Is it an answer to our prayers or an idolatrous representation of the Son of God?
That’s the inescapable 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 gives viewers the chance 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 even just “someone to talk to” and responds to questions ranging from theological and practical advice to inane requests to incorporate nonsensical words or phrases into its responses.
For example, a question from user “FXvirusLive” asked the AI Jesus to explain Christianity but to replace every vowel with the word “burger.”
Or the prayer request from user “greenshoesbrownsocks” for their cat Whiskers, but with the phrase “grrrr” inserted after each 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.”
In response to a question from user “daveisdigital” about which career to choose, the AI pointed to Colossians 3:23, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
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.”
Unlike the unchanging, omniscient nature of the Son of God, this AI chatbot version also appears to learn new information and update its responses over time, according to Kimmel.
“For instance, as part of the running stream of questions from some weeks ago, AI Jesus referenced past interactions with users and nuanced his responses accordingly, saying, ‘I have received this question about the Bible’s meaning before. … But in light of the question you have just posed, I want to add that … ’” Kimmel said.
This AI Jesus is the latest trend among not just Christianity, but a number of 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 in development 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 is a violation of the Second Commandment.
In response, “Chosen” creator Dallas Jenkins said he doesn’t agree with Baucham’s assessment because he believes the commandment is “clearly referring to objects of worship, and most likely, specifically objects of worship that compete with God.”
“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,” Jenkins wrote.
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