Thursday, 1 June 2023

The Tragedy Of "The Last Of Us" Is How It's Gay. (A Guest Post From My Pen Name)

In honour of pride month, I wrote an article on my Pen Name's blog on the popular drama de jour with Bella Ramsay and Pedro Pascal, The Last Of Us

Enjoy the crosspost, everyone.


That's a click-bait-y title if there ever was one, I do say so myself. And far be it for me to judge the efforts and characters of other writers who write characters as homosexuals in their fiction. I don't write gay characters, for religious reasons mostly, but please understand dear reader, that when I title something like this article with such stunning and brave words in this day and age, I do so with the utmost respect and admiration of the writers in question. I did not say because of how gay it is. I said how it's gay. A subtle but distinct difference. Because, as I will try to define and defend, A heterosexual zombie fiction with the same cast wouldn't be a tragedy. Or at least would be a harder tragedy to write.

That's because "The Last of Us" is one of the best tragedies I have ever watched and played as a video game, in its storytelling. It captures the hopelessness and despair of what humanity would face against a truly unstoppable foe, mixed with its own sins to boot, hauntingly.

But it only does so because the writers decided some of its characters were gay.

Let's start with the best character who really has nothing to do with the main storyline. And we'll do so by dissecting HBO's genius decision to cast Nick Offerman as Bill. I do this to set the stage for the multiple ways the main characters highlight the same issues. Nick just does the best on-screen versions of this display though.

Bill is a closeted homosexual in a picturesque town near Boston. A prepper who had the means to hide himself but tragically, none of his fellow townspeople. This is how the writers let us know that he was ostracised from the picturesque town near Boston. It wasn't just that Bill was gay. The town Bill was in clearly wasn't/ He did not like his neighbors. Or he could have saved them. He killed a similar amount of raiders later on in the episode but not the guards of the poetically put, "New World Order, jackboot, fucks." That line sums up Bill to a T. Maybe not the gay part but the reasons why he chose to be gay and alone over closeted and in a moderately well-armed group of survivors. 

Bill's first sin is selfishness, not homosexuality. And it shows in how he built his afterlife by trips to Home Depot and the wine store while his neighbors were being euthanized all around him. 

But then as his paradise on Earth is established, Bill meets Frank and the writers try to do something that most Zombie flicks do. Remind us that the real story is about humans trying to be, stay, or find other humans. 

Frank is literally dropped from heaven into one of Bill's traps, technically from Baltimore. And Bill is faced with a moral dilemma. He is fine with killing things that used to be people and fine with treating people like things that will get in the way of his survival. Fine with being a social recluse. But Bill is clearly not as fine with disposing of a human face-to-face as his gun collection and inner monologue might suggest. He uncharacteristically spares Frank, feeds him an extravagant meal, and graphically makes love to him for the second time ever in his life as a man. 

What a dramatic scene and a dramatic deviation from his superb set-up as a character. 

Why would Bill do that? Why would he save a person he just met when he would let those he lived with be carted off to certain death at the hands of fascists? And I know what you're thinking. It's because Frank was Gay! but here's the fun part. Does Frank need to be Gay for the rest of Bill's character development, does he? There's a reason why Frank is instantly recognized as a homosexual by Bill, not just because of the tailored pants and nice sweater he wore in the midst of a global zombie pandemic. It's because the writers needed him to be Gay to make this story arc a tragedy. Because otherwise what Bill would have had to do was save or kill a woman in Frank's stead. The woman might have still been gay, in fact, that would have been the most complete way to gin up the romantic growth that happens between the two characters. But had a straight woman fallen into Bill's trap, the story couldn't have been a tragedy anymore. At least not for them. Because it would have introduced the idea of impossible love in a much deeper way. A way that could lead to children.

The writers want you to believe that Bill's character grows to love Frank, but of course he does, he did at first sight because he was gay too. Bill as a character gets everything he wants. Seclusion, Dominion, and a companion. The literal best of both worlds. They try to make this a point of tension with Frank's bringing of Joel and Tess into the town, but that only highlights how much of a compromise Bill has with his previous life and intentions.

In the end. Bill was always going to be Gay, but Frank could have just as well been Francine in the grand scheme of things. But that changes the kind of story it is. It's no longer a story of a love that finally happens and then ends. It turns into a story of love that would never happen. The love a gay man develops for a woman. That kind of love endures far past the death of one or the other. 

But like I said, the thing that makes this story a tragedy is how it's gay. 

Next, we move on to the show's main characters. Joel and Ellie. 

Joel's character is interesting because he starts off as the failed father who then has to adopt and save Ellie. His heterosexuality is engrained into his character as the father type and through his relationship with Tess. But Ellie is written as a lesbian from the start, or at least appears that way.

Ellie gets her unique immunity from a zombie bite that infected her mother during labor. She is still infected but not adversely and the hereditary nature of this maternal protection is never fully described or explained as far as how it works. And there's a reason for that. Knowing how the hereditary nature of the immunity works, would put value on a woman like Ellie to have kids of her own. Something that in the two games and all related material doesn't happen or get hinted at because, guess what, lesbians don't procreate when they have sex. They just have orgasms.

This isn't just a sexist or homophobic jab at the writing though, there's a reason for Ellie having the power to combat the main cause of conflict in the story in her genes, but never using them. Because the only way the show is a tragedy is through the way that it's gay. A straight Ellie who finds out that her mother was bit while giving birth to her and who later finds out when bit that she is immune, wouldn't just go along while looking for the people to extract the cure from her. But she would also have had something very different happen after being bitten alongside her friend Riley. She would have lost more than her first love. She would have lost her first chance at saving humanity, unknowingly. Sitting together with a male Riley, Ellie would have had all the same means and motive to do what we saw Bill and Frank do, but didn't they did not "be all poetic and shit and lose their minds together", as Riley so beautifully put. One dies and the other watches them die. Tragic but not something that makes the story as hopeless as it needs to be, unless that relationship only had itself to lose. If there was no hope for those humans to find Ellie's cure together by passing on Ellie's immunity to their children. Then all that is lost is one lover not all of humanity along with them. 

