Sermon Pentecost 2018
The film Terminator is now a thing of the distant past. Even the future it predicted has been and gone-the date that Skynet went rogue being imagined as 2004.
But still people discuss that possible moment when artificial intelligence will slip into consciousness and become a danger to humanity. But what if something like that has already happened.
The Games designer and philosopher Chris Bateman thinks that it already has, but that it has gone largely unnoticed. But in his theory, there are no killer cyborgs about to go on a rampage. We are the cyborgs.
He argues that we have come a long way since we invented simple tools like hammers.
We are now dependent upon AI- in our cars, in all our new household gadgets, but above all in our phones and ipads and computers.
We talk to them, we play games with them and we feel a little bit lost without them. The so- called smartphone zombie is among us- in Hong Kong they invented the nickname- ‘the head down tribe.’
Bateman doesn’t get all moral panicky about this, but suggests we need to be a bit more aware of what is going on and act more cannily.
For the gadgets influence us and the applications they offer to us influence what we think and what we do- the role of Cambridge Analytica and Russia in shaping opinion being just two well known examples.
Bateman argues that we need to practice cyber virtues to negotiate the new world which AI is opening up.
Restraint for example and liberty to avoid being sucked into compulsive activity or the many forms of tribalism and all the echo chambers which confirm us in all our opinions.
Time is such that we are always poised at the beginning of a Brave New World. And we have to repeatedly find ethical, spiritual and creative ways to respond.
Whether that is the disciples we hear about today, at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit manifests itself as a powerful force giving them courage and voice.
Or any parent with children, wondering what the future will bring, but determined to help them navigate that world, secure in their love.
Or any of us indeed who listen to the news from Gaza, or about Iran. Or hear the latest reports about species extinction.
Or worry about the cost of housing, the education system ;or how care for the elderly will fare in the future.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit is described as if it is some kind of celestial magic potion, which God arbitrarily provides to his own to help them thrive- you might have noticed me drawing on video game language there!
But that is not the way the church has seen it. In John’s Gospel we heard Jesus say this.
‘ When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’
And although we rightly see that the energy, unity and self- belief that the first disciples felt gifted to them, to face an in-comprehending world.
And the courage and steadfastness and God- guidedness of people like Martin Luther King is part of that, it has not generally been thought that is the end of it.
The resources that people have within them to be compassionate and actively so. Not just to care about people but act with generosity towards them.
The conscience and the compulsion which makes us seek the good. That is seen as the work of the spirit.
In the Old Testament, the word, translated as spirit, is close to the idea of a life -giving breath.
And it is used to describe the force that shapes the universe, and brings life into being, and inspires human artistic invention and moral engagement.
And inspires the quest to understand a world which is immensely rich and mysterious, but one that we believe can reveal to us truths we can grasp.
And there, as in the New Testament, it is seen as a gift from God Himself. Who created all that exists, with the potential to realise the same degree of love that he has shown from the beginning.
Whatever age we live in, whatever our religious or philosophical takes on the world, and whatever the new circumstances that we face, we can’t evade issues of truth and how to live well.
For Christians being part of the church and welcoming new members through baptism is how we explore together those very same things, united in the conviction that life has intrinsic meaning and value bestowed by God.
And that Christ through his life and death revealed to us the how and why to living.
And that through the Holy Spirit all people have the capacity for profound love and truth seeking.