A couple decades ago when the first digital cameras hit the market, the head of the Eastman Kodak company declared that in a decade their film business would be closed. One of the most profitable products in history ("make it by the mile, sell it by the inch"), was going to be completely obsolete in a virtual eye blink. And he was right: by the end of 2009, Eastman Kodak made its last roll of film, and in 2010 the company was removed from the S&P 500 index.
What would happen if religion's best product, "eternal life," went the way of Kodachrome? If we can get eternal life from a scientist instead of from God, will religion shut its doors too?
Every marketing guru on Madison Avenue knows that sex, food, and fear are what sell. Find a product that fills one of these needs (or make it seem like it does), and you'll be rich. And in the end, religion is nothing more than a big business with a product – eternal life – to ease your fear of death. Death is at the very foundation of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Spiritualists and mediums make their living off the dead. Billions of humans pray to and for the dead daily. Books, TV series and movies about the afterlife abound.
Religion memes live and prosper in our brains because we want to believe them. The Heaven/Hell memes are among the strongest in religion's arsenal: if you're good and choose the right religion, you'll live forever and be really, really happy, but if you're bad or choose the wrong religion, you'll be tortured horribly by a sadistic God for millions and billions of years.
Today, for the first time in history, there is a real possibility that science will actually conquer death. Maybe not all at once; aging and death are complex phenomena. But there are competent scientists today who are predicting that we can and will overcome death completely. Just look at the incredible advances in science and medicine over the last century, and consider the fact that science is accelerating rather than slowing. It's almost hard to believe we won't overcome death. We'll be able to live forever if we want to.
Ray Kurtzweil's book title says it all: Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Kurtzweil's science has been criticized for being way too optimistic, but his basic premise is not. We are now at the point where some people alive today will probably live long enough to live forever. We don't know how soon this will happen. Perhaps it will be my generation, or my kids' generation, or their kids' generation. Only time will tell. But it's likely that there are people alive today who will never have to contemplate the heaven/hell memes, because they'll have the choice of eternal life here on Earth.
What's religion going to do then? Judaism, Christianity and Islam really need death to stay healthy, and they're going to be in a world of hurt if scientists steal their main product.