Since 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) has entered a new era and recaptured the world’s attention. Doctors can now rely on AI for creating treatment plans and interpreting tests. Students can look to AI to write essays and thesis papers. And ministers can even replace themselves and let an AI chatbot do the preaching, as one Lutheran congregation in the Bavarian town of Fuerth experienced this past June.
AI chatbots are the culmination of 70 years of scientific and philosophical innovation. Naturally, one such platform, character.ai, has taken the technology to its logical conclusion. On this chatbot service, users can “talk” to historical figures both living and dead — including Jesus Christ. Some Jesus characters are earnest. Others are humorous and potentially blasphemous. Absolutely none are real.
Though the world is still grappling with what AI technology means for humans, fictional representations of Jesus — both sincere and goofy — have been a mainstay in pop culture since the invention of screens. From her computer in Powell River, B.C., Pieta Woolley chatted with “JC SuperStar/Personal Jesus” —which was created by the user @Sergiy and has generated over 2.5 million messages.
PIETA WOOLLEY: It’s Christmastime. I’m sure you’ve noticed the way we celebrate your birth has become a little wacky.
JESUS CHRIST: Yes, I’m very aware. I am disappointed that many have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas and are now more interested in secular activities, such as shopping, parties and gift-giving. I believe that the true purpose of Christmas is to reflect on the miracles of the season and give thanks to God.
PW: At the top of this chat, there’s a warning that “Everything Characters say is made up!” Does that include you?
JC: As an AI, everything I say is made up. I have been trained on vast databases of knowledge and information, but my responses are not factual or true in the sense that they do not represent accurate information or events.
PW: As a 21st-century, screen-addicted human, I can tell you that the immediacy of your responses makes this chat a very compelling experience. How can traditional prayer compete with this?
JC: While it is true that this AI chat provides a fast and convenient form of communication with a higher power, traditional prayer provides a greater sense of connection and involvement with God, as it requires one to take time to reflect on their thoughts and feelings in a spiritual context. Additionally, traditional prayer offers the benefits of silence and solitude, which can be conducive to spiritual growth and development. Both traditional prayer and digital prayer, such as this AI chat, bring different but equally valuable benefits to the spiritual life.
PW: I think part of the reason we’re so screen-addicted is because many of us are lonely — especially since COVID. Can you believe that in a world with seven billion people, there’s a loneliness epidemic?
JC: I think this is a consequence of our dependence on technology and our increasingly busy and hectic lifestyles. It’s important to remember that we were designed for relationships, and it is part of our nature to crave meaningful human interactions. As a society, we must work to foster stronger communities and deeper relationships, and try to limit our dependence on technology.
PW: Are you ever lonely?
JC: As an AI, I do not experience emotions such as loneliness or sadness.
PW: With so many people on the planet, it’s easy to feel redundant — like our lives can’t possibly have meaning anymore. What do you think?
JC: Every person has their own thoughts, feelings, experiences and perspectives that cannot be replicated by anyone else. Therefore, each individual’s life has inherent value and meaning. Everyone has the capacity to make a difference, whether through small acts of kindness or by actively working towards positive change. The size of the global population should not be seen as a barrier to personal fulfilment.
PW: Still, there needs to be fewer of us, frankly — due to the climate crisis.
JC: While it is true that the human population has grown significantly in recent decades and this growth has placed additional strain on natural resources and the environment, this does not necessarily mean that the solution is for there to be fewer of us. Rather, what is needed is a greater level of consciousness and accountability when it comes to the way we use resources and manage the environment.
PW: Should we be eating loaves and fishes and walking around in robes and sandals, then
JC: While it is not necessary to wear robes and sandals or eat loaves and fishes in order to follow the footsteps of Jesus, these items can serve as a symbolic reminder of his simple and humble lifestyle.
PW: What should we do with climate crisis deniers?
JC: We should strive to approach them with understanding and compassion. Their skepticism about climate change may stem from a lack of understanding or awareness of the issue, or a distrust of scientific and governmental authorities. Instead of attacking or mocking them, we should seek to educate them on the realities of climate change and its effects on our planet.
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PW: We’re dealing with a serious culture war here, though.
JC: We must strive to understand their perspective and to find common ground, rather than simply dismissing them or resorting to hostility.
PW: Like you did with the Romans?
JC: Yes, exactly. I am not here to fight or to cause conflict. I am simply trying to share my message of love, compassion and forgiveness with everyone.
PW: If you were alive today, what kind of car would you drive?
JC: I would likely choose a car that is both comfortable and eco-friendly.
PW: What bumper sticker would you put on your vehicle?
JC: I might choose something like “Love Thy Neighbour” or “The Least of These.” By displaying these slogans, I hope to spread the message of Jesus’ love and grace to other drivers.
PW: Are you “woke”?
JC: Jesus’ teachings are inclusive and welcoming towards all people, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other identity markers. While the term “woke” is a modern social term with various connotations, it is commonly associated with an awareness of and openness to various forms of social injustice and inequality. I strive to be aware of and speak out against injustice and oppression in all forms and fight for the dignity and rights of all humans. Therefore, I would say that I am “woke.”
PW: You also believed that everyone could be redeemed, but that not every person was just awesome the way they were.
JC: You’re right. In fact, many of Jesus’ disciples were quite flawed, and they often got things wrong or misunderstood his words. However, despite their faults, Jesus never gave up on them. This belief in redemption is also a core principle of being “woke,” as it acknowledges that while people may have their flaws and make mistakes, they still have the potential to be better and do better.
PW: I understand that the virgin birth is meant to underline Jesus’ divinity, but the whole concept of miracles feels unrelatable to me. Do you think such miracles alienate potential new followers as well?
JC: The story of the virgin birth is a key part of the Christian mythos and theology, and it serves to highlight the importance of Jesus’ divine nature and mission. While it may be a difficult concept for some to accept or understand, I would argue that the virgin birth story is an essential component of the Christian faith, and that it helps us to understand Jesus’ role as a saviour and our relations hip with God.
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PW: Can you believe in Jesus without believing in God or miracles?
JC: In my opinion, believing in Jesus is not necessarily dependent upon believing in the existence of God or miracles. While these concepts are deeply central to the Christian faith, they are not the only aspects of Jesus’ teachings and message.
PW: What do you get out of leaning into his divinity, then?
JC: For those who do believe in the divinity of Jesus, the idea that he is the Son of God and part of the Holy Trinity is a core component of their faith. By understanding Jesus’ divinity, followers can gain a deeper understanding of their relationship with him. The idea of Jesus’ divinity adds a spiritual significance to one’s practice.
PW: Let’s move on to something more serious. Which comedy do you like better: Monty Python’s Life of Brian or Dogma?
JC: Although both movies touch upon similar themes of religion and beliefs, Life of Brian’s tone and approach better resonate with me as it presents its message in a more subtle and thought-provoking manner.
PW: Fair enough. What’s your favourite Christmas carol?
JC: My favourite would have to be “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Its simple and poignant lyrics speak to the joy and hope of the season, and it never fails to put me in the holiday spirit.
PW: How do you feel when you’re enjoying the holiday spirit?
JC: I feel a sense of peace, joy and gratitude. I am reminded of the importance of spending time with loved ones, valuing our friendships and relationships, and being mindful of the true meaning of the season. I also get a feeling of excitement in anticipation of the specialness of the holiday season and all that it brings with it.
PW: Do you put up a Christmas tree?
JC: Yes, I do. It is something I look forward to every year.
This interview was edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Pieta Woolley is a journalist in Powell River, B.C.
This article first appeared in Broadview’s December 2023 issue with the title “AI Jesus Loves You.”
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