The deification of artificial intelligence has taken another big step forward after a German church served as a venue for ChatGPT to deliver a sermon it created to a crowd of 300 believers during a major Protestant congress.
Reported by the Associated Press on June 10, St. Paul’s church in Fuerth was “fully packed” as attendees took time out of their weekend lives to attend a “sermon” written by ChatGPT and “personified by an avatar of a bearded Black man on a huge screen above the altar.”
The article clarifies that “four different avatars on the screen, two young women, and two young men” completed the entire process.
For 40 minutes, patrons listened to an “expressionless face and monotonous voice” partake in “sermon, prayers and music” created by Jonas Simmerlein, a 29-year-old, described as a “theologian and philosopher” at the University of Vienna.
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In an interview with AP, Simmerlein said, “I conceived this service — but actually I rather accompanied it, because I would say about 98% comes from the machine.”
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AP explained that the service was actually part of the semi-annual Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, a conference of religious believers that spanned “hundreds of events” among Protestants spread between Nuremberg and Fuerth.
Simmerlein briefly explained his prompting, “I told the artificial intelligence ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher … what would a church service look like?’”
“You end up with a pretty solid church service,” he added.
Despite the promulgations, AP was forced to admit that the bot drew laughter at times as it dropped cliched expressions like “to keep our faith, we must pray and go to church regularly.”
Audience reviews were a mixed bag at best.
One 51-year-old woman told AP, “There was no heart and no soul…The avatars showed no emotions at all, had no body language and were talking so fast and monotonously that it was very hard for me to concentrate on what they said.”
While a 31-year-old man, a pastor from another town who “brought a group of teenagers from his congregation” said of the experience, “I had actually imagined it to be worse.”
“But I was positively surprised how well it worked. Also the language of the AI worked well, even though it was still a bit bumpy at times,” he added.
Simmerlein has deep faith in artificial intelligence, claiming, “Artificial intelligence will increasingly take over our lives, in all its facets.”
“And that’s why it’s useful to learn to deal with it,” he added.
The ChatGPT event was not the only unseemly eye catcher during the Kirchentag.
German media outlet Welt reported on June 12 that during the closing sermon for the congress, 38-year-old pastor Quinton Ceasar, a black man adorned with flowing hair, made headlines after declaring “God is queer” to thousands of attendees from the podium.
Welt says Ceasar describes himself on Instagram as a “theologian activist pastor” and “digital creator” and made other statements that are unlikely to meet the requirements of the Christian faith’s scriptures, such as, “We are all the last generation,” and “black lives always matter.”
In 2022, the German Prosecutor’s Office opened a formal investigation into the group on “suspicion of the formation or support of a criminal organisation, disruption of public companies, trespassing and coercion,” the outlet noted.
In a second article, Breitbart quoted Ceasar’s speech further, where the man stated that those who think they understand the religion, yet “discriminates my siblings and me – because of our income, our skin colour, our disability or our queer identity” are unable to understand the Bible.
“God is always on the side of those who stand on the edge, who are not seen or not named. And if God is there, then there is also our place,” the man claimed.
German website Evangelisch reported that as far back as October of 2022 is when Ceasar was invited to give the closing sermon at this year’s event.
Audience reaction was not overly warm, Welt stated, “The speech had a mixed reception online. Some Twitter users described it as courageous and stirring, others complained that they would have expected such a speech at the ‘Green Party Congress’ and not at a church congress.”
Welt stated that despite the elimination of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown measures, the Congress enjoyed less attendees than it did before the pandemic.
Nonetheless, it sold 70,000 tickets for the event that totalled five days in all.
Artificial intelligence and the potential modification of religion is a topic that has gained significant chatter in recent weeks.
On June 6, World Economic Forum (WEF) collaborator Yuval Noah Harari drew ire from the conspiracy theory circles, which claimed that the WEF called “for AI to rewrite Bible, create ‘religions that are actually correct’.”
The comments were based on a video Harari posted to his YouTube channel of a May interview with a journalist during an event in Portugal where he told the audience that artificial intelligence is “the first technology ever that can create new ideas.”
Elaborating, he added, “You know, [Johannes] Gutenberg printed the Bible in the middle of the 15th century; the printing press printed as many copies of the Bible as Gutenberg instructed it, but it did not create a single new page.”
“It had no ideas of its own about the Bible: Is it good? Is it bad? How to interpret this? How to interpret that?” Harari continued.
“AI can create new ideas. It can even write a new Bible.”
“Throughout history, religions dreamt about having a book written by a superhuman intelligence, by a non-human entity,” Harari stated, adding that, “In a few years, there might be religions that are actually correct…just think about a religion whose holy book is written by an AI.”