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.

“I used to have this magical view of God, and then those views were shattered,” Michaelann Bradley said. “Then Mormon Transhumanism came along, and has been an anchor for me. We don’t know if heaven exists, but we can make it.”

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.

Over the last quarter-century, U.S. religious organizations have been hemorrhaging young members, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no exception. According to Pew Research Center, in 2015, just 64 percent of Mormons still identified with the faith of their childhood. And while most Protestant faiths would consider retaining more than half their youth a miracle, for the LDS Church, which is built and run on lay ministry, the loss jeopardizes the stability of the organization.

In recent years, the leadership of the Church has taken measures to stanch the steady flow of millennials out of the faith. In 2012, they lowered the age at which young people could serve missions in the hopes of getting more of them fully immersed in the gospel before worries about schooling, career, and family crept in. In January of this year, the Church quietly rolled out sweeping changes to the temple liturgy that many view as a win for feminists in the faith.

Observers both inside and outside the Church often point to the rise of the internet and access to information that doesn’t jibe with official Mormon narratives as the cause of the exodus. And while a quick Google search can connect you to plenty of faith-shaking articles, podcasts, and message boards, that search is just a symptom and not a cause for many who lose their faith.

The legacy of virtuous work, sacrifice, and enduring faith is, for many Mormons, the root of their identity and what binds them together.

Mormons are people of community, with tight-knit families and congregations where everyone has an assignment and everyone is needed. That working kinship stems from the 19th century, when Latter-day Saints were driven out of town after town until they staked a claim in the mountains of Utah where they could build their church. It’s also a reflection of the Mormon belief that in the afterlife, we will live eternally in family units and communities, much like we do now. The legacy of virtuous work, sacrifice, and enduring faith is, for many Mormons, the root of their identity and what binds them together. So when a reality in your life — whether that’s being queer or grappling with science or even just wrestling with the spirit — puts you at odds with a community that defines you, you have to seek answers elsewhere.

Many Mormons who question or leave their faith end up joining or re-establishing communities that remind them of their past, often online. Groups like Mormon Stories or the Ex-Mormons subreddit have thousands of followers and even host in-person meetups. Those groups mainly push against social and political aspects of the Church, but the MTA aims higher, plumbing the depths of LDS doctrine for clues about the structure of the universe and thinking ambitiously about a future where religion and science merge to create a perfected world.

I met Lincoln Cannon on a bright day in January at a cemetery perched in the foothills overlooking Provo. He was hacking away with a windshield scraper at a thick layer of snow and ice that was covering his father’s grave.

“It’s kind of like quantum archaeology,” he said with a smile as he hit something hard, then brushed the ice from the granite marker that bears his father’s name. “All the information that ever existed is preserved in the structure of the universe. We just have to clear the debris away to find it.”

“Jesus taught that we should console the sad, and heal the sick and raise the dead,” Lincoln Cannon said. “I’m either crazy or audacious enough to think that if we are supposed to raise the dead, there will be a technological vector to achieve that.”

Cannon, who is one of the founders of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, has a way of explaining far-out ideas with such earnest meekness that I often found myself nodding along when I’d normally be skeptical. He’s warmer than most logicians, affable and approachable, but not slick enough to be a true salesman. I got the sense that he was betting on transhumanism not for thinly veiled capitalistic reasons but in the hope of a future without the pain of loss.

From the time he was young, Cannon understood his faith in terms of logic and reason. His father, a computer programmer who worked at Bell Labs and helped design the early word processing software WordPerfect, encouraged his children to see the gospel and science as compatible. When Cannon would doubt the testimony of members of his congregation — people who said things like, “I know that God lives,” or “I know that Jesus is the Christ” — his father listened to him and guided him. How could they know? Had they seen God or met Jesus? Cannon says his father was never threatened by his doubts.

Cannon used the computers his dad brought home to search databases and connect with others on message boards. He found historical documents that didn’t square with his understanding of Mormonism, and it sent him into a spiral of doubt. Still, he saw the good in a Christian lifestyle and chose to serve a two-year mission for the Church in France.

