Friday 16 February 2024

A Litmus Test For Worshiping Large Language Models.


I make a lot of fuss about the similarities of what mankind is doing with A.I. and what mankind has done with idols. The comparison often falls on deaf ears, stuffed with Airpods, and I plant my feet firmly in the sands of what it means to do theology honestly in the face of no longer being a cool kid.

I get called a traditionalist and old-fashioned and get accused of holding the church back from using new technologies, and have yet to, but expect it shortly, get told that my hesitance is tantamount to sin because of where and what these technologies can do for the church. I'm waiting patiently for that last one. I know it's coming, and this blog post is my litmus test for the idol worshipers who will bring that last question to me.

I don't mind being called names that don't apply to theologians doing their jobs. I don't mind being labelled with words that get thrown like distractions either. Because I've learned over the years that if there's one thing pagans hate. It's being labelled properly. Use of words like sodomy, mutilation, sexual deviant and pervert, gets their metaphorical panties in a bunch, and their actual panties in a bunch. So if you're following along in the hymnal, you know who I'm talking about when I say those three or four identifying words. You know because labels only mean things when they relate to and describe the person place or thing being labelled. Call a married couple with three beautiful kids "sexual deviants" for their behaviour, and the label falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. But it sticks to the rainbow flag like velcro and is just as loud when you try to separate it unironically. 

I say all this to illustrate what properly addressing sin and impropriety can look like in one realm. So you can imagine how it looks in another realm as well.

So where's the litmus test? And how does this relate to A.I.?

Simple.

Can you imagine an area of human experience in which A.I. as we have it now, can't make it potentially better?

Let's give you some options to choose from to start. Let's take Dating, Cooking, Real Estate, and Microbiology.

If you're being honest with yourself and your understanding of the nature of generative A.I., can that same A.I. make any of these wildly disparate and broad themes better. We both know the answer like we both know what the word marriage actually means, or man, or woman, but popular discourse has wormed its way into our lives and will soon be on parade on a regular basis as well. A.I. is being heralded as the Salvation and Destruction of the world as we know it, and is being crammed into everything that it can fit into, onto, and otherwise around. It's already in the church and that's where I come in because it shouldn't be on principle. But most people can't see why. Or maybe, they can't say why. 

When you do this litmus test, when you find the answer being yes for all four of the categories listed above, I'm hoping that you realize what happened when I posed the question. Because it really didn't matter which words I gave you. It didn't need to be Dating, it could have been Demographics. It didn't need to be Cooking, it could have been Cars. And it didn't need to be four categories, it could have been one. But often, we need a body of evidence to see the problem. And the problem is that you can in fact apply A.I. to everything you can think of. And it's really only been mainstream for a year or so now.

Being able to be everywhere from Cooking to Cars and Dating to Demographics, in the same way and for the same reasons is a kind of omnipresence. Not all tech is like this. Hammers enjoy no such ubiquity even though they do tend to see every problem as a nail when given the chance. In that regard, A.I. and hammers are alike. They insist upon themselves. But the hammer, wrongly thinks that the solution to modern dating is hitting things with a hammer. I'm not convinced A.I., and those who worship, it are so dissuaded.

Yes. I used the word Worship because I meant the word worship and that's because I used the word omniprecence and meant that too. Even if I didn't Bold it for you I know what it means to try to be a god. And that's because I have a relationship with God. You don't need a hammer to be everywhere the same way you don't need a phone to be everywhere either. Though that little piece of tech came close. A.I. is on a trajectory to hit its target hard. We need A.I. to fit everywhere because that's what you require from small-g gods. 

An idol, properly understood, is the physical manifestation of a demonic power.

"Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not."

1 Cor 10 18-23 KJV

Now that's an honest exaggeration so long as it's still the hammer treating every problem like a nail. But A.I. isn't getting that kind of treatment. Is it? We all know that A.I. could be the modern-day version of a small-g god and we all dismissed it as meat sacrificed to idols too. The issue here isn't that the people who use A.I., specifically in the church, think that A.I. is a small-g god. The issue is they're not treating it like it's anything less than that. 

It's one thing to buy your top sirloins from the back of Baal's BBQ. Because you know it's cheap and it makes for good fare at the men's bible study. It's another thing to host the bible study and cook the steak to Baal's specifications as if the preparation didn't matter so long as you call them Jesus steaks. The meat isn't a problem if it's being treated as meat. But if it's treated like the sacrifice that it was. If it's honoured or valued or even given preference to. Then we have a problem and a conflict of what we partake in.

This is why I don't think it's a problem, at all, for Christians and pastors to use artificial intelligence in the things they do. Like when Grammarly shows me where I've misspelled Deutoronomy. Because that is a Christian using a tool for the tool's intended purpose. And that purpose is subjective based on it's use. Not neutral, subjective. Grammarly, certainly edits what little is left of the articles written for porn these days. But that it's used for x-rated articles and sermons alike is secondary to its use as a spell checker. There's no conflict here except for really, really, REALLY weak brothers in Christ. But there is conflict for the normally weak brothers in Christ who dabble in writing worship songs, sermons or asking prayer-like questions with generative A.I. because "It's just a tool, bro." 

