Religious Life in the Age of AI

AI is in the air that we breathe ! When we are guided by the GPS or click on the item recommended for us on the facebook or instagram , we do not really think that we are dealing with AI . Technological advancement of these nature is fast naturalized and normalized by us. Yet there are aspects of these new technology that is making it an issue of public debate. This technology is not always produced with malicious intent but may be put to use by aa malicious intent. This is why it is both urgent and relevant to reflect on it and its consequence to humanity. There are those who scaremonger about the rise of AI while others exhibit blind optimism. What we need is prophetic or critical acceptance of this novel technology without fear and unwarranted enthusiasm.

Perhaps, these developments are leading to the world of simulacra of Jean Baudrillard. What we are fast generating are copies of human abilities. But these copies can outsmart the original. We always thought that the copy is less than the original. This is changing with AI. Since we AI is just a copy of humans, we will argue that AI cannot bestow on them personhood. The greater ability of the copy in comparison to the original is the paradox that we have the challenge to encounter. AI is said to be replacing human in several areas. We seem to be on the fast lane to enter post-labor economy. Will this mean the future of humanity is in danger?

AI can only simulate our abilities. They can only copy us. We as Christian accept that God created us in His image and likeness. Hence, we may have to ask: Did we return the complement by making AI in our own image and likeness? Are we on our way to return to Eden and are about to face the prospect of new temptation of eating from the tree of knowledge of knowledge and wisdom? What will be the consequence of this second original sin?

AI can imitate our best abilities. What will happen if they copy our wickedness? Would they also copy our stupidities and outsmart us in them? Will the AI become the ancient Greek Deus Ex-Machina that will save humans in the context of troubling situations? Will the AI be gods out the machines as we saw in the ancient plays of the Greeks? Hence, like Mosses shall be say let my AI go? Go to the land of promise of milk and honey. What will all this mean for us Christians?

St. Paul seems to know of the Deus Ex-Machina of Greeks dramas ( Acts 25: 14) and uses it to contrast with the incarnate God in Jesus Christ who offered salvation not through thrilling theatrical machines but through the sacrifice of his own flesh on the cross. Hence, unlike actors pretending to be God’s as they descended on the stage of ancient Greece and unlike android made humanlike in our time, we have the challenge to follow Jesus Christ who became obedient unto death and rose triumphantly on the third day from death. We still have a challenge to develop a Christian faith response to the world of AI. Here I take up a modest challenge of thinking what kind of challenge does AI poses to religious life and ministry in the Catholic Church. Vatican has shown great interest in the developments around AI and pleaded for ethics for AI. It is heartening to hear from some scholars that AI is not going replace priests anytime soon. But is it going to come later? Which areas of the priestly as well as the ministry of the religious be taken up by AI. We can already find AI taking up the role of instruction and doctrine. I know of a Seminarian, Bro. Aron Gonsalves studying at Jnanadeepa , Pune , who has put on his Whatsapp display instruction on our feast and mass readings that given by AI. It is reported that a Church in Austin, Texas puts out a banner advertising a service with a AI generated sermon. Of-course AI is a disruptive, technology and is already disrupting priestly and religious ministry. Will religious and priests continue to be gate-keepers for our access to the sacred?

Today we have AI Jesus, AI Buddha , Robo Rabbi. They engage people and new mode of spiritual interaction is taking place. We have Santo , a catholic priest robot developed in Poland. He is a bit of catholic Alexa. He is successfully answering question posed by Catholics about Catholic faith that is 2000 years old. A diocese of Canada has developed an AI that can answer all queries concerning the teachings of the Church for last four hundred years. This ability will only increase with every passing day. We can clearly see that AI is definitely entering the space of faith instruction in the Church. This means religious who had the role of being religious instructors and played wisdom figures for the faithful are fast getting replaced by AI. There is even Jesus-GPT who gives personalized answers to the faithful. Will such AI take away credibility and authority of the religious and priests working in these fields?

Think about multi-lingual Robot meeting the visitors to the Vatican? We will certainly want them to assist the pilgrims in St. Peters or any other crowed religious pilgrim place. Such AI robots may connect people in their own mother tongue and make them feel at home. Would that mean several people like ushers at religious services not be replaced? Hence, we cannot undervalue these new developments. This development raise a deeper question: can a Catholic or Christian practice faith in a digital environment? There are several things AI may offer. They may sing and produce music better than human choirs and musicians. Therefore, will that mean the faithful will choose tech-based worship? BBC reports that Robot priests are already in few churches. They recite prayer, deliver sermons and comfort those experiencing spiritual crises. This is why it apt and relevant to think and critically anticipate , what will AI do to religious life and ministry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao