What if we had a robopope?

Given Pope John Paul II’s fine performance as pontiff, it’s too bad he can’t live forever.

Bobak Ha’eri

With the pope’s health getting increasingly worse this year, I want to help. This made me think: What if the pope were turned into a cyborg?

Now I know the idea is a little bizarre, but I don’t mean to stomp on Catholicism. Though I’m no longer religious, I’ve spent a fair number of my years in different religious schools: Mennonite grade school, Catholic high school, working with a Jewish symphony, etc.

Looking across the various world religions, there are several I’ve grown a secular respect for. One of those is Catholicism. Probably my favorite part of Catholicism is the pope, whose tremendous compassion overshadows major disagreements I have with him over social policy.

So why not do this? I’m actually curious what’d happen. The Bible and Catholic doctrine probably don’t say a whole lot about it. I’m not saying turn him into a human computer, let’s just buttress his body with robotic parts so he won’t die, or at least not for a while – remember, he’s a tough pontiff, he survived being shot by an assassin.

Making a “robopope” does open a few interesting spiritual questions: The pope is directly inspired by the word of God, so what he says goes. Would that still apply if he had, say, a cyborg nervous system to remove his Parkinson’s disease? If I were an armchair religious scholar, I would think the pope’s inspiration goes directly to his brain. I know some people say it’s the “soul,” but I’m fairly sure it’s located in the brain too. I don’t see how having a few robotic parts would affect that.

Remember, a cyborg is a human who has certain physiological processes aided or controlled by mechanical or electronic devices. We’re not going to turn him into a laptop. Any work would augment his body so the whole person kept on living, no more, no less. Because his body would rely on those parts, he would be part man, part machine: all pope.

Think that’s going too far? Well it would be perfectly all right for the pope to have a pacemaker, which is a robotic part. How about an electric wheelchair? What about an electric breathing apparatus? Steven Hawking, anyone? There’s already a lot of early cyborg creation going on right now.

The problem for most people is they associate it with sci-fi characters such as Robocop, the Borg, et al. (Note: the Terminator was not a cyborg.) In reality, as long as you’re not tinkering with a person’s mind, the extra hardware is just a form of medical treatment. After all, we’re trying to make him live longer.

The next question is what happens if the pope does, basically, live forever? It seems the cardinals would have an easier job for a while, not needing to select a successor. Assuming the pope doesn’t die or retire, his connection with God would not cease. I wouldn’t fear turning the pope into some kind of immortal rival of God because (a) he’d still be human, albeit an old human and (b) the pope is not going to try and become a false idol himself.

Still, any cyborg body is subject to failure. It’s likely the pope would eventually pass no matter what the additional part. In that sense, nothing would really change about the pope and his duty, other than he’d live longer.

Picture this: Pope John Paul II. Currently a man barely alive. Ladies and gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology and the capability to build the world’s first bionic pontiff. JP2 will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

Bobak Ha’Eri welcomes comments at [email protected]