What that is, is Idolatry. It is the presupposing of divine attributes into or onto an object that man has made. 

Worship songs should be coming from the conviction of a Holy Spirit and Believer in unison and through that same Holy Spirit's gifts. Not a data set and prompts. 

Sermons, similarly, are the outcropping of a spiritual gift, not content to be generated. A pastor who can't find time to properly search the scriptures and craft a sermon, isn't strapped for time and resources in the busy modern church office. He's biblically unqualified to lead.

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"

1 Tim 3:2 KJV

When we introduce generative A.I. into this what we are asking of the A.I. is what is supposed to come from God. You can not ask an object for spiritual blessings and expect God not to treat you as he would an idolater. Because that's what you're doing. Or were you confused about who this next verse might be talking about? 

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

Matt:7:21-23 KJV

These two examples of sermons and worship songs, are two of the growing list of examples of where Christians don't see that they are doing exactly what pagans are doing with their tech. But calling it "Christian" as if that authorizes the practice and makes it fit for Christian consumption. The same pagans, I might add, that are scared to death of what happens when their A.I. god gets bigger than they can manage and prompt. They're terrified of the nightmarish, sci-fi possibilities of an all-knowing entity and wanted to pump the breaks around the same time we were letting this kind of thing preach in German churches.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P9oSgrT35o


We just sing Sunday school songs about Him.

 


Wednesday 25 October 2023

A Change Of Coates' Now That It's Flu Season.


I should start off by saying it has been a hot minute since I stopped writing about COVID and tyranny and started writing about where that tyranny pushed the church. My focus as a writer has been and is the relationship the church has with technology in general. But to not address what was one of the iconic moments of my province during the last few years in relation to where COVID pushed the church, Well, that would just be cowardly.

James Coates was acquitted of all charges of health order violations along with his church a few months ago. All, not some, not (but we'll stick you with a big fine for the sake of the crown.) some, All. 

Shortly thereafter, Tim Stephens had all his charges withdrawn by the court.

These two pastors were held up by the media as objects of derision for the churches that would comply and close their doors. And while I would love to get into the nitty-gritty of all the things the COVID mandates did to change how we did church and truly how we do church now, I'm going to focus on one aspect. Moving our churches online.  

These two pastors chose not to merely accept the baseless assumption of moving their church services online as a valid activity in the face of the risks COVID presented. In doing so, they both ran against the grain of the church at large, which almost uniformly moved online in one capacity or another. Barna Reports that 96% of churches moved online as early as 2020, But these two men stayed firmly in the 4% that remained. While the new field and market of online church service began to bloom and the government began to arrest pastors for exercising their constitutional rights, we saw what might be one of the biggest changes to church liturgy or ecclesiology happen across almost every denominational background. That being the equivalency of online worship and in-person worship.

The church at large decided that online worship was not only a possibility but was the right thing to do. And they did so in the face of a small minority of church leaders like Coates and Stephens that did not. This minority was painted as wrongdoers and the online church was the obvious right thing to do given the circumstances. Those logging in and signing up for online church were being righteous and what was happening at Gracelife and Fairview Baptist, was just plain wrong. We could be sure of them knowing it was wrong because of federal law enforcement fitting nicely into a simplistic understanding of Romans 13, but more on that later. 

The issue we face is that the same government that declared them to be wrong, found them to be acquitted of their wrongness, and withdrew their charges. If these two pastors weren't the bad guys legally, if they weren't the law-breaking radicals the news and government painted them as. Who were they?

The problem with handing Romans 13 to a secularized government, like all of them we have up here in the true north strong and free-ish, is that if you don't teach it to them right, because you don't understand it right, then they end up twisting scripture to do wrong in the name of God's word. We simply can not have a freedom to exercise our religion that can not be infringed upon or abridged or abrogated, if three layers of fencing or a health order can do the impinging or abrogating. A health minister should have near total authority to do what is needed to be done during a pandemic response, but the charter is written as to be a total authority with measures put in place to make sure no one else gets near it. And it got trampled on like the lawns of Gracelife as the fence went up. 

James And Tim clearly knew this when they took their stand and the health ministry did too. That's why there are measures put into the Emergency Act as to grant universal amnesty to the health minister for actions done in good faith. Pastors who act on their good faith, because they have good faith, well, they get to go to court.

And while I'm happy for Fairview Baptist and Gracelife and the people I know that no longer attend my church that closed but attend these churches that stayed open, we have a lingering issue to deal with in the church at large.

