How a Faithless Hedonist Became a Transhumanist



This post is part of a series of personal narratives written by members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Each tells their story of how they became a Transhumanist. Guest: Andrea Loper Johnson.

Now that I have your attention ...

Those who know me best may be a little shocked that I have defined myself in this way, but as I thought about me and who I really am, these descriptors just fit the best. Allow me to explain.

First, the faithless bit. By this, I don’t mean that I am godless or unbelieving, but rather knowing so completely as to not require faith as a general rule. This may seem a little arrogant or brash, but this is truly where I am and have been for some time. There are so many things I just know to be true, and the things I don’t know, I know that a logical answer will be known to me eventually.

Second, the hedonist bit. This is just an acknowledgement of my overriding desire and pursuit – pleasure. Or, joy, if that seems less garish. Not pleasure at the expense of others, or at any price, but just a general pursuit and an active choice of those things and that which brings me the most pleasure, joy, fulfillment, accomplishment, applause, recognition, validation.

Now, on to my story.

I grew up poor. And by poor, I mean, we had a roof (usually a non-leaking one) and food (blessedly my mother could make even TVP taste good ... mostly) and clothing (often embarrassingly hand-me-down or homemade), but not a lot of the extra things that make life easier. However, we had family. And an amazing one at that.

My father never rose to high acclaim or recognition, but he was the smartest man I knew. He could remember everything he ever read, and he would talk to us for hours and in great depth about amazing things. He was a convert to the Mormon faith and a stalwart one. He understood the sometimes ugly, sometimes fantastic, deep and meaty things of the Mormon faith, the kind of stuff that causes Sunday School teachers to roll their eyes and sigh heavily if you bring them up in Gospel Doctrine.

My mother valiantly tried to maintain order and some semblance of routine raising seven precocious children. Formal scripture study was spotty at best. Family Home Evening was often a fiery religious/scientific/moral debate that opened and closed with prayers and hymns in four-part harmony. Family prayer was a grudge match between my parents and us siblings with our penchant to sleep in or retire early, and I remember many a prayer becoming interlaced with my dreams while my face was buried in a couch cushion.

Church attendance was compulsory: almost down to a science of where we sat, when we arrived, how we behaved, a sacred ritual or treasured tradition. And, boy howdy, did my father have clarity on the matter. Any matter for that matter.

As his daughter, I inherited his precision for matters of the spirit. Right down to this state of faith-less-ness I find myself in. When others around me clamor for answers to the big Why, I am shaking my head, and wondering why all the fervor. The answer is plain and clear to me, right here and right now. My first foray into the temple was a long string of events that I recognized as “right” and “perfect” and “correct.” I don’t know how I knew about those things, but they just fell into place for me.

I understand this isn’t the way for everyone. My husband does not see it that way, and still has questions. Good friends and family have had similar confusion and speak graciously of the faith they employ so they can move forward in the church, or the faith they had to move forward in a different direction altogether.

In my estimation, even this difference in perception makes perfect sense. My understanding of God, or Allah, or Elohim, or Goddess, or Mother Earth is one of benevolent beings, in the role of creator because he/she/them understand how all the bits work, and one of the bits is that we mere mortals have exquisite agency, even down to the life we are living, and not everyone picked the same rollercoaster, or for that matter, the same amusement park. Where miracles confound some, infuriate others, and strengthen still others, I see these incidents as a picture puzzle with missing pieces, fully confident that missing pieces will fill out the gaps and make perfect sense soon enough. I recognize truth immediately, like an old friend, and I embrace it whenever it shows up, and in whatever form. The picture is always more amazing than the sum of its parts. Often breathtakingly so.

For example, one particular fall day, my first husband and I, newly remarried, were walking the 14 blocks from the power company back to our dark and powerless apartment. We had paid the overdue bill and reconnect fee and additional deposit with money borrowed from my parents. There was some indication that the power would be restored when we got home, but no promise of such.

Pathetic souls we were, trudging through the leaves, kicking at stones, grumbling at each other for failure to work enough or to spend rightly. The sky was overcast and heavy, reflecting our mood and our outlook. About halfway to home, where we could neither return where we had come from, nor hurry on to our destination, the heavens opened up. This was not a sprinkling or even a decent rain. No, this was a torrent, a downpour. It was as if the clouds had been holding back all of the angst and anger and petulance of the day and chose this particular 20-minute span of time to let loose the deluge of the ages. We were drenched. The rain ran in rivulets off my hair, getting into my eyes and even my nose. My glasses fogged up. The down-filled coat I was wearing became soaked, causing the inner layer to become plastered against my skin, offering no barrier from the icy rain. I looked over at the miserable wretch walking next to me. Steam was coming off his head. His face and eyes were being similarly drowned out, his glasses fogged over, and the snarl on his lips moving slightly as he cursed under his breath, and then out loud. Cursing God, cursing me, cursing the inexcusable series of events that had been dumped, literally at this point, on his head.

