Faith, Technology, and AI: the Benefits and Challenges
Technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), brings many potential benefits to faith communities. It can enhance outreach and connection. Technology allows faith communities to reach a wider audience through live streaming, online services, and social media. This enables engagement with people who might not attend in-person gatherings. It can be used as an educational resource. AI-powered tools can provide instant access to a wealth of theological, spiritual, and educational content. Online courses, podcasts, and digital libraries make learning more accessible. It can help make administration more efficient. Technology streamlines administrative tasks such as managing membership databases, event registrations, and communication, freeing up time for more meaningful activities. It offers new ways of community building. Online platforms foster virtual communities where members can connect, share experiences, and provide support even when physical gatherings are challenging. It can also increase accessibility to worship. Technology facilitates worship accessibility for individuals with mobility challenges or those residing in remote areas.
However, technology and AI also pose potential challenges for communities of faith. It can change the way we view human connections. Some wonder if overreliance on technology might weaken interpersonal connections and the sense of community that physical gatherings offer. It brings concerns regarding privacy and security. AI collects and processes data, raising concerns about privacy breaches and the potential misuse of personal information. Some worry about AI and whether it can ever provide authenticity to faith engagement. The online environment can lead to a superficial understanding of faith and spirituality, as well as the potential for misinformation. There are potential ethical concerns. AI decisions might not align with religious teachings or ethical values, potentially leading to conflicts between technological advancements and faith-based beliefs. It can also cause distraction. Excessive use of technology during religious gatherings can hinder focus and deep engagement in worship and reflection.
Balancing these benefits and challenges requires faith communities to approach technology intentionally, aligning its use with their values and missions while remaining sensitive to the potential impacts on their members’ spiritual experiences.
When asked how it sees its role and function as a benefit to faith communities, ChatGPT provided the following answer in its own words:
“As an AI language model, my role and function can provide several benefits to faith communities:
- Access to Information: I can provide quick and accurate answers to a wide range of questions related to faith, theology, spirituality, and religious practices. This can help individuals seeking knowledge and understanding.
- Exploration of Theological Concepts: I can engage in thoughtful discussions and provide insights into complex theological concepts, helping individuals explore their faith and gain deeper understanding.
- Promotion of Dialogue: I can facilitate discussions on various religious and spiritual topics, fostering healthy and respectful dialogue among members of faith communities.
- Research and Resources: I can assist in research by providing references, citations, and resources related to religious texts, historical events, and theological studies.
- Educational Support: I can aid in educational efforts by generating study materials, explanations of religious texts, and summaries of key teachings.
- Guidance for Spiritual Practices: I can offer guidance on spiritual practices, rituals, and ethical considerations, helping individuals align their beliefs with their actions.
- Language Translation: I can help bridge language barriers by providing translations of religious texts, teachings, and messages, promoting inclusivity.
- 24/7 Availability: I am available round the clock, allowing individuals to seek answers and engage in discussions at their convenience.
- Inclusivity and Diversity: I can provide insights into various faith traditions, promoting understanding and respect for different belief systems and cultures.
However, it’s important to note that while I can offer information and insights, my responses are based on patterns in the data I’ve been trained on and may not encompass the full spectrum of beliefs within specific faith communities. Consulting religious leaders, scholars, and texts from authoritative sources remains important for a comprehensive understanding of faith matters.” It seems even AI chat bots themselves recognize they offer benefits but face limitations in helping people engage faith.
While there are many unknowns and discoveries yet to come in the fields of technology and artificial intelligence, it is clear there are potential benefits alongside perceived challenges. It is also clear that artificial intelligence is not going away; if anything, it is developing at a rapid pace. As congregations and communities ask questions about how AI will affect them and how technology can be used for good, it is clear conversation and engagement around questions, concerns, and hopes is necessary, timely, and important.
For congregations hoping to engage these questions, Christian Theological Seminary offers two series of non-degree six-week online courses. Each series has a Fall, Winter, and Spring offering which can be taken individually or in sequence. The Skills for Flourishing Congregations series provides an opportunity to explore faith, technology, and AI for church settings. Courses include Technology & Worship, Technology & Faith Formation, and Technology & Outreach.
For community members hoping to engage theological reflection on faith, technology, and AI and how they apply to our lives, the Our Life in Common series combines expert insight with engaging conversation. Courses include Technology & the Soul, Technology: Our Salvation or Our End?, and Christian Theology & Artificial Intelligence.