ANNE ATKINS

Thought for the Day

16 January 1997

GOOD MORNING. A delegation for the cryonics convention is meeting, significantly, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Cryonics is the technique of deep freezing a human corpse - or rather, person, who happens to look like a corpse to the unsuspecting medical passer-by - so that the surgeons of the future can bring it back to life. Unfortunately it doesn't come cheap. Six figures in dollars. But: don't despair. If you're pushed for cash you can have your head preserved for a snip, if you happen to fancy coming back to life as just a head. Presumably you can club together with a friend who can only afford to get his body done. I don't know whether you can have a really low-budget deal with just, say, an eye, but no doubt they're looking into it.

Mankind longs for immortality. We're created for it. Death frustrates us profoundly so we constantly search for ways to cheat it, from mummification to lasting fame. Cryonics has got to be one of the more bizarre. Even if it worked, what good would it do? I don't want to come back to life in a century or two, as the eighty-year-old I'd been when I died - or thought I'd died - first time around, just to stagger on my Zimmer frame to the next disease that science won't yet have mastered.

But I do want to live for ever, if I can. So I want to know if anyone has overcome death, and if so, how.

Jesus of Nazareth was killed by professional executioners, laid in a sealed tomb, and guarded by professional guards. Three days later, with no human help, he apparently broke open the tomb, appeared to his grieving friends, and then showed himself to hundreds of sane, normal people who deduced he must be alive again. Millions, indeed billions, have looked at the evidence since and come to the same conclusion.

But he didn't simply postpone death, in the way that the Cryonicists hope to. Nor did he have a near-death experience and come back the same. Occasionally people have been pulled back out of the tunnel of death - in the way that Lazarus was when Jesus raised him from his grave - only to face death again. No: Jesus went through the tunnel, and came out the other side, transformed and immortal. He didn't cheat death. He died. Like the mythological Phoenix, the historical Jesus really perished. But death had no hold over him: because he was sinless, when he submitted to death he overcame it. Like the Phoenix, he rose again.

He's the only person who ever has. So he's the only one who could tell us what death is like from the other side, and then get us through it.

"I am the resurrection and the life," says Jesus. "Whoever believes in me shall live, even though he dies."

We can have immortal life. But we won't find it in a freezer in Phoenix, Arizona

Anne Atkins is a novelist and broadcaster. Her most recent novel 'On Our Own' is published by Sceptre at 16.99.

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