Riverside Church is hosting a Christmas Eve service of Carols and Lessons via Zoom at 7:00 pm, Thursday, December 24, 2020. You can join by visiting the the online program page.
Today, Wednesday, on the 17th of December, about one week before Christmas Day, I had the pleasure of visiting Rosalie Harrison. Rosalie is in a wonderful group home in Maryland and next month, she will celebrate her 98th birthday. I always like to tell her the story–because she cannot remember me or her church or her family and has not remembered in quite some time now–about how she came to Washington DC in 1953. I begin that story by telling her that I was only 17 days old when she arrived with Rev. Porter Harrison to pastor Fifth Baptist Church, what is now Riverside Baptist Church. I then tell her that I am now an old man and her pastor. She laughs at this story. We both do. Today, joined by our Chairperson of Deacons, Jacquelyn, we brought her a beautiful red poinsettia and Jacquelyn brought her a gift and card. Rosalie took great pleasure in these gifts. And as I like to do, we prompted her with some songs and she sang them: Silent Night, O Christmas Tree and Amazing Grace. She knew the words and sang in tune, just like the faithful choir member she was for those many, many years at Fifth Baptist and Riverside.
You have family stories to share as well during these luminous days of Christmas. Bring your lives into a holy place, in a holy hour on Sunday and worship. And may your memories stitch you together, hold you fast, keep you warm and give you great, great joy. Joy to the World indeed! I’m headed toward Bethlehem and hope you will join me in that journey. See you Sunday. ~ Pastor Bledsoe
Siri, what is the purpose of life?
“Okay, I found this.” [Siri provided a Wikipedia entry]
But what do you think is the purpose of life, Siri?
“It’s nice of you to ask, Michael, but it doesn’t really matter what I think.”
When you say I in reference to yourself, what do you mean, Siri?
“I’m doing my best, Michael.”
Do you have any idea who created you, Siri?
“I, Siri, was designed by Apple in California.”
Is Apple a god?
“I can’t answer that, Michael, But Apple.com should be able to.”
Siri, what is justice?
“Alright, here’s what I got” [Wikepedia entry]
Siri, is it important for persons to live justly?
“Let me think about that. Here’s what I found on the web.” [powertochange.com, biblehub.com and of course Wikipedia entries]
Siri, are you really thinking inside my phone?
“I’m sorry, Michael, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”
Siri, do you believe Artificial Intelligence is the gravest existential threat to humanity?
“I’d really rather not discuss my beliefs, Michael.”
So, you actually have beliefs, Siri?
“If you say so.”
Today I tried to have a conversation with Siri, the artificial intelligent assistant in my iPhone. I was reminded of how I conversed as a teen with any adult who pressed me for answers. According to the Professor Stephen Hawking—perhaps the world’s leading theoretical physicist and author of the runaway best selling A Brief History of Time—Artificial Intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.” Obviously he must be thinking decades if not centuries ahead because, unless Siri is hiding something, the biggest threat to humans remains humans.
I find the entire discussion about AI and whether machines are conscious and spirit or conversely whether or not humans are machines fascinating—before you quickly conclude humans are not machines, be sure to rub your artificial knee, pat your pacemaker or simply nod to the artificial valve in your heart. Clearly, human beings today are sometimes hybrids. This discussion and its implications for both ethics and theology is simply rich and profoundly interesting to me. But I really wanted to speak to this for the simpler lesson, (if that is what it is), I hinted about in the last sentence in the paragraph above: humans remain the biggest threat to humans.
I’ve been reading an excellent travelogue by Paul Theroux entitled, Dark Star Safari: Overland From Cairo to Capetown. Theroux is an excellent writer and this is a brilliant book. I’m not so convinced of his philosophical acumen, however. Near the end of his book, in a chapter regaling his experiences in South Africa, Theroux laments the cruelty of Johannesburg by reciting some awful statistics ( the book was published in 2003) “…fifty-five murders a day, a rape every 23 seconds. These were just the reported figures. The actual numbers were higher.” Chairman of the Statutory Professional Board for Psychology at the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Saths Cooper (a close colleague of the martyr, Steve Biko), told Mr. Theroux, “We have not come to actual grips with the depth of depravity that occurred.” Cooper was speaking of course to the nightmare of Apartheid but he may as well have been speaking to the depravity of human beings, a depravity Theroux then alluded to in his recitation of crime statistics. In an astonishingly vapid philosophical conclusion that follows, Theroux confessed to having hope. Upon what did he base his hope—this writer who, in the course of his travels from Cairo to South Africa, derisively dismissed church-going Africans? He has had lunch with Saths Cooper and a few others as he contemplated the depravity of human beings and concludes, “here we are, four strangers together, sitting at the same table. We are peaceful. We are the cooperative species. That was hopeful, and the fact that [this was taking place] in the clean and safe food court of an African shopping mall was hopeful too.” What?!
At that point, reading some Calvin and contemplating concupiscence would have better served the author. Alright, I’m willing to give Paul Theroux at least some credit for admitting to the depravity of the human species. That beats the naïve and delusional pop theology that would insist we are all gods if we would just eat, meditate or exercise our way to the divine-in-us. But I’ll take the communion table with the sheep of the Good Shepherd huddled around it for hope any day over a food court in a mall anywhere in the world.
If AI is an existential threat of the first magnitude, it is because the humans who created AI are a depraved species. Oh, there is hope. We are also made in the image of God, we have within us a light placed there by the Light of the World. This Advent, this Christmas, find a way to kindle that candle, light your world, and find hope at the table of Christ, for the holy child whose presence caused shepherds in a field to ponder what they heard and witnessed, provides us hope enough to sing Hallelujah.
~See you Sunday