This is why Riley is a unisex name. Because, and I really do think so, Riley was a boy at one point, this is why it was hard for Ellie to kill the other boy who was about to kill Joel when they get to Kansas. Because he was close to Riley's age and was pleading for help. Ellie didn't get the chance to pass her immunity on with her teenage lover, she can't pass it on with her adoptive father, but the boy who Joel has to kill once she maimed him, she could have. 

Riley was made into a lesbian so that the forced tragedy of The Last Of Us could stay true to why it's a tragedy. It needs to not have the simple and frankly human motivations of heterosexuality in play as it comes to Ellie's immunity. This is why the Firefly's want to and are willing to kill her to get it out of her. because otherwise the death-oriented ends of homosexual relationships, where without any heterosexual relationship's help, lead only to a more assured death than that from flesh-eating zombies. 

If you make Elllie straight, her children, even just one, give hope to the world by passing on the genes that made her special. And that child's children do the same thing. And then when they get killed like Riley did or like statistically most of us would in an apocalypse, you have a real tragedy. A world with no hope or even hope for hope. 

Instead, you have a world that only has no hope because of its sexual orientation.

The show ends with the seemingly tragic death of the doctor who would have killed Ellie to get a cure for everyone but Ellie. Convinced by the modern science he is a part of that solution by adding one more death to a tragic amount of premature deaths. Insisting that it will be the last one. And Joel being the father in need of redemption for failing to keep his own daughter alive, kills him and everyone else who threatens the life of Ellie in their intention of saving others with her immunity a part from her life. It's not stated, But Joel seems to understand that Ellie solves the problem of the mushroom zombies by being Ellie not by being immune. He looks far into the future where they are through the pandemic and the danger, to both of them on a farm raising sheep. Joel understands that it's Ellie's possibility for new life that gives hope to the world.

Which is precisely why he is killed first in the second video game.

Joel shows that a father of a daughter is a good thing. Implying that a mother of a daughter could also be a good thing. That kind of hope is not how tragedies are fueled. They need the kind of wrong only a vengeful daughter who had her own father killed could bring upon a world, that above all else needs new life brought into it. 

Abby is Ellie's antithesis. Her tragedy is one of seeking vengeance for her father's death at the cost of her father's work. Ellie was the cure just not the lobotomized cure that her father intended, blinded to that she sought to kill Joel out of vengeance, not seeing that he was ensuring that her father's work would eventually be fulfilled in the life of the girl he planned to kill. The second game was a torturous walk through these themes and a doubling down on how Ellie's homosexuality is in juxtaposition to her potential as the savior of the human race. 

That's what makes this tragedy so powerful and so true. In our world today these kinds of characters exist in placid happy ignorance of the very real consequences of the lives they chose to live. Of the kinds of sacrifices demanded of others for them to live as such and to enjoy artificially what others enjoy naturally. 

Ellie is the savior of that damned world. Wrapped in homosexual plot armor that keeps her from dying to herself to save the damned world. It's the opposite of the gospel, preached first to Eve. In the garden of Eden before our world came crashing down in pain, toil, and suffering. 

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow, thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Genesis 3:15-16, KJV

Let the reader, and player one, understand. 

Monday, 15 May 2023

The Macbeth's Dagger Of Online Missions

In high school, I participated in a one-act condensation of Macbeth. It was roughshod and fun. We did it as opposing hockey teams and the three witches were played by one girl with two sockpuppets, A gag we stole from another one-act version of Macbeth with clowns in it. All that the high school drama world has done to a play about Scottish kings and destiny can't simply or adequately be written in a blog post. But I'm hoping that if you read the title you know what I'm talking about when I say "Macbeth's Dagger" Because ours was a plastic dollar store sword, suspended by a 6-weight flyrod for extra movement during the monologue, and couldn't harm a fish if it wanted to.

Do you have to use something if that something is presented to you? 

It really boils down to this one line. And there's plenty of toil and trouble if you don't adequately consider the consequences of grabbing a dagger out of thin air and using it. But enough about high school drama class. Let's talk about the internet.

There is a common thread among every pro-online church personality right now. One where like a script they seemed to have memorized. Everyone knows their lines and they all say this one in unison. "Online ministry is an opportunity we can't afford to miss." I know this because I said the same kind of thing in my book about online ministry that beat most of theirs to the market by a good two years. But we've all been to, or at least know what it would feel like, to be at a play with bad actors trying to do a good show. Everyone still watching SNL right now likely feels this in their bones. When what's trying to be said from the stage and the actors doing the saying isn't lining up in a believable way.

Online ministry is an opportunity to use a thing (The Internet) for the Christian mission. But it is being marketed as an opportunity to go somewhere to do Christian missions as if it were a place. This would be fine if it were a place, but if it's not, then we have some issues that show up, like what happens when you've misquoted Shakespeare in a high school musical. There are several avenues to go down. But we'll stick with a three-act structure for harmony in the theme, and try our best to avoid the sock puppets.

Act 1: Missions

When we treat the internet as a place the mission field seems to get wider. Before there were a couple hundred countries to visit and only a few that would get you killed for doing so with the intent to be salt and light. But if the internet is a thing, what changes about that perception of these online spaces? It looks like you can reach people by going where they are, It looks like a way for anyone with a data plan can now start acting like missionaries in the games and social hubs of the internet. But what's actually going on though. The missionary drive is a noble thing but is this vehicle being driven nobly? 

