This essay aims to articulate Moltmann’s theology of hope and demonstrate how this theology starts to answer some of the questions raised by the “anticipated technological developments… used in constructing a posthuman future as propounded by various trans-humanist proponents.” To help set the scene for this discussion I will summarise contemporary posthumanist thought. The majority of the essay will be spent engaging with Moltmann’s theology and suggesting how it can be applied to this developing context.
Hayles starts her book with a summary of what it means to be posthuman, while this list is not exhaustive, she argues that posthumanism is characterised by these four foundations. Firstly human embodiment is seen as an accident of history, not essential to life. Secondly, consciousness is an evolutionary secondary effect and not of primary importance. Thirdly, the human body is the original prosthesis and can be replaced and upgraded when the technology becomes available. Fourthly, “and most important… there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals.” This has been succinctly defined in the term coined by Mark Poster “humachine” which he defines as “an intimate mixing of human and machine that constitutes an interface outside of the subject/object binary.”
These ideas cannot be relegated to the realm of science fiction or abstract philosophy, they are the blueprint for a potential future which is being activity pursued, and which some academics believe will be realised within a generation. The philosophical underpinning for Posthumanist thought is summarised by Waters as “subjectivity, malleability and mastery.” He uses the term Subjectivity to mean that “identity is the outcome of an ongoing process of self-creative and expressive acts.” Identity is understood as being fluid, evolving, formless and a-historical. Secondly, Posthumanist thought understands reality principally as information which can be re-written and therefore becomes entirely Malleable. All we need is the requisite data, because “in the computational universe, information is king.” Finally, Waters’ term Mastery refers explicitly to an assumption which is made through the post humanist discourse. Given that the future is humanity’s to create, because reality is subjective and malleable, our future as a species is only possible based on our mastery of nature and human nature. The implication of this is that both nature and human nature become a raw resource which can be transformed at will.
It is vital that Christian theology is brought to bare on these issues because of the capacity that these technologies have to completely change the way humanity conceives of itself and the world. I suggest that it is in Moltmann’s theological vision of the crucified and resurrected Jesus that the Church can find resources to help answer the questions raised by the technologies of the future. In the remainder of this essay I will set out the salient elements of Moltmann’s theology and then suggest some ways it which it might be applied.
Moltmann’s Theology of Hope
Moltmann hasn’t written a systematic theology, he resists the concept in favour of “contributing to the continuing discussion with an ecumenical community of theologians.” However it is possible to perceive across Moltmann’s writing a unity of thought. The foundation of this essay will come from Theology of Hope, however this will be complemented with reference to Moltmann’s other works when appropriate.
In Theology of Hope, Moltmann articulates his vision of an Eschatological Christology. This vision “brings together two fundamental notions: a dialectical understanding of the cross and resurrection, and a dialectical understand of revelation as promise.” Bauckham summarises that, Moltmann’s achievement “…was to provide hermeneutical structures by which to relate biblical Christian faith to political attitudes, goals and issues.” I would like to suggest that this work can also provide a similar kind of hermeneutical structure to the ethical questions raised by the postulations of posthumanist philosophy. One of the great critiques of Moltmann’s work on political theology is that the implications of his theology were never worked out into concrete proposals. This however is an advantage for the current essay as it allows for the theology to be given fresh application unhindered.
Moltmann starts by arguing that “knowledge of God comes about not in view of a transcendent Super-Ego… but in view of the historic action of God within the horizon of the promises of God.” Knowledge of God happens, therefore, within the world in which God acts. Moltmann sees this action as a two stage process, promise and fulfilment, as he says it is “The basic Old Testament insight that history is that which happens between promise and fulfilment.” This idea of God’s self-revelation through the means of promise and fulfilment is foundational to Moltmann’s project, Yahweh is imminent. He argues that, for the Israelites, whenever Yahweh appears, it is intrinsically linked to a divine promise. This creates a particularity to the nature of God’s self-revelation, not a general God to the whole world who can be argued for with logic proofs, but this God, to these people, that this time, for this purpose and with this promise. Moltmann goes on to argue that “The promise, however, points away from the appearances in which it is uttered, into the as yet unrealised future which is announces. The point of the appearances then… is in the future to which it points.”
