Now that we have AI, do we really need God?
I confess the AI conversation makes me a bit uneasy. It has for quite some time, but now that its general application and participation is rapidly advancing among us, it really has me shuddering a bit. I’ve always seen my physical nature as an essential ingredient in my learning and experience. The notion that I can “have” an experience without actually “having” it feels not only foreign but wrong. Life isn’t just a mind game, after all, it’s a people game. You, me and everybody else.
Yes, AI is coming. No, I can’t stop it. And I can see, by listening to the many arguments of its various “creators,” what a valuable tool it can be to “speed our workflow,” and “enhance our capability.” What a time saver it will be not having to search through all those references, or pour over all those documents in order craft the perfect paragraph, synthesizing all I’ve learned. All of this will be done for us! What a relief this artificial intelligence will be.
It’s not really artificial, though, is it? It’s hand-crafted by many hands, many millions of hands? All of us contributing to the vast store of human knowledge that is scannable — today’s podcast called it scrapable — and thus readily available for harvest. Now AI can ascertain all of this in the blink of an eye, shuffle it according to your personal instructions and deliver it to your inbox with a tone, a voice, a personality, suitable to your specifications. Pretty ingenious. Makes me look look like a genius. (which I just had to google because the one is not spelled like the other, go figure) All I could ever want is right at my own fingertips. The easy way — per someone else — and no one is the wiser. Heck, if everyone is doing it, it’s the only way to keep up, right?
Honestly, it is tempting right now to ask ChatGPT to go ahead and write me a Kinesthetic Christian post. Let’s see: write a 500 word blog post on … whether AI, umm, replaces the Incarnation… Geez, I can’t even come up with a proper query. My brain doesn’t seem to work right without my fingers at the keyboard or my pen on the page.
With practice perhaps I’ll get better at asking AI the right question. Then, of course, once I know what to ask, there will be no point in thinking about this, let alone writing about this. Those who are interested will simply have their say. We can debate, you and me, my bot against yours. I’m not sure how we determine who wins. I guess it’s always a draw.
But, if you’ll indulge me, let’s for a moment think about the Incarnation the old fashioned way. We read or perhaps we’ve read or we’ve heard that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Why? Here at the Kinesthetic Christian we’ve always understood that, it was to make God real to us, tangible for us, human like us. To allow us to see God in action: living, breathing, eating, sleeping, tasting, touching, speaking, listening, doing and not-doing. And somehow, even over and across the centuries, to do it with him. To feel with him, as he felt, so we can feel with him in our here and now, as we try to make sense of our circumstances and dwell among others trying to do the same.
I mean, don’t you catch yourself asking, why was I even created for this world — riddled as it is with difficulty, disaster and heartache. As I write, Turkey and Syria are reeling in the loss of 10’s of thousands from earthquake, yet they search the rubble desperately seeking lives to save. Ukraine is under deadly bombardment from ever more Russian firepower, yet they stand and fight, sustaining each other until overcoming their intruders is accomplished. People of Iran are risking their lives in protest over the treatment of a young girl by the “morality police.” And that is just scratching the surface of it all.
In each of these maybe our answer to the “why” is plain: everywhere there are people in need who need each other. Tangibly, heartily, physically, emotionally, and in all the ways a body can be sustained. With food and water, shelter and warmth, calls and comfort. With presence. None of this can AI supply. And, of course, it’s not meant to. It’s just a tool placed now in the hands of people. Flawed people. Faulty people. Misdirected people, yes. But also, in the hands of the best of us; there is the best of us in all of us. Perhaps that’s what the One Incarnated came to say. Even AI can’t put that into words.
Years ago I participated in a Bible study group where one of the participants attended only irregularly and, when he did, he brought some outlandish commentary and some off-the-wall suggestions. For instance, once he asked, “Why is the Bible scripture? Why not the newspaper or the comics? Couldn’t God just as well use these?” As I was quite new then to the faith, I shuddered and retreated from his questions, letting others manage these outbursts.
But, somewhat to my surprise, this young man was always welcomed back around that study table. In fact, his attendance was so sparce, he got applause when he showed up. And that got me wondering… what kind of a God would allow this kind of questioning?