Then, in 1998, his father died of esophageal cancer. “He was the one person I could be completely open with about my faith crisis,” Cannon told me. “I felt like the universe had conspired to take him away from me.”

One afternoon, Cannon was struck with a realization: “In the movies when someone dies, there’s always this music,” he explained. “It’s dramatic or sad or triumphant, but it gives meaning to the person’s death. In real life, there is no music.” If he wanted his father’s death — or his own life — to have meaning, he would have to make it himself.

Cannon cast a wide net, reading work from scientists and futurists like Kurzweil but also a wide array of theologians. Their ideas intersected more than he had anticipated. Though contemporary transhumanists would be loath to admit it, the earliest pioneers of transhumanist ideas weren’t men of the Enlightenment; they were holy men, friars, and mystics, who as early as the 13th century were experimenting with alchemy in pursuit of the elixir of life — the key to the resurrection. Then, by the 19th and 20th centuries, individuals like Nikolai Fyodorov and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had begun to incorporate elements of evolution, space travel, and technology into their religious discourse. Despite being men of God, their ideas often stayed on the fringes. Teilhard de Chardin, who read the Christian scriptures through the lens of evolution and theorized that all knowledge and information is spiraling toward an end where we will merge seamlessly with the divine, carries a “monitum” or warning label from the Vatican.

Lincoln Cannon now runs a company that produces supplements designed to enhance cognitive ability and extend quality of life.

The more Cannon read about transhumanism, the more it resonated with him — and the more it reminded him of the faith he grew up with. Mormons are no strangers to heretical ideas. In fact, most of the fundamental principles of Mormonism shake the very core of traditional Christianity. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, launched a new religion that taught radical views on the structure of the afterlife and the nature of God, re-established a prophetic voice on the Earth, and even introduced the idea of saving our kindred dead by performing ordinances on their behalf. Cannon saw how transhumanist ideas could explain or expand on some of those fundamental truths of Mormonism.

Cannon found a website called Beliefnet and message boards where he met other Mormons in faith crisis and Christians who were persuaded by futurism. As their discussions deepened, so did Cannon’s sense that the meaning he sought was drawing him back to his faith. He saw ways that LDS doctrine about eternal families and the resurrection intertwined with transhumanist aspirations about life extension and felt hope for the first time in the face of his father’s death. Even if technology couldn’t yet resurrect his father, perhaps it could extend and improve his own life for the sake of his children. He returned to the Church and is still active today, but he wanted something more. In 2006, Cannon and 13 others founded the Mormon Transhumanist Association as a place to discuss and advocate transhumanist ideas within the context of the LDS faith.

In 2008, after reading “The Simulation Argument,” a theory by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom that uses a series of mathematical equations to argue that we may be living in a computer simulation (think The Matrix), Cannon put forth his own philosophical treatise in the same style. Titled “The New God Argument,” it makes the case for both a compassionate creator and our own potential to become compassionate creators — a Saganesque twist on Joseph Smith’s teachings on becoming gods. It is, in a sense, the first Mormon transhumanist scripture.

The January 2019 meetup of the MTA was held in a basement that had been turned into a luxe rec room, with a massive leather sectional, built-in playhouses, and a kitchen with a breakfast bar. As people filtered in, the small talk drifted between thoughts on the stock market to the local Cub Scouts’ antics at a rest home that week. Five years after first attending an MTA gathering, Michaelann Bradley is now the organization’s CEO, and she kicked off the meeting to a room of about 15 people and a few more watching elsewhere via Facebook Live. “For our icebreaker tonight,” she began, “why don’t we go around and say your name, what you do, and your favorite religious reference in a work of science fiction.”

While the room skewed heavily male as well as heavily to STEM backgrounds, there were a handful of outliers: a dietitian, a young mom, a few writers, a film editor. One older man said simply, “I farm and think about consciousness.” There was a near universal enthusiasm for the religiosity of both Isaac Asimov and Star Trek.

The Mormon Transhumanist Association is a place to discuss and advocate transhumanist ideas within the context of the LDS faith. It doesn’t keep hard numbers on general membership, but of the 40 voting members, only three are women.