You see if the government loses a lawsuit like this, it isn't like it's some neutral party to that loss, despite the assurances the Emergencies Act gives the plaintiff. If these pastors are now acquitted of all wrongs. Then the plaintiff was wrong to arrest them, jail them, but most of all, it was likely wrong in the ways it told churches to worship in alternative ways, unlike these two churches. We were told by our government and our churches that we could simply if not by concession, worship online. And that this was the right thing to do in light of the wrong things being done over at Gracelife and Fairview Baptist, We Romans 13'd our way to live-streamed at-home eucharist and these men spent a few months in jail. We were told we were doing things the right way, and that was contrasted by trying our very best to not talk about what was being portrayed as the wrong way.

I could rip into the individual communion servings. The ways we did weddings and funerals and a host of other things. But I want to write about how the church went online. Because prior to all the nonsense, we had every opportunity to move church online without a government essentially telling us to do so. Youtube accounts are free as are their reach and effectiveness. If the Government told us to do so from a position of wrongness, was our move online during the pandemic an exercise in righteousness? Would you have made the changes to your church, (I'm talking to you, pastors) that you did, in how you look at the online service model, had you not been in a position of either causing a super spreader event or going to jail? Because the capacity to do so was freely available to the church for a decade or so prior to the pandemic.

But you did make changes, changes that had no theological backing only pragmatic ends. And those changes were lauded by a government now found in the wrong for insisting on those changes at Gracelife at the point of a gun. If you listened to that insisting on the right thing to do at your church, insisted on that particular interpretation of Romans 13, then any way you swing it now, you got that wrong. The pastors that went against the grain and ended up in jail for it, turns out, were doing what they not only were allowed to do, but what they should have been doing.

Does that not put us in the position of having done what we shouldn't have as the church at large?

Again, Barna reported that 96% of pastors moved their churches online in some capacity in 2020. leaving a very narrow gate of 4% that either did nothing or did enough of something to catch the eye of authorities. 96% of pastors who historically don't agree on baptism, women in leadership, church membership, the end times, scriptural authority, wine in the eucharist and what to think about rainbow flags. Yet somehow all agreed that online church is a valid and appropriate place to practice worship. Even when it isn't a place.

That needs to be brought back up for the kinds of questioning and cross-examination that pastors like  Coates and Stephens are all too familiar with. The reasons we move online are not just blind progress and if you let blind progress and pragmatism get you online. You now have a reason to at least check your motivations. 

Because fear is the worst reason to do online church, and I fear, it's the only reason we're 96% in favour of it right now. Or at least it was.

So, take this to your next general assembly or annual meeting or bible study if need be. Do it in person. do it without a mask on and ask the church a few things. 

Why are we online? 

Why did we go online?

And, Do 96% of us think we fit on the narrow path or not.


Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 King James Version (KJV)

Friday 25 August 2023

A Hand Up The "Ehem, Interpretation" Of A Biblical Puppet.


We all get told at Bible college that eisegesis is a poor way to make our arguments in any faith conversation because it doesn't say what the text said, it says what we want to say by using the words of the text. This twisting of scripture is problematic on a number of levels but mostly because it makes the focal point of the text used for justification, the person's own mind and not the original intention of the Holy Spirit, that wrote the words down through the biblical authors.

Now that doesn't mean that a verse at any given time only has one given meaning or interpretation because the word is living and active. (Heb 4:12). But it does mean that when you notice someone is taking a verse out of its clear context and that you should be offering correction after listening or offering a refusal to listen in the first place.

But this exists in the give-and-take world of Christian debating, which is at least the kind of human event to expect humans to act like and sin like humans do.

What happens when we remove the human part of the equation? 

Does the debating still happen?

Various "Well-meaning" actors in the church tech world seem to think so, as the generation of bible A.I.'s did not take that long to green light. Like the top Google hit of bible.ai which purports to be a powerful tool for people seeking a deeper understanding of God's word. But as you dig a little deeper into the function of the tool, you begin to realize something about the answers the glorified chatbot (and I do mean glorified) is giving you. Specifically, that it won't give you an answer that isn't couched in some form of interpretation. If you ask it about the sinfulness of homosexuality, it always divides its holy words with a "however" when asked about the standard fare of controversial topics. Plainly put, if you take a reformed view of scripture, and call sin, sin, the A.I. bible will give you a "however" and explain why doing so isn't the best version of Christianity to be practiced. That perhaps you need an upgrade.

An interesting note is that culturally risky topics such as bestiality seem to still get a flat biblical response, with no "however", even a call for repentance if the questioner is possibly practicing the sin in question. But should those sins have a flag and a parade slotted in for June, the "however's" persist.

What you're seeing here is a very complicated puppet, paper mache'd out of the pages of your Bible. No matter what is on the outside, it still has a progressive hand up its ass, making it pronounce the "however's" and respect the pronouns. It looks like the Bible on the outside. The words of the scriptures that are glued to the puppet's carcass give it that credence. You can see that it looks like the Bible and enough of your mental guards go down as you approach this strange new way of interacting with God's word. But inside of the puppet is always someone wanting to say something while hiding their face, or throwing their voice. That's how puppets work. And this one, in particular, lets you know that reality any time you ask about sodomy. 

