Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Robot takeover update (virtual pastor?)

Meet Milo, Microsoft's virtual four-year-old.



I have a bit of fun here from time to time about the "robot takeover," but this one's worth a more serious ponder. Here's a woman getting into a "virtual relationship" with a make-believe character. You think people won't get sucked into that? You think innocent little "Milo" won't be followed by not-so-innocent "Misty," or eventually "Megapastor"?

Just think: not only can Pastor _______ preach to church-congregations he never sets eyes on nor watches over in any meaningful way; all those disconnected individuals can talk with him in their living-rooms. They can even (delude themselves into believing that they) obey the "one-anothers" with Virtual Chuck Churchgoer and Virtual Sally Seeker.

It isn't alarmist to think that technology is taking us to another divide, and those portions of evangelicalism that have capitalized on personality via "virtual campuses" are already going the wrong way on the issue.

28 comments:

Al said...

wisdom does not answer "can we" but "should we."

I wonder about legitimate application for such technology. Monitoring hospital patients and such.

al sends

Robert said...

Well, people can have their feel-good time at home without the accountability that the Bible says we should have. Of course, most people on both sides of this exchange are not looking for the biblical model.

On the one end the pastor is more concerned about people being comfortable and increasing his attendance/viewership. And on the other end, the viewer just wants to have some encouragement that they are going down the right path. The Bible is clear that God is responsible for results ("I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." 1 Cor. 3:6) and that we are not on the right path (just have to read through Romans 3:10-18 to see that).

While I grow fearful that we are seeing more of the people Paul warned Timothy about (people seekign teachers to tickle their ears and not wanting sound doctrine), I am still greatly encouraged by the turnout I saw when I attended T4G. Of course, only God knows the hearts of all those in attendance, the teaching was sound and is what is needed in evangelism today.

DJP said...

That's a critical point, Al. Thanks for introducing it. I had meant to bring that up, in the discussion of pastors thronged with so many attached to them as individuals that they yield to multiple "virtual" campuses rather than sending out other undershepherds to pastor the hungry sheep.

It's ironic that the point is made in the unbelieving context of the movie (and I think the novel) Jurassic Park: "your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Substitute "worship-media coordinators" for "scientists," and I think we've more to chew over.

RT said...

Administration of the Eucharist necessarily requires physical proximity. It can't be done "virtually." Consequently a church that takes the sacraments seriously will never go down this path.

Frank Turk said...

RT --

You're saying that this is going to happen this weekend someplace in the US then, aren't you ...

I mean: how many "satellite" locations are there in America today where there's not a human person physically with the people he's preaching to?

RT said...

Frank -

Doubtless, but not at a church where the sacraments are taken seriously - that is to say, not at a church. These assemblies where people come merely to hear a preacher are usually not churches, despite their own claims to the contrary.

Sir Aaron said...

Nice...now we can argue about the Eucharist instead of Dan's main point.

Denis said...

I would argue that existing technology is good enough that if a pastor wanted to encourage people to be isolated, virtual church goers he could do so without this advance.

Jennifer said...

Anyone catch that the man called "Milo" a person? Yet personhood is denied to an unborn child.
Talk about making the hair on my head stand up.

RT said...

I think, Sir A, that discussion of the Eucharist is precisely on point. Without the Eucharist you do not have a church; consequently until we develop transporter technology a la Star Trek, "remote church" is simply not possible.

Mesa Mike said...

Why wouldn't a virtual churchgoer be able to participate in communion? Anybody can go down to the local health food store and get gluten-free rice crackers and Kedem kosher grape juice, and serve it to themselves at the appropriate time during the virtual service....

LukeW said...

Does anyone else see the irony of an online forum of people who've never met having a virtual debate about this?

Don't misunderstand: I largely agree with the argument of the original post.

The condescending tone (of the original post) would be surprising if done in person, but it's the status quo for online conversation, even on Christian corners of the web.

But your snarky attitude illustrates your point even more: what happens when discourse (even when titled "Biblical Christianity") becomes a virtual interaction and the accountability of physical presence is absent?

When the pastor isn't there, he'll avoid the messy side of face-to-face relationship with the real people he's called to shepherd.

And when the blogger speaks sarcastic criticism into a virtual room of people he'll never meet, he too can avoid the messy side of face-to-face relationship.

DJP said...

Who is suggesting that this is, in any way, a substitute for church?

Find me that person, and I'd be able refer him or her to my own writings on the subject.

No irony detected.

LukeW said...

Great opportunity for an example!

In person, I'd respond by engaging in a discussion about the substance of my comment, the fact I didn't imply the this blog is a "substitute for church", and why his response was a straw man argument.

