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Transcendence: The recent

movie, Orthodox theology
and the Christian sense of
Christianity and the Arts
Kogarah Fellowship
Church of the Resurrection of our Lord
26 May 2014
Doru Costache
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
The plot
! “Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of
Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that
combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the
full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have
made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-
technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him.
However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the
catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own
transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max
Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if
they can!but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s
thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for
power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming
terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.”
The message
! In a society almost exclusively oriented toward outward
gains, Transcendence reminds us of the forgotten human
thirst for personal improvement and perfection
! Of all possible means to achieve this goal, Transcendence
adopts the ‘transhumanist’ approach of improvement via
! Main features: perfection in terms of knowledge for the sake
of knowledge and knowledge for the sake of acquiring power
– which remind of Francis Bacon’s scientia potentia est
(knowledge is power) and Tommaso Campanella’s tantum
possumus, quantum scimus (we can as much as we know) –
yet entirely deprived of wisdom and ethical criteria
Scriptural and patristic interlude
! The method matters, since each approach conditions the
! Genesis 2-3: ascribing names and eating fruits
! St Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38.12: “a simple and non-
technological life”
! St Maximus the Confessor, Difficulty 41: succumbing to
things within, around and beneath, which humankind was
called to ! transcend ;-)
The Christian sense of perfection
! Improvement as a holistic process, where all aspects
pertaining to the human being undertake transformation
! Transformation is impossible without a change of mind and a
change of life, according to the Gospel
! Improvement and advancement are measured in genuine
humility and compassion, not in the knowledge that gives
power over others
! Whilst knowledge is not disparaged, it is wisdom that matters
together with the ethical parameters of its application
! Transformation is a synergetic experience, where God’s
grace and the human efforts converge, leading to holiness