The night’s discussion about religious science was lead by Sam Smith, a self-described serial technologist with a robust head of white hair, a doctorate in electrical engineering, and an interest in tokenomics. He began with a Medium article by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff called “Survival of the Richest.” In it, Rushkoff argues that most futurists are looking at humanity the wrong way, as a bug and not a feature, and the only way to survive “the event” — whatever apocalypse we bring upon ourselves through climate change or economic collapse or war — isn’t to program humanity out of the equation but to start practicing basic human goodness right now.

The room lit up with lively discussion as Smith made his way through a slide presentation about the relationship between altruism, agency, and accountability. Soon, the conversation morphed into an argument about the ethics of CRISPR and DNA editing before landing deep in the weeds of Joseph Smith’s teaching that the central force of the universe is intelligence.

The loudest voice of skepticism in the room came from Blaire Ostler, a writer who is finishing her degree in philosophy while raising three children. Ostler, who identifies as queer, left the LDS Church after new policies in 2015 limited the participation of LGBTQ members and their families. Throughout the meeting, Ostler played the role of feminist referee. She was quick to jump into the conversation to correct anyone who gave God masculine pronouns and remind them that Mormons believe in a Heavenly Mother, too.

Mormon transhumanism presented a way for Ostler to embrace more expansive ideas about God and gender than she ever could as an active Latter-day Saint. While she’s skeptical about the singularity (“having my brain uploaded to a computer chip is not an upgrade,” she told me), she sees the future as one where technology can liberate individuals in terms of gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy.

“If we’re ever going to achieve the aims of transhumanism,” — uploading our minds to the cloud, living forever — “it is going to be because of religious zeal and the spreading of these ideas like it’s the gospel,” Blaire Ostler said.

But she also worries that she’s traded one patriarchal organization for another. The MTA doesn’t keep hard numbers on general membership, but of the 40 voting members of the group, only three are women. Feminism and intersectionality are low on the list of philosophical priorities for most of the membership. And when I asked Cannon if he thought he could get away with being a Mormon in good standing with his outspoken views if he weren’t white or a man, he dismissed the suggestion that women or people of color would face repercussions if they supported the same ideas as vocally as he does.

After several hours of competing monologues about methodological atheism and Albert Einstein’s theory of spooky action at a distance, the meeting wound down. Someone got up to help themselves to the cookies and lemonade laid out on the counter. Bradley wrapped up the Facebook Live connection and put away the needlepoint she had been working on.

Bradley and Cannon are under no illusions that the MTA would ever become mainstream enough to compete with the LDS Church (which declined to comment for this piece) nor would they want it to. But Bradley does see the MTA as complement to the mainstream church — a potential haven for all those disenchanted Mormons who want to ask questions but hang on to their community. To grow the MTA, she’s trying to cultivate different voices — more women, people in the humanities — that bring a softness to what she describes as “a pretty metallic, cold, dystopian aesthetic” of transhumanism. She believes that creating a community that holds doubt and faith in equal measure will draw questioners of all stripes, especially when the Church cannot meet their needs.

Despite all its esoteric trappings, the MTA meeting I attended felt, essentially, like a sci-fi Sunday school. The topics were different, but the motions and gestures were all the same: It was a place to come and commune with like-minded souls, to be heard by your community, to declare out loud what it was you believe. As Ostler put it, “You can’t cut the Mormonism out of your DNA, no matter what the transhumanists will tell you.”

More than one person I interviewed said that the MTA had saved their marriage or their relationship with their family or their sanity. That it had given them a window back into their faith. When Bradley’s husband, Don, decided to rejoin the LDS Church after years as an atheist, he asked Cannon to baptize him. It was Cannon’s pragmatism and expansive thinking that won Don over. “I thought, if I’m going to be a Mormon, Lincoln is the kind of Mormon I’d like to be,” he said.

Richard Harvey, a cybernetics student who attended the meeting the night I was there, joked that the MTA is putting a new riff on “I’m a Mormon,” a campaign that highlights the diverse life experiences of Mormons around the globe. “I’m a grad student, I’m a mystic agnostolatrist, and I’m a Mormon,” he laughed. After all, isn’t that what transhumanism preaches: that you can be two seemingly opposite things, man and machine, believer and doubter, at the same time?