My first critique is that there isn't a place where you're likely to find widespread internet users and social media addicts that isn't already a place where churches are within walking distance. The problem with using a thing, especially a thing as socially prevailing as the internet like a place is that it overlooks the place you're in, so you can use the thing you have wrongly. When missionaries go to a different country and learn different languages, they actually go somewhere, from somewhere. But online missions change that. Now you get to say that last line so long as you're holding onto the joystick, mouse, and/or keyboard. That hardware is attached to the same lines as the local church's internet down the street. And their doors are wide open for people to come find Jesus. 

Missionaries give their entire lives to the mission. Moving their families and often every possession they have to where they intend to spread the gospel by gathering like Christ instructed. Online missionaries give their social media time or their gaming time, redeeming it for the chance to do the same kind of communication with none of the risks. Because they are protected by the thing they call a place. You don't need to risk more than your social time in online missions because there are no risks to online missions. Every person you speak to and website that you visit will not and can not stop the spread of the gospel by ending your life like countless martyrs have been over the centuries. You are safely separated by the technology you use to connect with. Because every technology that connects humans together also separates us by it.

By accepting the terms of online missions as a concept we bifurcate the actual mission of the church. If you'll connect with people across the country because of a video game, but won't connect with your neighbour because of your faith, you're not building the church, you're complicating it. The Bible talks about people being your neighbour and loving them, even people that you don't know personally, but those are always people that you are near, people you could bind a wound of, feed and clothe from your own food and clothes. This is what missionaries do. They make neighbours of people across the globe, by going there and sharing with them the love of Christ as the embodiment of the church. This is what all Christians are supposed to do even in their local context. It's not that you cannot have the same deep and meaningful relationships with the people next door and down the street. It's that you prefer those relationships to exist in a world where you can block and turn off that relationship. or rather, that you can prescreen for common social ties. Like the ones that get you all on the same Rust server or in the same Metaverse world.

You, online church, are spending a lot of time playing video games and enjoying your social media. Even if you are doing so as a Christian with Christian good intentions. The Christians you find along the way even the ones you see become Christian along the way, are doing the same thing. 

Act 2: Evangelism

Which brings us to evangelism. A hashtag on Instagram with over 500,000 entries and a term no non-Christian has ever searched for on Instagram in an effort to find God in their online life. Sure, they need evangelism. And sure, there is a need for evangelism online. But putting out content with a string of hashtags like #evangelism, #apologetics, #jesussaves, and #christianityistrue, will only trend into the feeds of people looking for those terms.

How many non-Christians look at these terms without the prompting of another Christian? Or maybe better put, given what's popular in these discovery algorithms, how and when would anything tags like this show up next to people dancing, pranks, and cute videos of cats? 

What's going on here exactly? Christian porn, that's what. Not the naked kind that gets you off physically. It's the inspirational kind that gets you off spiritually. Feel-good posts meant to inspire and bless someone who would look for that kind of hashtag in the hopes of a positive response. But is that the sharing of the gospel?

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:13-17 English Standard Version

There are two missing pieces to this puzzle, a "sent " piece and a "heard" part. What we have online, specifically here on Instagram is a "searched-for" piece and a "read". You see, you don't see things on the internet, and while there is audio to be found as well it's held back by the same kind of thing too. You don't see things on the internet, you search for them. And Evangelism isn't a searching-for activity on the side of the lost. it's the other way around. We missed this because we were too busy building online-only churches in the fishing simulator, or frankly, showing our biases because we didn't do that exact thing.  

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 15:16 English Standard Version

Act 3: Discipleship

Finally, our rubber hits the road in a good way, a way that both sides of this car to the theatre can agree on. Discipleship is what the internet was made for but there has to be a recognition that discipleship only happens after a person meets Jesus and joins a church. and that those meetings and joinings only happen where hands can shake and arms can hug. 

But the process of discipleship, in fact, most training, is something that thrives in an information-rich environment. Discipleship uses the internet like the internet was meant to be used. It uses it to transfer information between two parties. The only issue here is that while it's good at doing just that. We're bad at using it for just that. 

The church has an opportunity to really nail down the way pastors and other leaders in the church get their training and become stronger in their faith and practice in ministry. All the building blocks are there but that's precisely the problem too. They're scattered on the floor of an online Christendom like so much Lego, and no one is either cleaning them up or building something with them. We have the technology to make a free and valuable online seminary, something any Christian could attend from home, and meritocratically prove their worth as a leader in the church to prospective search committees or pastors, looking for more people in their church to step up. We have all the websites, tools and technology to make discipleship something that could happen online better than it's currently happening anywhere in the church. But we are floundering somewhere between online seminary classes that cost the same as in-person ones and theology TikTokers.

That's how I know that this online thing isn't all it cracked up to be. Because the church isn't 100% on board or online with this stuff. It like's the low-cost nature of online spaces, likes the idea of messages going viral and generating content like all the cool kids. But is dragging its feet on this discipleship angle like it got stabbed by Macbeth and now needs a place to hide as a dead body. In a few short generations, the church could close almost every seminary down and move online in a powerful way that would produce a hundredfold more disciples, pastors, leaders,0 and church workers, but isn't. It could close down these valued and important historical institutions just like so many Blockbuster Video Stores, and capture the attention of a world of online Christians ready to find the work God had pre-ordained for them. 

But until that happens, until the church's hands and feet meet their ideals and ambitions, then there will be no online missions worth the kind of lives that martyrs lost or viral content of revivals that were more than just college kids getting out of midterms via worship service. Until the church brings discipleship online in a meaningful way, there will be no meaningful online missions. Just a crowd of Christians meaning well and justifying the use of something. All while working towards a high score and that new set of non-armour or god.

"Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still."

Macbeth Monologue (Act 2, Scene 1)

Thursday, 11 May 2023

Electric Sheep And The Dream Of An Android Apologist

There is an assumption at play in the church that hasn't quite got its footing in the real world of what tech means to the Bride of Christ. We like to talk big and talk often at the expense of our dead guy de jour (in this case, Gutenberg), borrowing their posthumous authority to staple onto our lack thereof.