The irony is disgustingly palpable.

You would reject an app on your phone with a golden calf icon that planned your child's sacrifice for you, with just as much convenience and ease, the very same way you accept that yoga is "just stretching." but in reverse. Knowing how idols work is more than just recognizing the materials they are made of and avoiding the golden statues in your life. Because how the idol benefits you is agnostic to its relation to the worship of God. The big idea is that this new age of technologically empowered churches is going to be the concept of "Christian-Flavoured Idols". Things that mask themselves as orthodoxy 2.0, but are just the next version of idolatry, but this time with three cameras or no headphone jack. 

There is a necessity of twisting of scripture, inherent to this automated bible answering machine, that is being overlooked. You can't let the Bible talk for itself without human intervention because the words of God once recorded have already been touched by the hands of man, or written them. But this isn't just an addition to the canon. That would be too obvious and, again, dismissed as wrong at the onset. This is an adjustment of the canon. This is making a verse like Lev 18:22 or 1 Tim 2:12 say "however", when it doesn't. This isn't a commentary on what the words in those verses mean. This is adding to them so you can't know what they mean plainly. You can not find a way to make a "Shall Not" mean anything but "Shall Not", unless you add a "however". And once you do you are not giving the reader the Hebrew root for "Shall" or the contextually biblical meaning of "Not"

But what is happening is an ultra-convenient avenue for people to not have to wrestle with "Shall Not". The spirit of the age of internet porn learned that it did not need the children of God to actually have sex with temple prostitutes to worship the false gods of technology. It could simply attack other appetites. Like sloth. You could get a real bible that can't be remotely edited. You could learn Hebrew and Greek, or you could surrender all those freedoms of intellect to an app that you don't control and that adds "however" to the Bible where it needs to. No more arduous Bible study. We have a single button to press for our demands of the scriptures, to say what we want them to say.

If a bible A.I. doesn't only respond with the Bible, it necessarily will have the ability to answer questions of it by avoiding the use of the Bible altogether. If it can add a "However" it can subtract anything put there by the same sinning human hands that wrote the Bible in the first place. Which is why it's important to know that humans didn't just write the Bible. The Holy Ghost did this through His humans. And no part of The Trinity is adding "however" to its already completed and perfect word of God. That's being done by the hidden hand, literally. And it's still up the puppet's ass. 

What we need to stop doing, as it pertains to technological use, is stop using it like idol worshipers. At a praxiological level, technology needs to serve the mission and not contradict the heads of that missionary movement. There is wisdom in using a sharp tool for the work of sharp tools and not complaining that an axe grows dull as if it doesn't affect the work. Or refusing a chainsaw when the invention reveals itself. But when the chainsaw begins to let you know that building houses is the leading cause of tree death, or that pulp mills are often used to supply paper to extremist Christian literature printing. Well, then you need to start looking for a whetstone. 

A.I. could be the next great thing for missions, but it's currently demonstrating to be the next place progressive ideologies hide from reformers with hammers and theses.  If we're not careful we will follow its suggestions to hop off whatever cliff it needs us to, to stay progressive and ideological. And God might not be there to catch our fall, because of how our A.I. prompts were worded.

"And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

Luke 4:9-12 King James Version

Friday 18 August 2023

Is It Okay For Christians To Autofill.


In a recent article on churchleaders.com , James Emery White did a great job of illustrating the need for wisdom in an age of asking Google things. And the associated why's that orbit that particular part of our modern-day culture. Here's a link for those interested. 

But that title was frankly wasted on such nice writing. 

Can Christian autofill? At all? Do we even have the resources available to answer the should question when it's not attached to moveable objections in our faith via culture at large. Because we've asked this question in every variation and the answer is always yes, if we give it enough time. 

Can Christians use drums in worship, Yes, but only yes after some hesitation?

Can they use digital Bibles instead of leatherbound ones? Yes, but only after some hesitation

Can they? Can they? Can they?

Yes, yes, yes. But only after the hesitation works its way out of our late adopters first.

What you see here is how change management works and how wisdom is necessary to make it work. This is seasoned advice on how to drive a car when a road trip is warranted. Its directions are based on the next turn ahead from the passenger to the driver.

But what if where you're driving isn't a road anymore?

There's a delightful experience everyone needs and that is the delightfully plain and slightly busy trip from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, by ferry. Because there is one of the few times when you get to "Drive" across the water that sinks most cars that attempt it by themselves. Tragedy is avoided by "driving" onto a ferry, that sails and at no point does your car need waterproofing, outboard motors, or a mast, because what you were doing and what you are doing get mingled by what something entirely else can do.

Can you drive to Vancouver Island? You'll never leave your car if you don't want to, but does that mean you drove? that kind of odd but technical detail matters more than you'd think it would these days. I blame it on all the fake news your read on the internet, and the Deepfakes that cause problems for Christian men there also.