But online, it's common to simply say, "Read my post again, nice and slow. Use a dictionary for any big words and leave the straw man home next time."

Why is that kind of ugliness okay in a virtual debate? For the same reasons it's a bad idea to pastor via technology.

I'm agreeing with you, DJP! Just expanding the concept to include other interactions between Christians.

RT said...

Forgive me, Mesa Mike, I forgot that I was conversing with persons for whom "hoc est enim corpus meum" has little meaning. Clearly in a world where you can give yourself "communion" anything is possible.

And of course you are absolutely in the right of it LukeW, but snarking is so much fun that even Puritans can't help engaging in it.

DJP said...

"Little meaning" = "Little more than Jesus' intended meaning," in this case.

RT said...

I can't know what he intended, but I do know what he said. I also know that to take "communion" by oneself is an absurdity irrespective of whether or not you do it in front of a television screen.

DJP said...

What He said doesn't reveal what He intended? I'd think that, without the anchor of the meaning of His words, against their original backdrop, we'd be free to attribute all sorts of impossible notions, such as imagining that He meant that wine could have a blood type.

Chris said...

Creepy Dan...really creepy.

This video and the one with the robotic dog thing paint a disturbing picture of the future w/ regard to technology. It makes me think of a comment I heard Bill Gates make years ago--something about his dream of one day seeing computers replace or replicate human emotions. It looks like we have reached that point.

Paula said...

Perhaps Pastor Milo in his Hawaiian shirt can set up satellite service centers in strategic cities around the country for face-to-face services (communion, counseling, marryin' & buryin') - sort of like Apple's new Friend Bar.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

The thought crossed my mind, "I wonder what ancient Egyptians would think of such a thing?" It's almost mesmerizing to watch, isn't it? And to think to oneself how could I possibly benefit from such a thing? You hardly notice idolatry sometimes, until you start to notice your pulse go up and your eyes dilate and your mind ticking away.

Creepy.

Al said...

I don't know RT's background here, but I do think that that even if you are a memorialist when it comes to the Lord’s Supper you have to admit that there is a problem with a the Body of Christ, the Church, not being together as we “partake of one loaf.” The imagery of 1 Cor. 10 is pretty clear to me.

Community fleshes itself out in the Supper. I guess if you don't believe in the "real presence" at the table, the actual presence of a pastor or people may not matter much either.

al sends

David said...

As the iReverend hands you the elements, you'll automatically reach out your hands and catch . . . nothing.

Paula said...

Al said, "Community fleshes itself out in the Supper. I guess if you don't believe in the "real presence" at the table, the actual presence of a pastor or people may not matter much either. "

Do you think some of this stems from our sterile, sanitary version of communion? We no longer tear chunks of bread from a common loaf or drink from a common cup. Instaed, we have disposable cups and pre-cut pieces of pre-made bread-like substance. It makes it much easier to see communion as something we can experience alone rather than something that requires other, 'real' people.

Halcyon said...

Non-communal communion? That sounds like modern Christianity to me.

RT's near-miss meta-derailer brings up (oddly enough) perhaps the most important point here.

Church (whether you are Catholic or Protestant) is a communal thing: we commune with God and with our fellow believers. People just don't seem to understand anymore that a "virtual" anything is merely a duplication of an original and thus is a step away from the original. In short, it is an obstruction, no matter how pretty or cool; and as an obstruction, it is detrimental to communion. As such, it is detrimental to churches and Christians, no matter what tradition you belong to.

RT said...

I really had no intent to derail, it is just that in the Anglican tradition the Eucharist is central and it struck me rather forcibly that while you might be able to have a "virtual preacher" you could never have a "virtual pastor" because both clergy and laity necessarily partake together from "one bread, one cup". Without this communion it seems to me that you might have an assembly - and maybe even a very effective one for evangelism - but you would not have a church.

Sir Aaron said...

RT: You've actually confirmed my point. The idea of a virtual church is absurd because it's pretending to be a church. It's not real so you can't do any of the real things that the Bible tells us to do, which includes the sacraments.

The point of bringing up the Eucharist was precisely an argument about the real presence of Christ in the communion (hence the Star Trek teleporter comment). It's a diversion from the main point which is that a virtual church can't do any of the real life things that a church is supposed to do.

Sir Aaron said...

You know, Dan, there might actually be a virtual church. I have substantial experience in virtual worlds (some for professional reasons) and I'm thinking that SecondLife must have a virtual house of worship run by somebody. However, I'd be surprised if the Pastor/Priest/Reverand was a NPC.

(for those that don't know, a NPC, is a non-player(able) character. That is it isn't controlled by a human but by an artificial intelligence (software ai).