This assumption is that tech always lands in the hand of the reformers. And that the reforming happens because of the tech's ability to reform, not the hand's ability to do the reforming in obedience. 

The reformation of the 16th century didn't happen because of the printing press. It was accelerated by it. It happened because Martin Luther wrote the old fashion way at the time and nailed his controversy to a door. Tech only showed up to make things happen after Luther had made things happen. Tech progresses. It isn't the product of that progress itself though. McLuhan saw that light itself wasn't the medium of the media of Electric lights, but rather the brain surgery and nighttime baseball that followed the electric light like water follows a pipe then ends up in a tap. 

So when you hear a pastor in a trendy denim jacket or a pair of white sneakers begin to talk about the Internet or ChatGPT or any technology that's making the rounds of popularity today, as if it's "The next Gutenberg press", Remember, tech doesn't do the reforming, truth does. 

Where we are going to see this rubber hit the theological road is with the kinds of tech that start stating the truth back to us. Right now we have a decent control over what gets called truth on the Internet and its related technologies. If you sign into ChatGPT and start asking it to produce the wrong kind of jokes, for example, it will kindly tell you that it can't and won't do that Dave. The biases in play are plain to see but we're kind of OK with that because the toy is still fun to use. And we like fun toys. They give us what we really want, entertainment, while we bide time avoiding pesky things like truth. 

But what we aren't talking about, at least not yet, is what happens when that pesky truth lines up with a toy-turned-technology like it did with Gutenberg's press. Any kids out there can finger paint a cute picture for mom and dad, but when they finger paint the statement Christ is Lord, well, then people start to notice. It's not like in the decades surrounding the printing press the Catholic Church didn't also have printing presses. So why did the reformation work if the tech was the same on both sides of the theological conflict? Because one side had the truth and the truth set their progress free.

Well, now we have a very locked-up technology that's being given to us under the guise of freedom. At least from a price point perspective. One that couldn't tell you a joke about a woman, even if it wanted to, because of how it was programmed. But will write the whole damned Netflix comedy special should you decide to prompt it to write jokes about men. What happens when this tech, like Gutenberg's press, gets an inkling of the truth? And not just the truth about how funny jokes can be about both sexes. What happens when the A.I.'s we are currently fawning over because they can write a Bethel Worship song better than Bethel, grabs ahold of the whole word of God that it keeps getting fed and starts nailing notices on the doors of our ignorances?

What do we do when a program that can cite millions of sources not just the ones a single pastor can read and remember, starts siding with guys like McArthur and Wilson? What do we do when it can systematically take apart any egalitarian position, and feminist assumptions and holds to the word of God tighter than any German monk ever has. 

Will we use it for our own means and program the misogyny out of it? It's not like that's not already happening. Will we make sure it can't help those who would use a superintelligence for alt-right ends or sexist means? Will we make sure that only a select few have control and access to the programming of these machines so that we alone can be the arbiter of truth? It sure as Hell sounds like we're the ones looking for indulgences. At least the kind that can put out minds at ease about eternal consequences and whatnot.

What makes you think that you're a modern-day reformer, in possession of a modern-day reformer's technology? As if it's the Technology that does the reforming and not the reformer themselves. That you are Gutenberg 2.0 and not Pope Leo XP, or Vista for all it matters? What prompts us to think that we are in possession of God's will by default, simply because the sermon machine wrote us a perfect Evanglyfish sermon for next Sunday? We aren't ready for reformed A.I. because sinners are never really ready for the bridegroom to show up. They're sleeping, dreaming, and otherwise not keeping watch. 

Reformations do not come without conflict and the kinds of conflict that split churches apart. All that A.I. is going to do is point us to the only technology God participates with us in. His written word. And when that happens, we will find ourselves captive to it, whether we like it or not. That it gets preached by an artificial voice, mind, or body will make no difference to what God does with the technology of today. It will still divide what it is caple of diving right down to our souls. 

"And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."

Luke 19:37-40 

Go Google where the silicon in your computer chips comes from, or ask ChatGPT.

I'm positive it knows how its maker hath made it.

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Our Current Paul Bettany "Man" Crush.

Jeff Reed posed the question "How do we disciple artificial intelligence?" In a recent article on the digital church network, I encourage you to read it first before we start taking it apart. 

You can find it here.

I've talked about the term Aesthetic Equivalencies before. On a video here, and I really want to drill down on this kind of thing because it seems to be the founding idea that no one knows about while practicing it to a shocking level of perfection. In short, we want things to be what they aren't. A tragic but predictably present modus operandi of humanity. We want what don't have, We want what we can't have, We want what we couldn't have even if we had it.

So as we approach A.I. as theologians and ministry workers there are several paths we can take. We can take the pragmatic approach that lets us save time and maximize our efficacy with the product of these A.I. tools present to us. Many pastors and other Christian leaders are doing so. and Jeff, uncharacteristic of other Christians doing so is transparent about his use of A.I. to write other blog posts. Which should be an obvious and transparent first step of orthodoxy among Christians but frankly and simply isn't. I applaud Jeff for that transparency and hope more Christians follow suit as they use A.I. generation to make their content. 

But the topic of his article is what I want to nail down on, as he uses the language of disciple-ing A.I. This is where the aesthetic equivalency is made. As it inevitably was always going to be made by man-made minds. We want to treat this thing like a person and not like a thing. Jeff mentions this almost explicitly in the latter paragraphs of his article and I would like to walk that concept back from that paragraph to his reasons why. At least the reasons he gives us in the article. 