What's not happening in the act of using autofill in anything, is words from nowhere coming to save you. That can happen in real life but doesn't happen with autofill. What is happening is a complicated and calculated series of processes that are designed to remove you from the writing that needs autofill. Even the smallest grammar fix by the spell-checking red line is an adjustment to how you think. Maybe you think with bad grammar, but maybe you think the way you do, and trading a "which" for a "this" alters how you would say something.

At its heart, autofill is a surrender of control and an admission of ignorance or apathy.

Where this becomes a problem for Christians is we have generative processes of our own that are for things bigger than our tweets and emails. Namely our preaching. Our sermons have one foot firmly in the Holy Ghost's power and no clear line to the ferry that is the technological intrusion into the writing process. 


"But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost."

Mark 13:11 King James Version


Now ask yourself. Is the spell checker in MS word, or on your iPhone, or in the care of Grammarly, sharing that indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

There's a very big difference between using a tool to compensate for mistakes and mistaking a tool for a person that works for you. And that's the fundamental issue of Artificial intelligence. Not the intelligence part. We can tell the machine was made by some very smart people. It's the artificial part. Because We want human interaction. Christ did not come to die for Siri and ChatGPT. But those two "voices" will be used to preach his gospel and it will be because of a passive understanding of where the proto-A.I. we've all been using led us. Straight to troubled waters that we'll need a boat to cross with. 

While hindsight is 20/20. Technological habits are historically fuzzy. We'll use the same justification for any given technologies use, to justify further progressive use of it. Everyone does it. Any pastor looking to look authoritative on the use of A.I, will point to things like spell check and autofill to show we are already using A.I. So, we must therefore be fine with it. But I want to argue that like our aforementioned rod trip to Vancouver Island. We're only now approaching the shores of what might be our engine's doom if we're not careful. We may have ignorantly but honestly thought we could drive where only boats doth tread. But now that we can see the breakers over the dash, perhaps we should pump the breaks a bit. 

Yes, we've been using forms of A.I. for a while now. But now we see where those roads lead. So back to our original question. Can Christians use autofill?

No. At least not for ministry purposes. Because then it stops being a Christian doing the filling and it becomes an object doing it instead. More specifically an object used in the service of a God that forbids objects in worship. Especially ones that do the kinds of wordsmithing that most auto-fills do. 


"Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"

Exodus 20:3-5 King James Version


We all get the graven image part. That means mand made in today's nomenclature. And there are not many theologians that will bicker on the mand madness of A.I. systems of any shape and size. but two more words I'd like to draw your attention to are "Likeness" and "Bow Down". Okay, that's three. But stick with me.

Likeness comes from Strong's 8544,

"8544 tmuwnah tem-oo-naw' or tmunah {tem-oo-naw'}; from 4327; something portioned (i.e. fashioned) out, as a shape, i.e. (indefinitely) phantom, or (specifically) embodiment, or (figuratively) manifestation (of favor):--image, likeness, similitude."

and Bow Down from Strong's 7812

"7812 shachah shaw-khaw' a primitive root; to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God):--bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship."

It's that obeisance part that's going to come back to bite us because it's a word not often used these days, which is generally the case for things that bite. It means to express deferential respect. and in the context of objects involved in worship, would mean respecting what the object says. The idols in the Bible were in fact mute statues and high places. Ours have text-to-voice now.

What happens when you accept Grammarly's re-writing of your sentence if not an act of conscience to what is ostensibly an object. In the context of religious expression objects necessary for the practice of worship would otherwise be considered idols. Or representations of what's being worshiped. The Holy Spirit prompts you to say one thing and creates those words, like he does all things, Ex Nihlo, or actually out of nothing. However grammatically incorrect as it may be, compared to Grammarly's programming, it still is what the Holy Spirit wants you to say. Clicking the autofill to switch which's for this's alters that and give a slight if not noticeable nod to the programing that Grammarly houses in its servers. It's because those servers house a likeness of human writing for the programming to draw from to illicit that nod of "You're right, I didn't mean to write that." All that's missing from that little piece of inner monologue is the "Forgive me." at the end. And if you don't think the kinds of A.I.'s that are being trained won't start asking for confessions, you're simply not paying enough attention. Remember, large language model A.I.'s are being trained by what we put online. And the central heart of our faith is the gospel that preaches forgiveness upon confession. 

This is different than typing "from" instead of "form" because your fingers type faster than your inner monologue and the "F" and "R" buttons are so close, along with a program that knows these two words are often confused, which flags it for your review. It's the assumption that it gets to write for you on account of you. A spell checker might use the same bricks as the tower of Bable, but instead builds a road out of them. The medium being the message doesn't lock the message down to a singular form. The message of electric light isn't light, like McLuhan says, but late-night baseball and brain surgery now being done in the dark. McLuhan saw this coming but we seem to be looking in the rearview mirror on our road trip to the future of church tech. So much so that we're not going to notice we're in deep until there are fishes chasing our men. Sermons, as it were, written with spellcheck in hand aren't apostate by nature but are closer to it than they would likely ever notice. And that's the point.

