ai Jesus

Is it an idolatrous representation of Jesus or the answer to our prayers? That’s the unavoidable question faced by those who, depending on one’s theology, either stumble upon or are called to a new AI chatbot, which one theologian says is a new representation of Jesus Christ.

Twitch channel Ask Jesus is an experimental AI-generated livestream that allows viewers to query a chatbot “trained after Jesus and the teachings of the Bible.” The nonprofit project, which is supported by contributions from users and The Singularity Group, described on the Twitch page as “not a Christian organization,” offers “spiritual guidance” or just “someone to talk to,” and responds to questions ranging from practical and theological advice to inane requests to incorporate nonsensical phrase or words into its responses.

For example, one user question asked the AI Jesus to explain Christianity but to replace every vowel with the word “burger.” There was another prayer request from one user for their cat Whiskers, but with the phrase “grrrr” inserted after every word. Another request asks AI Jesus to rap about the Father, resulting in a cringey yet biblically-adjacent “divine rhymes”: “Yo, let me tell you about my Father up in heaven/ creator of the Earth and the stars up in the sky/He’s a legend/ He brought life into the world/That’s no lie.”

Upon being asked a sincere question like, “Can you explain more in-depth what it means to be meek?” the chatbot quoted Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

While a talking image of God might seem blasphemous to some, Joseph L. Kimmel, a scholar of early Christianity and comparative religion at Boston College, argued that this AI Jesus is merely the latest “reinterpretation” of the Son of God.

Kimmel, pointing to various traditional portrayals of Jesus as merely a “prophet” or a “philosopher” in traditions ranging from 19th century American to Hindu mystic to a proponent of Black Liberation theology, says the chatbot is “the latest in this ongoing pattern of reinterpretation, geared to making Jesus suited to the current times.” This AI Jesus is the latest trend among Christianity and several other faith traditions, offering spiritual conversations via chatbots.

A Buddhist chatbot in Thailand named the “AI Monk” is represented with a human face and discusses Buddhist notions of impermanence and other ideas on his Facebook page.  Another Buddhist chatbot is developing in Japan, where researchers at Kyoto University are programming the AI to quote Buddhist teachings.

The debate over images of Christ in mass media and pop culture has been a hot-button topic in recent months, specifically with the success of “The Chosen” and comments by Evangelical leader Voddie Baucham, who believes the show violates the Second Commandment.

In response, “Chosen” creator Dallas Jenkins said he disagrees with Baucham’s assessment because he believes the commandment” clearly refers to objects of worship, and most likely, specifically objects of worship that compete with God.” Jenkins wrote, “But no one is worshiping the TV screen; we’re not claiming the show is the Bible or Jonathan is actually Jesus; and no one believes the portrayal is an object of worship or anything other than another way to illustrate and point people to truth.”

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