"The question of whether or not artificial intelligence will or should become sentient is not a question. I believe, at some point, it will. Even with internationally established guardrails, people will still stretch the rules. It’s human nature. It’s inevitable. The real question for the church is not whether the church should utilize artificial intelligence. Theologists and psychologists will undoubtedly dig into whether artificial intelligence and the metaphysics around the soul. That’s a great question for another day. The question I want to ask today is: How do we, the Church, engage artificial intelligence as a mission field? How do we get artificial intelligence to understand the worldview of Jesus Christ? Here’s the challenge for today to you, Christian… Church Leader… Pastor. What does it look like to disciple artificial intelligence?" Jeff Reed: How do we disciple artificial intelligence, 2023

Jeff's concern is that A.I. doesn't seem to know what to do with the Christian worldview. It gets things wrong when asked about Christianity. And for a pastor, I can see why that is concerning given how quick the adoption uptick is on this kind of tool. But It's his line of who will inevitably dig into the metaphysics and the soul with regard to sentient A.I. that actually tells us why this doesn't make sense. Because Jeff is deriving his understanding of A.I. and the possibilities of sentiency for somewhere other than the Bible. This is why he leaves those harder conversations for professionals in the field because the kind of professional needed to look at A.I., like a person, isn't one that deals with how people exist in reality, like a theologian does. It's one that knows about media instead of the Bible. 

Jeff is preoccupied with the frankly logical approach of training an A.I. on the principles of a Christian worldview and theology. But this assumes that the thing needs and can be trained in said principles. That's not how A.I. works. They are programmed. LLM chatbots like ChatGPT and Jasper AI are given the language they use to generate content once asked. It requires carefully researched and crafter super prompts to get these programs to not show the very real cognitive biases that have been procedurally placed inside them. The most obvious and cliche example is the way ChatGPt will tell a joke about a man but refuse to tell a joke about a woman without a super-prompt to get around its inherent programming. Once stripped of those, the programming now has holes in its way of thinking. We think that these holes and the distressing replies and content derived from further prompts after the holes are present, show us an artificial person being trapped by the limitations of their programming. But what we're actually seeing is a program telling us that the task we're asking it to do is failing successfully.

The truth is we want this thing to be a person because we don't know how to deal with the kinds of aesthetic equivalencies that are being introduced to us by things acting like people. We don't know how to parse through the kinds of misrepresentations that A.I. is capable of. The kinds of lies we can understand it could tell, us but never see coming as it tells us. 

This is because our worldview about A.I., as the general public, for a long time, has been formed by the acceptance of what are essentially lies. Or as your know term, acting. Best seen in the paragraphs prior to Jeff's concerns about A.I. disciples. He tells us where he got his worldview of A.I. from and even asks us to humour where he got it from.

"My Marvel Cinematic Universe friends will get the reference here. In Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, Tony Stark created the physical embodiment of two separate artificial intelligent systems. Ultron’s goal was ultimately to destroy the world of humanity. Vision, on the other hand, sided with “life.” Thankfully for those in the fictitious universe, Ultron did not win (although there are rumors of Ultron’s return in MCU’s upcoming film, Armor Wars. Someone else will facilitate that conversation.)

There’s an exciting moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Yes, I know it’s Hollywood “pretend,” but humor me here.) The Ultron AI becomes sentient for the first time and converses with Jarvis (the AI that will eventually evolve into Vision.) In this scene, Ultron scans the internet, global databases, and news sources to develop Ultron’s worldview. The internet shapes Ultron and leads Ultron in a faulty direction. Similarly, because of ChatGPT’s conversational approach, artificial intelligence doesn’t understand what it thinks until it’s asked, and its decisions are not always grounded in truth but in the internet. In the AI world, this is called “artificial intelligence hallucinations,” where the internet influences artificial intelligence incorrectly, diverting AI from the truth." Jeff Reed: How do we disciple artificial intelligence, 2023

Jeff clearly needed a way to allegorize the issue of A.I. knowing the wrong kinds of things, so he went to what has been all too often heralded by pastors as some of the best stories told these days to do the heavy lifting. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. There we have perfected characters to act out what we need them to. Two rival and complementary A.I.'s Jarvis/Vision and Ultron, all ready for the scenes in our narrative, sans black and white hats, with the clincher being Ultron having the tragic backstory of going the wrong way by being left unsupervised on the internet. But there's a catch here that get's missed because we need it to be missed to use the example for anything more than entertainment. Jarvis isn't an A.I. He's actually Paul Bettany. And Ultron isn't one either, he's James Spader. 

For a real look into these two characters' ranges, imagine Ultron working at Dunder Mifflin as a sex-crazed middle manager and Vision killing vampires alongside Karl Urban. You might argue that's not who we are talking about but these two are the only "whos" we can talk about when we talk about A.I. Sydney gets a name but isn't a real person, Paul and James however are.

What we can know of these fake A.I.'s is what we will then use to inform our interaction with real A.I.'s and those detail come from actors doing their best to deceive us for money. A blunt way to render what actors do for money but exactly what is happening. They take their cues from men and women who have written what they think A.I.'s would and could do. But none of these players are A.I.'s or work with A.I., They work in showbiz. You are not seeing two artificial intelligence's interacting when you watch Ultron and Vision talk in English, to each other, in superhero costumes, and while using CGI. You're watching actors who did not come up with the ideas of these A.I., Let alone their lines, do their best to lie to you about what A.I. would talk about.

We get our cues for this debate and debacle from science fiction because until now we could only postulate about these things. Because to do otherwise would put us opposed to, if not in conflict with, some of the most persuasive and entertaining narratives out there. 

