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A.I. Chatbot Preaches at Church in Germany: 'Looks Like the Unveiling of the Antichrist/Beast System'

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A unique sermon was delivered via artificial intelligence Friday in a Lutheran church in Germany. 

A ChatGPT chatbot asked the people in the fully packed St. Paul's Church in the town of Fuerth to rise from the pews and praise the Lord.

The bot was personified by an avatar of a bearded black man on a huge screen above the altar. It preached to more than 300 people who showed up for the experimental Lutheran church service, generated almost entirely by artificial intelligence.

"Dear friends, it is an honor for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year's convention of Protestants in Germany," the avatar said with an expressionless face and monotone voice.

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The 40-minute service was created by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna, who said 98 percent of it came from the machine.

The entire service was "led" by four different avatars on the screen, two young women, and two young men.

Those in the church listened attentively as the A.I. preached about leaving the past behind, focusing on the challenges of the present, overcoming fear of death, and never losing trust in Jesus Christ.

At times, the A.I.-generated avatar inadvertently drew laughter when it used platitudes and told the churchgoers with a deadpan expression that in order "to keep our faith, we must pray and go to church regularly."

Some of the audience members said, "There was no heart and no soul," in the presentation as the A.I. images of speakers spoke quickly and in a monotone.

Others thought it worked well. 

"I had actually imagined it to be worse. But I was positively surprised how well it worked. Also, the language of the A.I. worked well, even though it was still a bit bumpy at times," Marc Jansen, a 31-year-old Lutheran pastor from Troisdorf near the western German city of Cologne told the Associated Press. 

What the young pastor missed, however, was any kind of emotion or spirituality, which he says is essential when he writes his own sermons.

And some also pointed out that an A.I.-generated avatar cannot interact with believers, the way a real pastor can.

Simmerlein said it is not his intention to replace religious leaders with artificial intelligence. Rather, he sees the use of A.I. as a way to help them with their everyday work in their congregations.

Others on social media weren't impressed by the A.I.-delivered sermon and church service. 

A user named Shawn wrote, "Short answer: NO! An A.I. chatbot can not pray, meditate on the Word of God, commune with God, and get a message from God to the people. That's what a 'sermon' is supposed to be. So an A.I. 'preaching' a sermon is ridiculous on so many levels."

The Rev. Chuck Huckaby, the pastor of the First Reformed Church in Fulton, Illinois, tweeted, "One person's take away from the 'AI Sermon' was its exhortation 'to keep our faith, we must pray and go to church regularly.' As suspected it can preach the Law but not the Gospel!"

Another user wrote, "ChatGPT-Delivered Sermons. A.I. is now a religious leader. Looks like the unveiling of the antichrist/beast system."

And a different user also noted, "A sermon by definition is a message delivered to the soul of a person. You can't transmit what you haven't got. An A.I. generated sermon by definition is as Soul devoid as you can get."

Cayle Thompson tweeted, "Intriguing. A.I. can preach. But can it believe? Minister? Care?"

Another user foretold what could be next for A.I. in the church. 

"1. Hearing confessions. 2. Counseling #humans. 3. Forgiving human sins. 4. Conducting marriages. 5. Naming of children," he wrote. 

Still, others see possible benefits to using A.I. in non-pastoral roles, to expedite tasks for the kingdom of God: The A.I. Genie Is Out of the Bottle, but Can It Be Shifted from a Threat to a Gospel Tool?

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