Translating Mormon Transhumanism

Having spare time on a business trip with a colleague in Orlando recently, we decided to spend the afternoon in Epcot. As went from rides, to lands, and to Spaceship Earth we talked about our lives, families, books we've read, and thoughts on science and technology. In this context, our thoughts on religion and futurism came up. He mentioned that he is agnostic and used to be atheist. I mentioned that I am a post-secular Mormon. He was intrigued what a post-secular Mormon might believe.

This is hardly the first time I've translated my beliefs to someone who is agnostic or atheist. I believe that much of effectively communicating beliefs involves translating our assumptions into the language of the other: to assume their assumptions then find a way to translate our worldview in relation to it. Learning the intellectual and/or spiritual dialect of others is key.

In translating for understanding, I've found it can be helpful to discuss beliefs in terms of "at leasts":
  • God is at least a human projection of our best aspirations.
  • Satan is at least a human projection of our worst flaws.
  • The Atonement is at least the power within us to heal and respond to pain and suffering.
  • Jesus is at least a person who tapped into the power of the atonement & God to face Satan in much needed ways.
  • Salvation is at least our best effort to attain Godhood and a Christ-like life.
  • The restoration is at least a collective effort to renew and re-invigorate faith in light of expanding knowledge gained about the world. Joseph Smith at least contributed to this to the extent that Mormonism can participate in this renewal and invigoration.
With this common, base translation I can then translate hopes, beliefs, and trust which I choose to extend beyond these "at leasts":
  • I have faith that the universe has been around long enough for God(s) to emerge and that the charity required for them to wield the power they do without destroying themselves makes them benevolent Gods.
  • I believe that in an existence with moral freedom that some agents will oppose God and God will grant them space to do so -- I'm okay calling that force "Satan".
  • I have faith that Jesus was more than just a person and was/is a manifestation of God's love, empathy, humility, and charity in more than just metaphorical ways.
  • I trust that the atonement is more than just self-realization and that in it we form a real connection with God.
  • I trust that salvation is physical and that as we act in ways that invite the atonement into our lives, societies, tools, and technologies that we can overcome death and sin.
  • I have faith that God was working through Joseph Smith as he participated in the work of restoration.
Pointing out the choice involved in the faith, trust, and belief we translate our views into above "at leasts" is important. Honest, informed people can reasonably disagree with these and my holding that faith, trust, and belief is, at root, a choice from many possible alternatives.

But regardless of the details of hows, whether truth lies at "at leasts" or somewhere above with faith, I hope that we can all become Christs as we seek to tap into that same spiritual energy Jesus did and become manifestations of God's love, empathy, humility, and charity to one another. This trust and charity that we can extend to one another will take humanity far as we explore the universe.

And I find the above most robustly articulated in Mormonism.

A Primer Primer

Guest Post: Ben Blair, Chief of Special Projects

If you have been to the transfigurism site in the last few months, you may have noticed a link to the Primers. Are/were you confused by these? Well, here's your primer on these primers!

The primers are short introductions to important ideas for Mormon Transhumanism. They came about as a tool to give structure to in-person meetups, and as a simple way to introduce basic ideas of Mormon Transhumanism. The primers are written at around a 6th grade level, and are typically 3-5 short paragraphs in length. One way to think of them is as a way to talk about Mormon Transhumanism to your child or parent.

The structure of the primers is quite simple. Each primer includes one or more learning objective, a summary, easy-to-understand content, definitions for key terms, discussion questions, a call to action, and resources for further study/engagement.

You can find them all here, or by title:

The Basics of Mormon Transhumanism
The Purpose of the Mormon Transhumanist Association
Humanity+ and the Transhumanist Declaration
Exponential Change
Implications of Exponential Technological Trends for Humanity

We will be publishing additional primers every 2-3 months to the MTA website, and also sharing them through the Transfigurist.

Now that they are in circulation, we are especially interested in hearing how people find them useful, or what would make them more helpful--in terms of design, format, content, etc. Tell us what you think! (Or what your child/parent thinks.) Are there uses for these besides those we have mentioned?

The Mormon Church Gathers Mountains of Data. What Does That Mean for Revelation?

It may sound like a small thing, but my view of the world shifted the day I received a survey as a Mormon missionary.

Church leaders in Salt Lake City had sent our mission a stack of surveys and asked us to each fill one out. They intended to use the insights to improve the Church's missionary program.