And there was my answer: any Creator who would allow — no, create — creatures with the capacity to so freely and daringly question, explore, challenge and frankly to contend in the ring with the Divine, now THAT that was a God worth believing in. In fact, that was the only God worth believing in. And even getting to know — by the means I have available: my ears, my eyes, my nose, my touch, my taste, my thinking, breathing, feeling, heart-beating self. My only self.
Will AI make this blog obsolete? Perhaps. But as far as I can tell, God knows what God is doing. I wonder what that God has planned for AI.
Disclaimer: I did not ask AI to write this blogpost.
Why Would Anyone Write a Book?
Grandfather wrote his own Preface, so let’s begin there.
“The spectacle of sermons in print has been compared to a visit to a mortuary for the purpose of viewing a departed friend. What we cherished — the smile, the personality, even the mannerisms are all gone, leaving only the cold and lifeless remains.”
Ah, preaching is a spoken art. It’s all about delivery and eye contact and intonation. There’s more to it than the words. How can that possibly convey when all we have left is printed type? I wonder if the Biblical writers ever had this foreboding. Just words, what will they have to say, what possible pleasure could they give, to someone who never knew me, never saw me, never heard me?
Yet, Grandfather did have them typed out thanks to “Mrs. Orlando Berg for the suggestion that his manuscripts be turned ‘into printer’s copy.'” That despite her overcrowded secretarial schedule she found time to prepare the typescript and enlisted three others (mentioned by name) in the “arduous task.” To them Dr. Rilling offers his “warmest gratitude” for “our book.”
And it’s in the “our” that I suspect he took comfort and drew confidence. What Dr. Rilling knew, and what wisdom and knowledge he drew from, were due to others – many others. He writes, “Every author draws upon the stored up wisdom of the past in others’ books and finds his better thoughts coming from the living encounter of mind with mind.”
We are what we read, as in many ways we are what we eat, provided we don’t spit it out, but manage to chew it a bit and subject it to our powers of digestion. Dr. Rilling sought to lend the product of his preaching to the nutritional climate of his day, that the good of it might nourish others and provide sustenance for their days.
But he didn’t come to this conclusion on his own. It grew out of the “thrilling encounter of weekly worship in a congregation whose hunger for the Word of God is a constant challenge and encouragement.”
Wow. Would I say that my weekly worship is thrilling?
(Personal aside: I love his word choice here, as I used to introduce myself saying, “Hi, I’m Wendy Rilling, that’s thrilling without the ‘th.'” Not to influence your opinion of me, but hey, at least you may remember me.)
But back to thrilling worship… would I say that my hunger for the Word of God challenges and encourages my pastor? Have I even considered that we are partners in this endeavor, he/she and I? That I have a responsibility to come with my questions, respond with my doubts, and take my enthusiasm to the study the Word of God on my own?
Well, this congregation apparently did, and so Grandfather, in his gratitude, said this is not “my” book, this is “our” book. Rather, it is the story of the group of us finding meaning and purpose in The Book. It is not a spoon feeding to helpless infants, but a meal set before discriminating patrons. Dr. Rilling is around the table with these, and even perhaps sees himself at the head of this table with the responsibility to pay the bill — which he most certainly knew he didn’t have in cash.
This book is his payment in full. In story, in prayer, in wisdom, in lesson, and in the telling of it all, laid out in cold type, it is anything but dead. It is as alive for me today, as I can only imagine it was to its original hearers.
To him and to them I express my warmest gratitude.
The Dance of Life
Gliding, flowing, streaming
across the surface,
she slides along.
The ice is slick,
but, on razor’s edge,
she is balanced and strong.
Her blade is firm,
confidence in full bloom.
forward and backing,
dancing and whirling,
Shall we dance? says another,
gliding in, offering his hand.
She, unsure, at once unsteady,
falls in line, takes hold of hand.
Feet to feet and twist to twist,
the two make way across the ice,
yes to yes,
and no to no,
cheek to cheek,
and toe to toe.
Embracing, spinning, pure delight.
Leaning outward, daisy blossom,
coiling inward, serpent strike.
Oh how fragrant,
Oh how deadly.
Yet they turn with smooth precision,
No mistaking the dance of life.