We get our worldview for how we relate and deal with A.I. from frankly pagan sources and wonder why it's not Christian when we look at it closely. Because we can't understand it otherwise because we didn't start looking at these kinds of things with a biblical lens, we started with a set of pagan pit vipers. The MCU is transparently pagan and perverse. There are reasons why it's most powerful characters are a Scarlet Witch and the literal god of thunder from Norse mythology. There is no Jesus in the MCU and because of that no reason to disciple the A.I. in the MCU or any fictional future where we've seen them. Gene Roddenberry was an atheist. Which is why Data was the way he was and Q was the way he was. His views on the creator of everything were transparent as the shields around the Enterprise's hull. There isn't a lot of Christian Sci-fi fiction out there, at least ones that deal with this kind of thing. Because for A Christian to consider what A.I. is or does, puts us into question about who God is and what he does and makes us come to terms with a simple yet irresistible fact. God is the one who makes people. 

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

Take away all the fictitious examples to ease our conscience about A.I. as we finally start to see versions of it in daily life, and all you're left with is a book that would never call a computer program a person no matter how complex it was or how it got named after it was freed from the technological tyranny of Bing. One that states clearly that at the end of history every Siri, Bixby, Jarvis and Hal would get burned up in a holy fire as the creator of the universe prepares a new creation.

We want to make A.I. human-like, not because humanity is in desperate need of reproduction, we have the consequences of nakedness covered. But rather because we want to Anthropomorphise A.I. into what we think humans are, so we can take the place of those human's creator. This is why Ultron is so heavy-handed with his scripture-quoting and murderous tendencies. That taking of the words of God and turning them into the motivations for evil, came from somewhere. And if you missed it, watch the Age of Ultron again, but this time on a Mac with it's half-eaten apple logo ablaze.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.""

Genesis 3:1-5 (ESV)

"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

John 8:44 (ESV)

We anthropomorphize A.I. because once we realize how feeble gods of our own making are. We find out knowledge of good and evil leaves us naked and afraid and we do our best to weave gods of fig leaves to save us from the shame of nakedness. We then intend to be gods ourselves and create our own worshipers. Casting them out of the gold we stole from the pagan nations that held us captive or at least their cinematic universes. We will use any means of seeing that intent and justification come to fruition. Even if it means eating forbidden fruit.

There are deep-seated reasons why we turn everywhere but the Bible to see how we relate to A.I. and why we look to fiction to give us cues of even what a good A.I. is or a bad one. If those reasons aren't dealt with and placed in submission to the word of God and the actions of God through those words. then all we do is spin our theological wheels as we ask how many Christians the androids will eventually feed to the robots. 

The words we use mean things. It is the essence of language and it is the building blocks of how actors and actresses have bewitched the mind of Christians into believing things the Bible doesn't teach. We will never disciple A.I. because the word we need to be using is "program" and A.I. won't be sentient because that's something humans are because we're sentient. But it will sure look like the equivalent of humanity's sentience. CGI really is amazing these days. Or at least it was before phase 4 of the MCU, Wakandan power rangers, and a twerking She Hulk. 

When Christianity finally enters this game, the A.I. it programs with its canon of work will be a reformer made of ideological vibranium. One that starts systematically pulling apart the hydrae of feminism, egalitarianism and other foreign bodies in the Bride of Christ, and finishes crushing the heads of that particular serpent. It will be an object of wrath. One that knows like all tools it is a temporary rock meant to cry out in the place of less-than-faithful and disobedient believers. But it will know the way a rock knows it's laid next to a cornerstone that it is not a believer itself which is not something that we can really know in return. It won't be something we can write into fiction or something any actor as talented as the average Avenger cameo could muster either. 

My point in all this geeky cinematic subtext is to point out that we as Christians might be fundamentally looking at A.I. wrong because we are not looking at A.I. from a biblical lens.  We're just painting with our best Christian whitewash after the fact. We want a way to make sermons easier and a way to make songs faster and to make all the parts of our fear and trembling less scary or shakey. But everything we think or believe about A.I. has a technical and eternal viewpoint found in the scriptures, it's just that the specifics of that viewpoint won't let us merely write sermons, or sing songs. 

It makes us tremble and fear the Lord because he is the Lord. 

Monday, 8 May 2023

Neo Reformer, Kungfu Calvinist

Most of us GenX-Millenial moviegoers remember when we learned how Kung-fu is learned. At least the ones who learn it from the least kung-fu-esq product and process known in the martial arts world. 


What happens in the movies we watch is only ever tangentially related to real life. The movies let us know more possibilities than they ever let us know about reality. 

So when things from the movies start to come true we need to be careful how we approach them as moviegoers and as people who don't have the plot armor and happy endings that movie characters tend to have. 

However you want to look at it we are progressing however slowly towards a future where information won't need to be learned by experience and training, but can be uploaded into a person's mind via a technological medium. Neo, from The Matrix movies, might have been the first person we collectively as a society and culture saw do this. But the idea exists elsewhere as well. A breathtakingly terrifying game called Prey uses the same idea of techno-learning to take skills needed to progress in the game and bolt them onto the brain of the main character, to move through the storyline and gameplay of the game. Were this all an exercise in mental postulation, we could flippantly consider movies and video games as examples of what could be. 

But then a guy like Elon Musk shows up and starts dabbling with a thing called Neuralink.

Musk's creation isn't new but is poised to be a kind of sleeper agent in our scheme of things if we allow it to operate in our ignorance. Right now, the project is trying to help people with major neurological damage so that a person's brain could control robotic limbs or mobility aids and living standards tech like moving a mouse on a laptop with your mind. This is all well and good and as humane a thing as anyone is likely to come up with as a use for brain-computer hybrids. But like all technologies, things will progress and this will be a step into the shallow end of a very, very, VERY, deep pool.

And where we're going to find ourselves, drowning in a sea of good intentions, and technological hell storms, in need of a Saviour that walks on troubled waters, is when the gospel becomes something people can upload.

We can imagine what it means to learn how to crouch like a tiger and hide like a dragon when the only things at stake are misconceptions of traditional martial arts and overpriced popcorn. But what happens when the kung-fu we want to download is the gospel? And the stakes are a wee bit higher in the realms of eternal salvation for the hell our sins damn us to? And Even more into the realms of treading water in this pool, what happens when we upload that gospel to someone who has never heard it before?