There are then two crucial elements to the biblical religion of promise which Moltmann contrasts with what he calls ‘epiphany religions’. Firstly, the particularly of a promise which points away from the moment towards a future which has not been realised. And secondly, the relationship to Yahweh who makes these promises, who is faithful to his covenant and will fulfil these promises. “The crucial feature of an epiphany religion, for Moltmann’s argument, is that it is anti-historical: it finds the meaning of life not in historical change but in contact with changeless eternity.” In contrast with this Moltmann argues that “if events are thus experience within the horizon of remembered and expected promises, then they are experienced as truly ‘historic’ events.”
“This is an openness of human existence towards the world and towards the future- an openness grounded, manifested and kept alive by that openness of the revelation of God which is announced in the event of the resurrection of Christ and in which this event points beyond itself to an eschaton of the fulness of all things.”
This lengthy but significant quote from Moltmann, draws together the key themes of his theology of hope. Firstly the idea of openness, this is a hopeful theology of a better humanity, open to possibilities to growth and to life. Moltmann says earlier in the same paragraph, “It is only in this context, that the question of ‘true human nature’ arises…Communion with Christ, the new being in Christ, proves to be the way for man to become man.” However it is significant that this is an ‘openness grounded’, Moltmann is not a naive optimist who is engaged in wishful thinking about the future of humanity. His hope is grounded in the reality of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. A particular event which took place at a particular time and brings with it particular promises. These promises are to be fulfilled in the future, which is why the resurrection points beyond itself to an eschaton. And finally, it is only at the eschaton that the fulness of all things will be reached, the resurrection points to the fulfilment of a promise, and draws some elements to back into the present, but to over-realise our eschatology (or create a ‘presentative eschatology’ as Moltmann calls it) is to nullify the promise-fulfilment dynamic.
Moltmann develops a series of spacial metaphors to describe time and the human experiences of hope and expectation. Using the language of horizons, Moltmann argues that reality comes into view and only then can meaningful judgements be made. This heuristic allows Moltmann to have a grounded openness towards the future. We can not see the future, it is behind the horizon, however it is really there and we can gain anterior knowledge about it based on events which took place within our field of view. This is a reworking of Moltmann’s central ideal; knowledge about the future comes from divine revelation as promise which leads to hope. “The Christian hope for the future comes from observing a specific, unique event; that of the resurrection and appearing of Jesus Christ.” Time is not a meandering purposeless stroll through an undulating hillside. Time is given direction through a series of revelatory promises which provide hope and direction towards the horizon.
Suggestions for how Moltmann’s theology responds to Posthumanism
Moltmann’s theological vision as multiple touch-points with the questions raised around post-humanist philosophy. In this final section I will refer back to Hayles summary of posthumanist thought, referenced at the beginning of the essay, and suggest how Moltmann’s theology might respond.
Human embodiment is seen as an accident of history
Moltmann see the fundamental basis for human dignity in the calling of God. This idea, first seen in Theology of Hope, is worked out in his later work. “Human beings are persons called out of the world by the transcendent God… They are responsible for themselves until their hope in God’s promise is fulfilled.” The implication of this is that human personhood is not found in the individual, something ultimately indivisible but part of nature, but found in humanity’s relationship God’s personhood. Moltmann applies this theology to human dignity, which he relates to the calling of God on humanity and the nature of humanity as being made in the image of God. However the same line of argument can be applied to human embodiment within history. It is neither accidental or incidental that humanity is created and called by God.
It is foundational to the Resurrection that God is first incarnate in Christ as this then acts as a promise of eschatological hope. As Bauckham summarises “The Kingdom of God represents the eschatological goal not only of human history but also of the whole material cosmos. Redemption and eschatology do not therefore, serve to lift humanity out of the material world but confirm humanity’s solitary with the rest of God’s creation.” The revelatory promise of God in the bodily resurrection of Jesus calls humanity therefore to not discard its own embodiment, equally it should not engage in exploitative domination over creation.
Consciousness is an evolutionary secondary effect and not of primary importance.
Hayles understands consciousness as nothing more than pattern recognition “leading to a construction of immateriality that depends not on spirituality or even consciousness but only on information.” In response to this dialectic of pattern and randomness, Moltmann’s dialectic of revelation as promise reestablishes a sense of both history and relationship which can not be reduced to pattern recognition. There is an intrinsic tension between the Cross and the Resurrection which in fact undermines pattern recognition, the revelatory promise offers something new which is discontinuous with the present and offers a new hope for the future which contradicts the past. “Moltmann’s dialectical Christology – in which the resurrection contradicts the cross – corresponds a dialectical eschatology, in which the promise contradicts present reality.” History is therefore defined as the interval between before and after the promise was made, and continues into the future when the promise is fulfilled. And at each of these moments in time, patterns are disrupted beyond recognition because the promise contradicts the current pattern. However, within this dialectic conscious is foundational because conscious persons in relationship can navigate and in fact flourish within the development of promise, hope and fulfilment- this is how relationship with Yahweh is constituted.