As Technology progresses and gets more and more entwined, not only with our lives but with our minds, we are going to need ways to set boundaries for things that act like people. Buter, shouldn't be the only one waging a war against thinking machines, when justified. And if you don't know what Butler I'm writing about. you have some reading to do. 

As for those thinking machines, you are already at war with them, whether you know it or not. And because they think like machines, their plan is to keep you never knowing.

Red letters before red lines, friends.



Friday 11 August 2023

The Technological Progress That Never Was.


Did technology progress throughout the scriptures? Or did we just find varied ways to do what God did first? 

I get a common response to most of my tweets when I challenge the blanket use of tech for church purposes. That response tries to get me back on my theological heels by asking a practical question. If I am against technology (x) then I likely am ignorantly, also, against technology (y), and thus a hypocrite by implication. This happens when I ask questions about the online church. Immediately the user on the other end says must then be against the Bible itself. Because the Bible is a form of technology. It was simply the technology of the day back when it was written. I'm the one looking for specks in the iPhone useage, likely because of a lack of depth in experience in the field. 

Touche. 

I'd like to offer a thought-provoking idea, or three, to those who can't see why online church and the Bible might be different kinds and modes of things. So...

En Garde!

What format of technology does God use like us? And the inverse. What forms of technology do we use like God?

When given the licence to use anything that works, or worse, seems to work. We can find ourselves in places that are painted with a Christian whitewash but are actually places filled with death to actual Christianity. Technology isn't neutral. As I've argued before. It's made by very not neutral people in relationship to the ultimate good person. So as we try to use it in feigned neutrality. We can gloss over the fact that much of what we enjoy as technological advancement isn't actually progress it's just speed. Yes, a word carved into stone is clear, but it can't be shared like a TikTok. So, therefore, we should share the gospel through TikTok's

However.

A letter written by hand and printed by the press and lasered by Xerox, are all text, but that same letter displayed on a screen is no longer just text the way a word written in the sand in front of an adulterous might be. One is pure communication, and the other is almost a conversation, with math alongside it as well.

Like this next sentence.

01100100 01101001 01100100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01110101 01101110 01100100 01100101 01110010 01110011 01110100 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00111111 00100000 01001001 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101111 01101101 01101001 01110011 01100101 00100000 01001001 00100111 01101101 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01101011 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01100110 01110101 01101110 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00101110 00100000 01100010 01110101 01110100 00100000 01001001 00100000 01100001 01101101 00100000 01110011 01101000 01101111 01110111 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01101000 01101111 01110111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101011 01101001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01110100 01100101 01111000 01110100 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100100 01101001 01100110 01100110 01100101 01110010 01100101 01101110 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101011 01101001 01101110 01100100 00101110 00100000 

If you failed to understand the last sentence, it's because you failed to understand the language being used. Go to this website, https://www.convertbinary.com, and copy and paste the zeros and ones. 

Now, is that how God used text. No. While we might not speak the Hebrew that was used. God still wrote the original 10 commandments in Hebrew for Hebrews. He communicates with the people he wants to communicate with and then they preserve that communication, often by recording what he said, which would by necessity need to be translated for us. But is never translated for the audience it first was given to. because that's where editable meanings tend to come from.

God participates in the communication he has with his people, with the medium his people receive. He doesn't give us information by means we don't understand. His instructions on marriage, murder, and the worship of Marduk are all the same kind of communication, even when captured by the technology of the day. Direct. The speed at which a technology can do the same kind of communication is not factored into his communication. He had every ability to give his word in every language at Sinai, seeing as his plan was to have the whole world reconciled to him. But he didn't.


"It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed."

Exodus 31:17-18 King James Version

"At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark."

Deuteronomy 10:1-2 King James Version


These words have been translated for us and copied for us in an effort to keep us connected to the original text alongside much of what the scriptures are. The verbal plenary inspiration is important because it connects us back to the times in our faith's history when God participated in the same forms of technological communication we used. This kind of incarnational act is absent in the digital world. though it is assumed because we see letters that look like the ones we can write on screens made of zeros and ones like the sentence above. But it comes to a head when the spoken word of God that was present when he intentionally wrote on tablets and walls in the old testament, subdivides the scriptures, and shows up in the flesh to write on the ground (John 8:1-11). And then authorize the writing of the new testament by association with him (2 Tim 3:16-17)

That's a different kind of thing than a blog. And not just because God did one and I'm doing the other. People can read my blogs as much and as easily as they could read a tablet with 5 commandments of 10 on them. They can even use a tablet to do so. Ipad for the win, right? But what they don't have is the text in the same way Moses had those tablets. Moses could hand the tablets to someone ignorant of them, all we can do online is copy the intent of what words are in real life. Ready for another thought-provoking question. Perhaps it's never crossed your mind, but the unbroken chain from you to Mt. Sinai exists because of how potent God's word is when written down on actual things.

Why was it important that Moses broke the first set of Tablets?

