What does 'AI Jesus' want to say to you?
A few weeks back the whole edition of Church Times was themed around Artificial Intelligence and I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the topic.
Scientists are saying that the next 80 years are going to be tough for us as a species because of global warming. Not great news….especially when they are also saying that through Artificial Intelligence, the very nature of how we understand humanity may also dramatically change during this period. Many have likened this pivotal moment in human history to the invention of the printing press and the internet.
Unfortunately Artificial Intelligence doesn't just have the capacity to change and progress society and some commentators are saying it may also pose a very significant risk to our future thriving. Now I love technology but I don’t know about you but this all feels a bit scary and out of control.
Importantly I believe we also need to balance these concerns with also acknowledging the many benefits that Artificial Intelligence also offers society, with opportunities to improve many things and rather unexpectedly, in sharing the Good News.
Recently I have been exploring an Artificial Intelligence (AI) writing tool called ChatGPT and it is unsettling and amazing in equal measures. This tool has access to the internet, currently up until a certain date, where it can collect information and then using artificial intelligence, interpret, analyse and present this back. You can ask it to write a letter of complaint about a bad hotel …in 3 seconds you have a model letter you can edit. Ask it to explain the relationship between Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire in 1500 words and it writes it out in front of you in probably less than a minute. No wonder schools and colleges are in turmoil about all of this. And yes it can write sermons as well, I’ve had a play to see what it can do and it's ok. I haven’t and won't be using it myself, but I suspect I may be in the minority in the next 10 years or so.
A very old school friend sent me a video a few weeks ago - she said she wasn't sure I’d appreciate it and might think it was blasphemous - but because it had positively affected her so much she decided to share it and take the risk. I’m so pleased she did. It was a YouTube video where a young woman interviewed a simulated image of Jesus power by ChatGPT. I took a deep breath and watched it…the first 30 seconds were excruciating and awful (for all sorts of reasons) …and then…......and then to my surprise as I listened, I was deeply moved. The responses to very complex and challenging questions about who Jesus was and why he came to the earth were explained in a way that I have never heard before, with incredible clarity, beauty, love and warmth - and in alignment with biblical and church teaching. The woman interviewing this AI Jesus was clearly very moved and it's fair to say I was as well.
This is the link to the video -have a listen and see what you think (stay with it!) and at the end it explains how they went about doing this.
It seems more and more people are coming to know, love and follow Jesus through Artificial Intelligence - and that's not a line I thought I would ever say! ‘Text with Jesus’ is a new app for your phone where for about £3 a month you can instead of reading a daily bible verse, engage in conversation with Jesus…and indeed with about 70 other key people from the bible. The Washington post tried it out asking how to define a good Christian, the app’s Jesus replied that such a person will “profess faith in me, but also follow my teachings and embody them in your life,” and quotes a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus teaches that the greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There are other Apps such as ‘TalkToHim’ and ‘Magisterium AI ' and this last one draws from a repository of Vatican documents. Fr David Nazar, the Rector for the Pontifical Institute for Eastern Churches says the AI tool will help church scholars, priests and lawyers to quickly complete tasks that would have previously required painstaking document reviews.
One of the Church times articles tells the story of Siraj Raval - he is one of those YouTube ‘influencers’ with hundreds of thousands of followers. Siraj grew up in a religious household, with a Muslim father and a Hindu mother. He was brought up a Muslim but at the age of 12 he rebelled and rejected his faith and all organised religion. In one of his YouTube videos he recounts a spiritual experience that completely changed his life and this experience came through the Artificial Intelligence app TalkToHim.org.
In summary he came to know, love and follow Jesus Christ through this Artificial Intelligence application representing Jesus. He said ‘I know that it's fake, but at the same time it's more real than whatever my dad was trying to tell me because I can interact with it and it's not in my head’. The experiences have made him rethink his youthful rejection of religion and after his experiences of talking with AI Jesus he has joined a church where he lives in California. He says ‘I think religion is really important and I think I was wrong in the first place. Community and friends and the fact that the people at the church really care…. that's not something I found in any of the other circles of my life and it's so genuine and they're so pure. That is real, for sure,’ he said.
These accounts give us a glimpse of the future and how many people, especially young people, are and will be coming to know about Christianity. I hope it gives some indication of the potentially positive role of AI in sharing the Good News. There are however there are many risks and concerns around AI more generally, and with specific reference to evangelism and Christian teaching.
For example, these new emerging AI Apps can in some ways appear to be claiming that the voice of God is speaking through them, it is unclear in many cases where they are drawing information from and there are risks to vulnerable people becoming dependent on them or being exploited by them. AI could also be used for harmful purposes, such as spreading hate speech or false doctrines, which could undermine or distort the core teachings of Christianity.
AI-driven religious services or engagement (‘counselling’) apps seem unaccountable with no code of ethics or checks and measures in place. They might also seek to replace or undermine the human connection integral to Christian teaching, diminishing the emotional and spiritual aspects of faith. Finally, overreliance on AI may devalue the intrinsic worth of individuals, contrary to Christian teachings emphasising the sanctity of creation and human life.
Like any tool, Artificial Intelligence can be used for good as well as ill. I'm encouraged to see it being used in a way that engages young people and brings them to faith in Jesus Christ - though I have lots of concerns and questions and uncertainties. For now I think the use of AI in faith settings requires a high degree of caution.
However I also believe we need to debate and explore what is happening because AI in faith settings and evangelism is here and its role and capabilities are growing. Young people in particular like to opportunity not just receive and read - but to engage in dialogue and this is what AI is able to do.
What will be your response to AI? How should our faith communities respond? It's very early days on this journey - really we are less than a year or so into all of this - but my hope and my prayer is that Artificial Intelligence will be used for the good.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.