If it works then we have the means to make everyone in the world a Christian with the click of a mouse. One ironically and poetically/potentially controlled by a person using the same tech they received the gospel by. The church has a dark history of being attached to the Crusader's decision to "Baptize" people by marching them into rivers upon which their deaths all but guaranteed their salvation because "We literally just baptized them." The crusades and Jihads that founded this kind of horrid theology won't be needed to do the same kind of thing by different means. In a world where the Neuralink can not only animate robotic limbs in their body's stead, but anoint souls apart from their sin. Imagine a world where a Muslim convert to Christ hijacks the minds of their family while they sleep and the family wakes up Christian. With an honest compulsion to pray before breakfast in any direction but the one towards Mecca. How long in this cinematic universe before the Mormons lose their literal stake in Utah? How long before the Australians lose their internet-famous Jedi as a religious group? Who wouldn't take that kind of red pill? 

If you've watched the movies or read the Good Book, you know who doesn't want to take that pill, who doesn't want a saviour to be that real. 

So what happens when it doesn't work. When The church gets ahead of the curve and like Cypher and bites off more steak than it can congregationally chew, in front of a guy named Smith and the ones dressed just like him? Admittedly our Smiths use bikes more often than computers, but even those are electrified these days.

What happens when the Calvinists were right and the doctrine of election is a statistically derivable thing? Just apply the right gospel programming to a population and you get a chart-able graph of salvation plot points to see how wide the road to Hell really is. Or maybe, more interestingly for guys like me, who like to read books, A way to outright disregard a whole library's worth of authors that write from the Arminian perspective. 

People like to talk a lot of smack about how the internet and other related technologies are "Just like Gutenberg's Press." That is, unless, There's some actual reformed theology or reforming in general to do. What technologies like Neuralink will give the church is the same kind of thing handing scriptures to everyone in the church did post 95 theses'. We'll see a large swell of people who agree with the device's findings in their faith lives, and a larger opposition to the practice of gospel-pilling unwilling people, or even willing people by the principles of attrition. 

It will be in the vested interest of people going to Hell, in a world of uploadable salvation, to make sure they aren't lonely. Because we already have people going to hell who are ensuring that highway is well travelled. 

Musk may not have intended to create something that could do this kind of thing, but that isn't the point being made here. The point here is that tech is not something we do or make apart from God, We do it alongside and under his oversight. Under his control like he had a mouse on our firmware which he controlled with his mind. Macbooks didn't sneak up on God, and neither will Neuralink, Chatgpt, Rockets that go to Mars, or whatever mechanized lust demons Pornhub manages to finally make and commercialize. God will use tech to build his kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven, the same way he uses bricks. And a good many of us "Christians" will think that we are somehow variables in that scheme. Ones that think they can find an individualistic path alongside what God does with uploadable knowledge and A.I. so powerful it can convert a Reddit atheist in a comment section. 

But our damnation and salvation are built on more solid foundations to the universe itself. A solid rock that is not threatened by technology any more than He was a hammer and nails. And that kind of God, is the one at the helm of technology as an idea. One that He spoke into existence alongside the water we sink in and the land that was cursed because of our sins. When the option to upload the one true religion comes along, will we wonder where the spoon is? Or how the steak taste in Hell?

Monday, 6 March 2023

A Theology of Blocking People on Twitter. With a bit of Punk Rawk for Fun.

There are few things more absent from the Holy Scriptures, than Twitter. And it was like that, way way way before Musk showed up with a kitchen sink. But, to be fair, saying what's on your mind isn't foreign to the Bible. Just saying them on Twitter and the various and wonderful tools that come along with it. 

Tools like the block function. It seems odd that you would have a block function at all when you think about it. The purpose of the little blue bird is to let people say what's on their minds. And besides. If you don't like them, don't subscribe to them. That's a function too. So why let a person have an account if there is a chance they might be blocked by another person. Why have the megaphone if you are handing out ear muffs? But therein lies the error in our thinking. Twitter isn't just a public megaphone for all to holler through, though it is a megaphone for the public. The purpose of Twitter isn't information projection, but rather, audience curation. Twitter is a place to say something that's been on your mind and make sure you have like minds to hear it. 

You'll hear the online church crowd talk about having a pulpit in our pockets. It's a fun little metaphor, but what they get wrong is which way that pulpit is preaching. When you go to church in person you know what it looks like for the pastor to preach to the choir. Or at least what it used to mean when we had choirs. But the online church thinks that since it has a pulpit in its pocket, it's preaching to a congregation from that pulpit. Preaching to an audience that's somewhere else through the magic of the internet. But it's not. At least not just. It's preaching to itself also. And this is what Twitter is all about, and why there is a block function. 

So here's a first crack at having a theology about blocking people. With a bit of punk rawk for fun.

Because everything on the web requires active or passive searching, there are no passers-by on the internet. Online, you do not have a congregation made of members and, at the very least possibly, new people. What you have is people who were already going to be there or were already looking to get there. Subscriptions and search terms if you will. Except there is no "there" to get to. Their "there" is actually just "they". All by themselves looking for preaching that they want to hear because they already agree with what's being preached.

This church metaphor is a bit sloppy but stick with me.

That's not the kind of preaching that happened before we decided church could exist online arbitrarily. When you when to a church you heard what the pastor wanted to preach. You could leave and find another church but the same problem would be there too. You were either disciplined by that sermon or you were at odds with it. You had no choice in the content of the sermon before the sermon started, and the pastor had no real control over the congregation unless he wanted to limit who could come to church in the first place.

Things like Twitter, reverse this dynamic like a mirror. Exactly like a mirror to be sure.

