For whom the Backstory tolls – Pastoral Backstory – March 30th, 2017


March 30th, 2017

And now for something completely different.

He wasn’t on the ballot in Texas, but he was a presidential candidate in some states. In the end, it looks as though he might’ve received around three votes.

His name is Zoltan Istvan (HT: guess who?), the son of immigrants, and a resident of Silicon Valley, bastion of not only the cutting edge of technologies, but also of a growing interest in harnessing those technologies for the sake of longevity.

Except Istvan, and those like him, aren’t merely interested in extending lifespans. They believe humanity ought dispense with thinking of life having a span at all; if we can lengthen life at all, why not shoot for life without end?

The burly, soft-spoken would-be presidential candidate ran on a platform of “transhumanism,” a movement which coalesced in the early 20th century devoting itself to ushering humanity to its next higher stage of development. One offshoot of the transhumanist theory is the “immortalism” which Istvan and his ilk now herald. Outfitting his campaign bus in the guise of a coffin, Istvan traveled to wherever people would listen to his confident case for the unnaturalness of death and the potential for overcoming it with present and imminent technologies.

He is surely no lone voice crying in a dying wilderness. As you’ll see from this short exposé on both him and the movement he represents, the intent to reach immortality through technological means has broad purchase. The impulse extends all the way from those who devote a little time each day to computer-assisted meditative practices to those who’ve had their dead bodies encased in cryogenic tanks in hopes that one day science will have found cures for the diseases to which they succumbed.


Istvan’s campaign for engineered life eternal is unprecedented in its appeal to technology as the panacea for longevity. But in another sense he embodies just another version of humanity’s attempt to reconcile itself with its own mortality. It is, in the end, confirmation that there is “nothing new under the sun.”

We’ve heard many things from the Preacher of Ecclesiastes during Lent. You might say, though, that everything he’s said is related in some way to his musings on death. Like every human must, he forces himself to reckon with the deterioration and dissolution of all things. And this Sunday we’ll listen to what emerges from his musings on mortality.

As we’ve said throughout the series, the Preacher operates from an informed, sage, but still limited frame of reference. And while his fitting words are in the end not to be taken as final words, he will nonetheless deliver us from unhelpful–read: unserious–views on death.

We all have them: views about death. Some prefer to ignore the topic, while others can’t help but fixate on it. Still others think the best way to face it is to mock it–or at least to mock ourselves in our thinking about it.

But as none of us have the luxury not to deal with death, what do we “do” with it?

Let’s listen to the Preacher and see what we might learn.



We’ve spoken before of the late Henri Nouwen. We heard a little from the author David Dark a couple months ago. And we’ve taken up the topic of justice even more recently–here and here.

David Dark

Well here’s David Dark talking about a chance encounter with Henri Nouwen on the call upon the Christian to work for justice. How’s that for convergence?

Dark’s piece is brief, so don’t skip over. But you’ll find that its substance is mostly how the very character of his brief chat with the renowned priest revealed what’s really at the bottom of justice–namely, love:

I believe holiness blooms and blossoms when we hear and heed, in our hurry and our weakness, in our depression and disinterestedness, the command to love others as we hope to be loved.

Henri Nouwen


Meanwhile, last week’s “Regroup or Redouble” offered a sampling of but the first wave of responses to the so-called “Benedict Option,” coined by author and journalist, Rod Dreher. His now published book continues to provoke pointed and thoughtful rejoinders.

One comes by way of a thinker from Dreher’s own Orthodox Communion. The reviewer argues Dreher misreads both the extent of the problem and the nature of the cure.

Another comes from our friends over at the Reformed African American Network (RAAN). Dreher himself conceded recently that his thinking about how the church might survive in an arguably hostile culture has been confined to predominantly white communities; churches of color are, not intentionally but essentially, absent from his consideration. Jemar Tisby of RAAN finds that a rather bewildering omission, given how it’s the minority churches who know a thing or two about marginalization, persecution, and moreover perseverance in said circumstances.


Mont St Michel

Okay, this Backstory needs a little lightening up. So we end here.

Many observe Lent by adhering to detailed forms of fasting. Sometimes reasonable questions emerge that prompt some to seek more…..guidance:

(We learned in the Intro Class last Sunday that one prospective member once hunted alligator. A certificate of recognition and your name in the Backstory if you find out who.)







Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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1 Comment

  1. Glad you explained about the “Immortality Bus.” I was wondering how anyone could have managed that large a vehicle on the hair pin turns from Panther Junction to The Basin in Big Bend. :>)

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