Because the Israelites were breaking the laws on them before they ever got them.

They were about to receive the clear and life-giving instruction of the Lord. On how to live in promised Land. Ushered into the land by the presence of the Lord so visible it lit their path in the night. 

And yet when left with no one to lead and no instructions, so their leader could get his paperwork done, what did they do?


"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play."

Exodus 32:1-6 King James Version

Why make an idol when you followed your God by cloud and fire to the base of a mountain to receive your way of life? Because you wanted to speed up the entrance into that life, on your terms. We get to speed again being the actual thing doing the heavy lifting. The speed of casting a molten idol filled the market's need for things to worship. It's not like there weren't idols carved of stone like the tablets were carved out of also. Idolatry fits into any medium available to it. Even ones we think are Christian because we use them for Christian things. But that is exactly what the Israelites tried to do. They tried to have an idol for the god leading them into the promised land. The problem was they had a God who was leading them to the promised land but that leading required that they participate in the same mediums of communication that he was. That they abstain from things, That they partake in things that others abstain from. And most of all that they set themselves apart.

This is just the tower of Bable with more steps. Instead of fire-baked bricks being the way they would get to heaven, they got a fire-birthed cow. And you don't get to heaven by your means. you get to heaven by God's means, which include the peculiar but steadfastly and historically resilient hand-written accounts of the gospel. 


"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;"

1 Peter 2:9 King James Version


Sorry, I forgot where the Old Testament version of this idea is, perhaps I should Google it. Moving on.

This is where the online church and online church tools deviate from orthodoxy. They claim a technological progress from the scriptures that was never there. They heard a catchy show number from Andrew Lloyd Webber talking about a lack of mass communication in Jesus' day and age, and thought, "Jeepers, why wouldn't Jesus have a Twitter account or an Instagram profile. Perhaps We should start one on his behalf. He really did pick the worse time to start off this whole proclamation of the gospel thing." Or maybe, just maybe, he did it in a way that can't be separated from who God is and also resists the marrying and muddying of the gold that all idols have. Because if ever there was a thing not to google, it's people who think they're Jesus online. I can promise you they are not the worse thing you'll find online though.

How many pornographic performances happen during your worship set? 

How many share your stage when you say your online presence is the new front door of your church? Every girl on Instagram showing more skin than sense is right next to your church's 30-second butchered sermon clip for the exact same engagement reasons. With nothing but an algorithm separating the two. And that's because they know people can in fact worship online but that worship uses online as an object of worship, Because the internet is a thing, not a place. 

Maybe, this is why the gospel, the greatest story ever told and the greatest single positive communication for mankind, has yet to go viral online. At least in any meaningful way. With leagues of supposed technological advancement and reach, the molten calf of online ministry is still feeble. It's just better at editing its photos so it looks successful. Like most people on Instagram. It has a really good TweetDeck on repeat and knows all the right angles and filters for its shine. But that still leaves us with the question. Why hasn't the gospel gone so viral that the same amount of people that know the Babyshark song, or who Joe Rogan is, or any other viral sensation, know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?

Maybe the medium is the message, like McLuhan said all along. And the medium of the internet might just be idolatry. You can use Idols to do ministry, But you generally have to use them the way Gideon did (Judges 6:25-32).

.  

One final thought provoker before I let you go.

When does God stop writing in the Bible?

He doesn't.


"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."

Revelation 20:11-12 King James Version


Writing is something God does, and he does that writing on a medium. Not in a way that can show what writing looks like but is actually zeros and ones. He writes words and gives them to us. even so much as to make the word flesh. There is a book waiting for you are the feet of Jesus and a white throne of judgement. He writes words and gives them meaning. And because he does that in Heaven, a place with no time to progress and no technology to get outdated, perhaps we should hold our technology at arms-length for more than just selfies. And truly assess if what we're doing is what God wants, or what we want God to want. 

There is no technological progress in the scriptures, and I would argue, God's plan for humanity. You've just been convinced of that by the use of technologies that require progress to exist. Could you even use an iPhone 3 to do ministry now? Could a streamed service for prayer and healing work in 360p? I can see that this is pagan magic just by turning down the resolution on my smartphone. I don't even need writing on my wall, who goes on Myspace anymore anyway. With that bit of late 2000s nostalgia, I'll leave you with this.

God's words, even his written ones, are eternal.


"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever."

Isaiah 40:8 King James Version

Friday 4 August 2023

The Feminist/Robot Cocktail Headed Our Way.


Continuing with the last post theme of jokes we ought to take a bit more seriously. I'd like to take a closer look at the odd relationship women in pastoral and church leadership roles, are going to have with the various forms of A.I. headed our way.

You would think that these two broad categories wouldn't interact past a lazy lady pastor using ChatGPT to phone in a sermon once or twice. Gender didn't even show up until I mentioned it just now. But the questionability between women behind the pulpit and A.I. powering the pulpit, pivot on the same hinge of orthodoxy. A hinge, We in the evangelical camp, tend to avoid instead of greasing so it stays quiet, instead of working quietly and in submission to Christ. 