Blinking through the downpour, I was struck first with the ridiculousness of it all, of him, of me, of life and karma and fate and choice, and then, as the answer gelled in my mind, I snorted a bit. Then, I smiled wistfully and started to shake my head. As the truth washed over me in a literal deluge, I chuckled, and then started to laugh. The laughter built until it took me over, and I could not control the fits of giggles and the outbursts of glee.

JOY! I looked up into the heavens, closed my eyes, flung my arms out wide, and thanked the Gods for this amazing moment. I was alive, and more alive in that moment than I had been mere moments before. This rain! This amazing rain over which I had no control, this rain that cleanses, nourishes, and refreshes the weary world.

What did I expect? There was nothing to do but to rejoice. Being miserable didn’t suit me in the least. Besides, who was I to shake my fists at the clouds? Did they hold for me ill will? No. Was God trying to teach me a stern lesson and make me suffer for my folly? No. Was my marriage doomed because of the appearance of a squall? Again, no. But I had a choice. And a fine choice it was, too. I could be depressed and miserable, or I could have joy and rejoice.

Life is hard. That is the baseline. Joy is a choice. “… [M]en are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:27, italics added). “Might” is not a guarantee. The hedonist in me abandoned the state of sorrow and self-deprecation of the moment before, being shaken out of that pitiful place by the stinging weight of the cold droplets, and embraced the joy.

My companion looked at me like I was crazy. I don’t blame him. My reaction was not expected or understood. But, for me, there was no other option. Truth! Truth was that we were fine. Wet? Sure. Cold? Absolutely. But, there was a home to go to where towels, dry clothes, and (eventually) warm water awaited us. And if we didn’t have those things, the skies would clear eventually. We could have found a tree or a building in which to take refuge. This was just a temporary jag. And there was nothing to do, nothing else that was reasonable in my mind, but to rejoice and laugh and walk on.

As new dilemmas have confronted me (gay marriage, women and the priesthood, the myriad of people who aren’t Mormon and don’t believe what I believe, although most Mormons don’t believe what I believe either), I have held these dilemmas against the overwhelming comprehension of these truths. And the answer becomes yet another brick in the building of truth, another cloud in my sunset, another droplet in the torrent. It all makes perfect sense to me, and as I sit and wait or step back and observe, each dilemma opens up a new window as it comes into focus. And though I do get bogged down in mortal things, as soon as I realize that there is a choice to make, I will (most times) choose the fun, the pleasure, and the joy.

The internet is awash with both the dilemma and a variety of voices offering a possible solution. In sifting through all of the various tidbits, I came across a particular string of thought – the Mormon Transhumanist one. As I picked it apart to see what aligned with my truth, it invariably all did. Even things that I didn’t understand at first eventually cleared up. The “truth building” that I was working on suddenly had more floors, more windows, more balconies, more truth.

I had to learn more, so I delved a little deeper into the Mormon Transhumanist Association. It became much like my wanderings in the temple, my discussions with my father, and even my rain-induced epiphanies. Here was a place to discuss ideas freely with people who were smarter than me in many ways, and argued (mostly) reasonably on topics of dilemma. Here was a place where I could voice my ideas without fear of reprisal, or at least be defended in my right to voice my ideas. I will be honest, some of the science flies right over my head, but it doesn’t matter because it is out there for me to understand when I am ready.

No real miracles, just technologies not understood. No real conflict, just humans not understood. No magic tricks, no mystic slight-of-hand, and no requirement of blind faith – just truth and the important pursuit of truth. These Transhumanists accept that humans do not know everything, but trust everything can and will be known eventually. Truth. Transhumanists pursue truth and knowledge through science, benevolence, and even art. Truth. Transhumanists accept that the pursuit of truth will eventually lead to longer life or even unlimited lives. Truth. And most importantly, all of these ideas align perfectly with my understanding of my religion. Eternal truth.

I am a faithless hedonist who recognizes truth when it manifests as pleasure and joy, and pursues those things which continue to bring me pleasure, especially if they continue to make my world a better place. I am a Transhumanist.