensing to a solid mass.
Twinkle, twinkle, giant star-
I need not wonder what you are,
For seen through spectroscopic ken
You're helium and hydrogen.
But whatever the effect of scientific advancement on the man in the street, the scientists themselves usually have a very lively sense of wonder, if not of awe. Many of them, including some of the greatest, have also been deeply religious-e.g., Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Newton, Priestley, Faraday, Eddington, and Pasteur, as well as a host of moderns.
Does the freezer program, then, really threaten the existence of the mass of the people in that it will become hopelessly secular and materialistic?
The answers are fairly obvious, but let us display them anyway, after devoting a few words to the always bothersome question of definitions.
A "materialist," as the word is often used in a derogatory sense, is someone who is blind to things of the "spirit"; in extreme cases it means someone who is obsessed with wealth and sensuality and does not appreciate the values in art and in human relations. As I prefer to use it, however, it merely means someone who is not a dualist, someone who conceives of the universe as unitary, without any dichotomy between "matter" and "spirit."
"Religion" is much harder to define. According to the Rev. M. R. Holloway, "Religion. . . consists in that act by which man worships God, subjecting himself to Him." (44) But this definition seems much too narrow.
One of the organized religions, Buddhism (at least in some of its forms), does not even concern itself with a deity! Millions of Buddhists have religion but no God. Furthermore, many writers have acknowledged that Soviet communism has essentially the character of a religion. Seeking the common elements, we can probably say that the essence of religion lies primarily in extreme dedication, and secondarily in fellowship.
It is plain enough that man can get along without religion in the narrow sense-or at any rate some men can. Many men get along without it in America today, just as many got along without it in classic Athens, including great and good individuals. But whether many people could get along indefinitely without some kind of dedication and fellowship is another question, and the answer is probably negative.
It follows that the church as an institution is in no dan-
ger. It offers a formal dedication which fills a deep-felt want. It offers - even without Bingo - a warmth of fellowship hard to find elsewhere. Like everything else pertaining to man, the churches will change, but they will not die.
The religions are willingly and foresightedly undergoing a continuing process of reexamination and adaptation in light of new discoveries and new capabilities, of which the freezer is only one. Precedent already exists for regarding preservation and reanimation of seemingly dead people as routine medical procedure, aimed simply at prolonging life. The religious problems, if any (as well as the economic and social problems) related to extended life have long existed, and will continue to grow, with or without a freezer program. When the freezer program gains momentum, religious people, except in scattered instances, are not likely to be left behind.
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