As I filled out the survey, which was quite extensive, it struck me that this method of gathering insight was dramatically different than the method that Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, had used in the early 1800s.

When Smith wanted to improve the Church, he prayed and then spoke as though he were God. That’s why the phrase “thus saith the Lord” appears 62 times in Smith’s canonized revelations, collected in the Doctrine and Covenants. Smith didn’t survey his followers to know what to do. He claimed to receive revelation directly from an all-knowing being.

By contrast, Church leaders today rarely if ever use the words “thus saith the Lord,” and they frequently rely on data gathering to make decisions.

And the data gathering isn’t limited to missionary work. A few years after I returned home from my mission, I was randomly selected to participate in six digital surveys that took around 20 minutes each to complete. These surveys asked for my views on topics like immigration, church history, and specific Mormon bloggers.

It seems that gathering data is common practice for the Mormon Church.

To a degree, this focus on data mirrors a theory from the writer Yuval Noah Harari. Harari claims that dataism is becoming a new worldwide religion and that humankind will come to trust in data just as we have trusted in the gods.

In his book Homo Deus he outlines four major shifts in human religion spanning the past 10,000+ years. I might sum up his view as follows:
  • Animism (starting 10,000+ years ago)
    • Everything has a spirit, even trees and animals. If you want something from a tree or animal, you must pray to it directly.
  • Theism (starting roughly 7,000 years ago) 
    • There are gods who rule above. If you want something, you must pray to your god to provide it for you.
  • Humanism (starting in earnest roughly 300 years ago) 
    • Humans are the epitome of creation. If you want something, you have to get it yourself.
  • Dataism (currently emerging) 
    • Algorithms rule the world. If you want something, you can refer to algorithms that will suggest the best way to get it.
We see dataism emerging today almost everywhere we look. For instance, we trust Google Maps to guide us to our destination when we’re driving because we know that their algorithm has been right hundreds of times before. We also rely on Google’s algorithms to give us the information we search for. In addition, we get suggestions from Facebook and Amazon about what we might like, and we occasionally look at those suggestions. Algorithms play a role in a range of fields, from self-driving cars to medicine to computer science.

Harari’s point isn’t that dataism will be a perfect religion. Far from it. It will occasionally prove faulty, just as all religions have. But as algorithms improve, they will offer us access to superhuman intelligence. And as we trust these algorithms, we will feed them more data, which will in turn only make the suggestions better and better — resulting in increased trust (and, again, resulting in better algorithms).

Is it too bold to say that Mormonism is currently making the shift from theism to dataism? Perhaps. After all, members of the Church still say (often with evidence, in my opinion) that their intuition guides them when making callings or knowing which members of the ward need help.

However, it’s clear that the Mormon Church is increasingly interested in gathering data and less interested in explicitly speaking as as the voice of God. Perhaps we're looking at a hybrid of theism and dataism. And, for better and for worse, that is certainly a shift from the methods Joseph Smith used to lead the Church.


Jon Ogden is the author of When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save Relationships and Seek a Quality Life, available via Amazon.

2018 MTA Humanitarian Service Aim: Homeless Youth

I am pleased to announce that in the coming year the Mormon Transhumanist Association has committed to practice discipleship by engaging our members in acts of humanitarian service for homeless and at-risk youths in Utah and Appalachia.

As chief humanitarian officer for the MTA I have sought out service opportunities in accordance with our stated humanitarian aims, and with the unanimous support of the Management Team we have committed to the above efforts for 2018. Our organizational humanitarian aims include reducing involuntary suffering, minimizing existential risk posed by new technologies and their unintended consequences, developing means for the preservation of life and health, improving human foresight (vis-à-vis the Transhumanist Declaration), and persuading others to do likewise, and sending relief, consolation and healing (vis-à-vis the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation).

There are 1.7 million homeless teens in the United States (1) of which approximately 40,000 are unaccompanied (2). A disproportionately large percentage of them (up to 40%) are LGBT and many state rejection from their family because of their sexual identity as the primary reason for leaving home (3). Upwards of 80% of these youths use drugs or alcohol as a means of escape from the trauma of their young lives (4), and at least 40% of these children have been sexually abused or assaulted (5).

This is an unimaginable burden of suffering.  As disciples and agents of empathy and compassion we are committed to doing what we can, as an organization and individually, to relieve some of the burden these children have been forced to bear.