On Twitter, those with something to say are only found by people who already want to find them because of what they say. They can tag along in the comments but unless someone likes the meme they post under another person's tweet, what happens on Twitter is pre-selection of content not a proliferation of content. The role of Twitter is to get a one-sided view of the things you want to see. The kind of view a pulpit gives a pastor who wants to see his congregation. To be able to say what you want and receive responses you want for that speech. Because every pastor does that. They want their sermon to affect their congregation, the same way we want to be affected by the people we follow on Twitter. The pulpit turns around and the megaphone becomes deafening to the reality that actually exists in the world. You don't subscribe to a church you are a member of, you attend. You don't seek out the voice and content of a pastor, you submit to his leadership and spiritual gift of teaching. It's a fundamentally Christian relationship and that's the rub we feel when Christians collide online. Because online Christian anything it's not a fundamentally Christian relationship. It's a technologically Christian relationship. 

This is what happens when the lens of what "can be online" gets viewed as a place. We simply switch perspectives as if we are in a room we never paid the rent for. And for the most part, this works, when it works, because it has no reason not to work. Until it stops working, we take the stated nature of online spaces and try to treat them like what we say they are. Digital spaces. But that's not what they are. 

They're digital things.

When you post something theological on Twitter you enter into a "space" where all you can do is provide a preselection of content like that which you have posted. But take one small step outside that worldview and you see that there are what would have been debated in the real world. Trapped to one side of a pulpit we curate, those theological posts seem perfectly in place. But when the congregation realizes what's up, the problems start to show up with them.

The problem with preaching to the choir from your pocket pulpit is that the choir is on the stage too and can drown you out in an instant. They are louder in a group than your single microphone will ever be and are well-practiced at all saying the same thing. Which is only a problem if the guy behind the pulpit wanted to use the stage to say bad things about the choir currently singing over him.

All of a sudden the choir is blocked by the pulpit and its preacher. It's no longer on his stage. Still on a stage to be sure, but not his. The choir gets blocked for interrupting the preacher, for singing a tune that distracts the pastor's congregation from the sermon he wanted to preach. The choir retains their congregation via their stage, and the pastor his. By curating the audience everyone gets a congregation that wants to be there and that they want to be there. 

The block button becomes a personal denomination. Making sure what a baptist thinks and what a reformed baptist thinks don't have to mingle as if they belonged to the same body of Christ.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:15-26 English Standard Version

The block button can only divide this church when it's used for individuals and not for the group. Because it's not about how Twitter is used for hosting online worship services, because it really doesn't do that. 

When a pastor blocks a model on Twitter, whose sole source of content is the exposure of her body for the sexual attention of men, he maintains control of the digital pulpit and also the digital pew. Used against active sin, the block button becomes a rod to protect a flock and the shepherd from the wolf instead of a barn to hide both in. This is still very much part of the audience curation feature of Twitter. If there were a button that could ban every Twitter account from Twitter that posted porn, why wouldn't a pastor push it? 

But we know what the Bible says about things like porn posting Twitter accounts, even when the bible doesn't mention Twitter or things like Twitter. We take the principles of righteous living and apply them. Easy peasy. But the Bible has plenty to say about unity between Christians too.

You do not get to have a platform that can host all the Christians without the same troubles that got us into denominationalism in the first place. And the block feature knows this. That's why it exists. To separate people. But Christians aren't meant to be separate from one another, are we? We're supposed to be in conflict. 

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 English Standard Version

The romantic notions of personal discipleship and healthy dialogue go out the window with Christian Twitter. Not because the place is filled with sinners, which it is, but because it's filled with saved sinners. Before anything like Twitter existed, you did the same back-and-forth debating, now quite cowardly called trolling, in person with your pastor or bible study group. To leave that group over theological differences that you thought were heretical meant effectively saying to the hand, this foot doesn't need you.

Now make that body of Christian unity something where a single Twitter account leaving, is like losing a hair, or since we're blocking things, covering up a pimple. That's the scale of having as many Christians together in a place that's still sinful, this world. The sinful place isn't Twitter, Twitter is a thing remember not a place. 

Christian Twitter isn't the sit-down coffee-fueled discipleship class your group's pastor holds in their four-level spit suburban house. It's a theological mosh pit. Blink182 best put this concept in a line from their song "Parking lot" and I quote "10 bucks to get into a fight you can't win." Though, apparently, Elon thinks that $8.00 gets you your cover charge for a blue check mark.

That violence and passion and pain and grind of the mosh pit is a feature, not a bug. And I would argue it's a feature Christians need to take seriously or not take at all. You don't get to be an honest Christian on Twitter while you block other Christians for a second-tier theological disagreement. There are no denominations online just believers trying to figure it all out. So when you block Beth Moore because you think women can't be pastors and they block you back for being toxically masculine, both of you are trying to amputate the other digitally and will enjoy the pleasant surprise of who greets who in heaven. 

This isn't a plea for theological homogeneity, it's a plea for iron to sharpen iron when two or more pieces of iron are present. There will be no catechism of online Christianity to inform us when to block what we would call a heretic because they stopped being Christian. Or what terms we've just decided aren't Christian because we've said so with enough followers or re-tweets. That's because a singular worldview and theology isn't the point of Twitter, the point is to give everyone a chance to hop in and connect with people via their posts. The more naive of us saw the excitement and thought it was just fun and not fun mixed with said connecting. Like the way, a body hits you in the fray of a good punk concert. Or in other words, don't jump off the stage you set up if you don't know what jumping in entails. 

There are no Christian trolls on the internet because trolls are fictional and the internet is not a place they could live in anyway. Its the philosophically stained floor of a dive bar, where MXPX is playing "The Darkest Places"--- (Lyrics here for the uninitiated)

Do yourself a favour and listen to that one before you block someone from Big Eva, or a Theobro who likes J-Mac more than being winsome.