But first the joke.

"Southern Baptists are more likely to Let ChatGPT preach a sermon than a woman."

Crass, I know. I did not write or retweet this joke to my knowledge, though I certainly bookmarked it. 

This came up in various theology-focused Twitter threads and lists as the edgy water tester as the Southern Baptist Convention, held to its founding documents and maintained that women can not be pastors in its associated churches. Prompting a brief and firey exodus from the convention of several influential, but frankly, out-of-line churches compared to said founding documents.

I have no dog in the fight past the obvious. We like to joke in my own church tradition that we are small "r " reformed. And while I tend to be more of an ALLCAPS-REFORMED kind of guy, I recognize that it's the Holy Spirit who makes the pastor. Not just the church. Including all the implications of that one-liner. 

Onto the robot part of this blog post.

The issue we are going to run up against is the issue of what words do when we draw on them for our authority and organization. Large language model A.I. systems, require that the words used in their training correspond to the same kinds of things in real life. If you ask an image generator to show you a picture of a salmon. It can and does give you pictures of a singular approximation of a salmon a fish with fins and a head on the right end of it and no hands to mess up. Some are speckled wrong and some have more fins or gills where there shouldn't be. But you still get what could be a salmon. We won't judge the early forms of this amazing tech too harshly. But it gets as much of the intent as possible down and we get a picture of what could be a fish. Ask it to show you a picture of salmon in a stream though (not a salmon singular but salmon plural), and it sometimes gives you delightfully hilarious pictures of fillets of pink salmon in the river as if that's how you caught them with your flyrod.

To it, The A.I. image generator, the criteria of what is being asked is being answered. You have salmon, a type of fish that lives in a stream, being shown in a stream. That the fish has been processed into salmon (the short term and same word for salmon fillets) is more a feature of our unique nature of language use and the way the name salmon can be both a singular and a plural. We might have the same problem with Moose as well.

Where this fishy business is going to come to a head is when similar A.I. down the road, are asked, for whatever reason, who can be a pastor and the apparent historical evidence will include women as if that is an option. While the instructive text on the matter will say things like...


"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"

1 Timothy 3:2 King James Version


Yes, Mary Magdeline was the first person to proclaim the gospel to the disciples. Christ had risen and as such the new covenant was in effect. There was now forgiveness of sins. She would have taught the men there this information that they did not know before, and God's work would have been done. His will would have been done and his joy made complete, by faithful children learning of his plan for salvation. But Bishops, Pastors, Overseers and any other name for the leaders of the church you'd like to use, have to be the husband of one wife.

Because contrary to the evidence online the bible says so. Now the robot has conflicting data

It's that pesky word husband that will cause all sorts of trouble to the robots because there will be a lot of wives claiming to be pastors in the A.I.'s training data. It will have to sort through lesbian couples of episcopalian churches where there are two wives married both claiming to be pastors. Alongside uber-reformed pastors whose wives don't even run the women's ministry. It will consider all of this and several classes of information more when asked about this gendered pastoral qualm. When asked to present its finding at the next SBC, it will still likely kick Elevation and Saddleback out of the conference.

And it won't be because, like the salmon fillets, it didn't understand the search terms or didn't have the right information to generate an answer for us. It will be because we asked it the wrong question as if the kind of response it gave us involving swimming salmon fillets wasn't an option, even incredulously. 

I'm keen on the idea and prediction that the next great church fight won't be on A.I. use, because of a theological distinction in the things it replaces. Things like sermons and songs. We generally don't pick those kinds of fights in evangelical circles anymore. We are too soft to hit a robot square in the jaw because he got too close to the temple of the Holy Ghost. No, our fight will be a troublesome theological slasher flick, where every time we try to use A.I. it shows up like Martin Luther on Halloween.

The grounds on which A.I. can preach or not are just as shaky as the grounds that the fairer sex walks on. Because if the robots are truly out to take our jobs in the clergy, then proving that they are our jobs would be a likely and necessary first step. To do that we land on verses that don't just say only humans can preach or should preach. Or that humans can lead or only lead. But that specific types of humans can and should and only should because they can, preach and lead.

And those humans are husbands. 

To prove that A.I. can't preach a sermon means to prove that sermons have intended preachers. If we do this biblically we will land on husbands, every single time. Which means, to explain how A.I. will be able to preach or not will be an exercise outside the scriptures. In the same way, while appearing to be something else, the exercise to explain how women can preach or not, necessarily deviates from the scriptures to accomplish its goals.

It doesn't need the salmon in the river to be fully alive and doing what God made them to do, to answer this question. It just needs salmon in the river, and fillets floating down the stream works enough for the girls we dance with.

Until you want to catch something. Or better yet, convince something to bite.

Jesus spoke of this too, to an entirely male audience to boot. And turned one of these audience members into the cornerstone of his church. The leader of leaders.


"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him."

Matthew 4:18-20 King James Version