Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Brevity, not longevity. It's the blogger's ideal.
This is Pagan Values Month, and as usual I'm not following either the script suggested by fellow Pagans or the task I set myself -- finding bargain gods and goddesses for the savvy deity shopper.
Instead, today I again tackle a thorny issue of medical ethics. I mentioned it in a post the other day.
At the turn of the previous century, the average lifespan was somewhere in the mid-4os. Today the average lifespan of a white American is almost 80. May you live long and prosper, no matter your race or creed!
Now let's look at the burgeoning mass of information on the genome and the prospects it holds out for longevity. It is not possible, it is inevitable that medical research will find a way to prolong human life indefinitely. Disconnect a few genes associated with cell degeneration, and you could have people who live a few hundred years at the peak of health and vigor. Perhaps the only thing that will kill these people is a catastrophic accident, like falling off a cliff.
The ethical issue attached to this is staggering. Who gets to live to be 400? Rich white people? Extraordinarily intelligent or good-looking people? Favorite movie stars? Because the medical technology needed to produce longevity will be expensive, at least at first. And what about the population of the planet? Who has to die to make way for the superannuated?
To me, this inevitable and distressing medical advance should be an issue around which all religions draw rank. Granted, there are a few cultures that have no concept of the afterlife. But there are far fewer that have no concept of higher powers than mere feeble humans. What happens to religion, though, if certain people start living for centuries, rather than decades? Is this not an issue that transcends any one praise and worship team?
Would Pagans value a lifespan of 800 years? Can't speak universally, but it doesn't sound good to this casual Druid. I doubt if it would sound good to the pope either, even if he was the first to be offered the elixir of enhanced longevity.
While various religions debate each other with varying degrees of vitriol, I think it's important to suggest that we share at least one belief in common: people ought to die in a timely manner. I'm not even talking about euthanasia here. I'm talking about living an average lifespan of no more than a century and then taking a chance with the higher power of choice.
Mark Twain once said, "We cry at funerals and celebrate at births because it isn't us." That's as cynical as it gets, so let's give Walt Whitman a crack at it:
All goes onward and outward and nothing collapses
And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.
Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
Can anyone tell me a religion that would quarrel with that? Sometimes it's good to celebrate some common ground.