Michaelann Bradley was living the good Mormon life. A faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bradley had moved from Texas to Provo, Utah, the fervent epicenter of Mormon culture, to attend Brigham Young University. At church, she played the organ, taught Sunday school, and often served in leadership roles in her congregation.
Bradley was “living by the Spirit” — a practice she learned as a young girl and refined during her time as a missionary in Switzerland. In everyday situations, she would pause and reflect, trying to intuit what God would want her to do: Did he want her to take the long way home from campus? Who should she assign to look after a member with unique needs in her congregation? She felt guided.
Until she didn’t.
The crisis came during her senior year of college when she felt the spirit pushing her to marry someone she sensed was a bad fit. He was abusive, and she knew that if she married him, it wouldn’t end well. “I had to make a decision between what I knew was best for me and what I thought God expected of me,” she said. The disconnect pained her, but she told God no.
“I remember praying, telling God, ‘It’s my eternity, not yours,’” she said. The decision drove a wedge between her and God — and between her and other Mormons, who she felt didn’t understand her doubts. So she quietly wrestled with God alone for years.
In 2013, Bradley met her future husband, Don, at an academic scripture study group. He was a thoughtful historian 18 years her senior whose own faith in the LDS Church had been shaken years before. Many of their early dates were to “Mormon-adjacent gatherings,” Bradley said, so she hardly batted an eye when Don invited her to a meeting of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He billed it as a group of thoughtful folks tackling slightly different ideas about Mormonism. “I thought he meant ‘transcendentalist,’” Bradley told me. “I came prepared to talk about Thoreau.”
The meeting was as far from Walden as the moon or a terraformed Mars. Held in a local tech entrepreneur’s basement, it was a philosophical free-for-all of ideas that were closer to science fiction than scripture. The 10 other attendees — all male, all white, all in their 20s and 30s, and mostly with backgrounds in computer science or the tech world — batted around theories that reframed deeply held Mormon beliefs, like the notion that “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become,” in terms of cryonics and the singularity. They quoted futurists in the same breath as Latter-day Saint Apostles and Carl Sagan. They asked whether we could become like God through technology — could we live forever now and not just after we die?
Scratch the surface, and you’ll find that Mormon transhumanists believe the coming leaps in science and technology will help us realize the Mormon promise of achieving perfect, immortal bodies and becoming Gods.
With nearly 1,000 members, the Mormon Transhumanist Association, or MTA, is a growing offshoot of the broad transhumanist movement, which believes that the human race can evolve beyond its current mental and physical state through the use of science and technology in order to achieve breakthrough outcomes in the near future. Think: uploading your brain to the cloud or freezing your body in order to resuscitate in an era of immortality. Championed by innovators like Google’s head of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, and Elon Musk, the idea has taken hold with a generation of techno-libertarians and others looking for solutions to — or just an escape hatch out of — a failing world.
Mormon transhumanism takes those theories and molds them onto a religious framework, where technology and science are tools to further the work of Jesus Christ. There are straightforward applications, like using cybernetic limbs to help injured and disabled people to walk or laser cataract procedures to help people with low vision to see. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that Mormon transhumanists believe that science can bring about the “realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.” They believe the coming leaps in science and technology will help us realize the Mormon promise of achieving perfect, immortal bodies and becoming Gods.
Bradley left her first meeting of the MTA buzzing. For the first time in a long time, she felt at home with her doubts. Here was a group of people “thinking really hard about what it means to have faith and what it means to believe in science and logic,” she said. No idea was taboo. Skepticism and doubt were part of the discourse. “It was invigorating,” she said.