The human body is the original prosthesis and can be replaced and upgraded when the technology becomes available.
The recognition that the human body is subject to decay and the desire to alleviate suffering which comes as a result of this decay is shared by both Christians and posthumanists. However Moltmann’s theology of hope shows that the transformation of the whole world, and humanity within it, is an eschatological hope. Posthumanists want this to be a human project, initiated and controlled by humanity who would use the mastery and manipulation of nature to transform themselves and the world. Moltmann argues that this eschatological project is God’s alone and, in one sense, this project has already been completed. “In place of the eschatological ‘not yet’ we have a cultic ‘now only’, and this becomes the key-signature of history post Christendom.” Moltmann is contending that in a post Christendom society the tendency will be towards an over-realised eschatology. Particularly once the technological advancement allows humanity to do so, the tendency will be to attempt a transformation of Creation which has been promised but ‘not yet’ given. The promise of technological advancement is the realisation of a world where humanity dominates and transforms nature. However the world was not given to humanity to dominate or transform but to tend and keep (Genesis 2:15).
There are no essential differences between bodily existence and robot technology
For Hayles this is the most important element of what it means to be posthuman. It represents the culmination of the posthuman project, to argue for the seamless transition between humanity and machine. For Moltmann however the Cross and Resurrection creates of humanity which isn’t posthuman but truly human. “[Christ’s] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15). “So the dignity of human beings consists in this, that they are human and should be human. Their existence is gift and task simultaneously. It presents them with the task of actualising themselves.” The Resurrected Jesus is the vision for a new humanity and He does not require cybernetic enhancement to be so. The Incarnation of God in human flesh gives dignity to all humanity, on the Cross God in Christ stands in solidarity with all humanity in suffering the experience of decaying flesh, and in the resurrection God in Christ transforms humanity and reveals the promise of a future transformation. Over and against the posthumanist vision of self-transformation stands Moltmann’s theology of Hope.
Underlying the Posthumanist agenda is a striving for utopia by trying to escape this world and humanity embodiment. I would argue that this is in fact a gnostic utopian vision which attempts to separate the mental and the material “The former [is] understood as a higher reality, knowable and reliable, the latter… [is] unreliable and therefore inferior. Moltmann’s theological vision is of God in Christ entering into the world and taking seriously the physicality of flesh, dirt and suffering. The Posthumanist agenda for a new humanity has in one sense already been achieved and in another sense has not yet been achieved. It is only in the resurrection of Christ that we are given the promise and hope of a New Creation future in which humanity will transformed. The condition of humanity can not be fixed through a series of upgrades or by removing the physical aspect of humanity, what humanity needs is a resurrection and a New Creation.
“It is the Christ event that first gives birth to what can be theologically described as ‘man’, ‘true man’, ‘humanity’… Only in the Christ event, in which the sinner is justified, does there come a prospect of what true humanity can be and will be.”
- Bauckham, Richard, Moltmann: Messianic Theology in the Making (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1987)
- Bauckham, Richard, The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (London: T & T Clark, 1995)
- Ford, David F., Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997)
- Grant, George, Technology and Empire: Perspectives on North America (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1991)
- Gunton, Colin E., The Cambridge companion to Christian doctrine: Historical and Systematic Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
- Hayles, N. Katherine, How we became posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)
- Hayles, N. Katherine, “Refiguring the Posthuman”, Comparative Literature Studies, [online] (Vol. 41, No. 3, 2004) Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/cls.2004.0031 [Accessed 31 Jul. 2017].
- Kurzweil, Ray, The singularity is near: When Humans Transcend Biology (London: Duckworth, 2006)
- Moltmann, Jürgen, A Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1969)
- Moltmann, Jürgen, On human dignity: Political Theology and Ethics (London: SCM Press, 1984)
- Moltmann, Jürgen, God for a secular society: The Public Relevance of Theology, 2nd ed (London: SCM Press, 2000)
- Waters, Brent, From human to posthuman (London: Routledge, 2006)