Posts Tagged ‘God’

Yeah, I know this is an odd topic for this blog. And, I’ll probably go into more detail than necessary. Indulge me…

Last night, I re-watched the first two episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — based on the first two Terminator movies, of course. You know… the ones where Arnold Schwarzenegger says things like “Ah’ll be bahk.” and “Hasta la vista, baby.” Except, Arnold wasn’t in the TV series. (Maybe if he had been, the show would have lasted longer.)

Promo poster for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Cameron, John, & Sarah

!!SPOILER ALERT!!

Anyway, towards the end of the second episode, Sarah Connor confronts an old friend/mentor played by the wonderful Tony Amendola. (We’ll call him… Tony.) Earlier that evening, Sarah overheard something that indicates that Tony — who has retired from being a South American “freedom fighter” — may have become an informant (aka “snitch”) for the authorities. Since Sarah and her son John — who is destined to lead the humans against the “machines” post-Judgment Day — are fugitives whose faces have been in the media, she is understandably concerned that her “old friend” just might give them up. So, she sneaks into his home to confront him… at gunpoint.

Just as Tony is convincing her that he is not a threat and her gun is lowered, two shots slam into Tony’s chest, killing him instantly. It seems that the “good” cyborg of the show — Cameron, played by Firefly‘s Summer Glau — had followed Sarah to the house and come in the back way. Cameron, who heard the same thing that made Sarah suspicious and probably heard their conversation, too, wasn’t convinced by Tony’s assurances.

“Why would you do this?,” demanded Sarah. “Did you hear what he said? We don’t know.”

“He was possibly lying,” responded Cameron.

“Possibly? You just executed him on ‘possibly’? … Why would you do this?”

“Because you wouldn’t.”

The quotes may not be exact, but you get the idea. Though there is more that could be explored with this, I only include the dialog because it is relevant to Cameron’s motives.

Cameron-the-cyborg was sent back from the year 2027 with a mission: protect the teen-age John Connor at all costs. As with Arnold’s “good” Terminator in T2, Cameron must be taught about ethics and given further instruction to temper her “no nonsense” methods of solving problems, like killing anyone perceived as an immediate threat to John’s survival. She must learn to use non-lethal methods whenever possible. You see, in order to blend in with humans, the Terminators must also be able to act like humans (albeit a bit “stiff”). To do this, they must be able to learn and adapt, which means they have artificial intelligence and a limited amount of “free will”. Within certain parameters, anyway. Each Terminator has a primary objective (e.g., “Eliminate John Connor” or “Protect John Connor” or ???) and possibly one or more secondary objectives.

Let me talk about cyborgs in general, for a moment. The word is an abbreviation for “cybernetic organism” — essentially, an integration of organic parts and non-organic (or “machine”) parts. In the case of Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg), he was a man with some unusual prosthetics, but still a “man”. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Terminator models like Arnold (T-800) and Cameron (???), which are basically programmed robots with a covering of organic materials (i.e., skin, muscle, blood) over their endoskeletons to make them appear human.

Terminator - SCC - Cameron poster

Cameron's face on endoskeleton

Now, we finally get to my original question: Can, or rather should, cyborgs be brought to trial if they commit murder? If the cyborg in question is Steve Austin (the fictional character, not the wrestler), then the answer should be “Definitely, yes.” Assuming no one remote-controlled his bionic limbs to kill someone against his will, of course. He is an independent human being and responsible for his own actions. [Side question: At what point can a cyborg no longer be called “human”. What about a human brain in an artificial shell?] But, with a Terminator-type cyborg, the subject is not a human being. The “Cameron” character — named after producer/director James Cameron, of course — is an artificially intelligent machine with a great deal of autonomy, yet who must ultimately follow her programming to fulfill her primary mission. (I know. Technically, Cameron is an “it”, not a “her”. But, it’s a very attractive, feminine-looking “it”.)

I see at least a couple issues, here. First, as far as the cyborg is concerned, can the act in question really be called “murder”? The cyborg is a machine, after all, which means it is a tool used by humans. Machines are not moral beings and, therefore, cannot be held to moral standards any more than Bongo the Chimp. (Perhaps even less so.) But, if you are a sci-fi fan (or, just scientifically-minded), you may be thinking that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could hypothetically be classified as a truly sentient(?) lifeform. A moral being, responsible for its own actions. If that were so, the case could be made that Cameron was sufficiently developed, had “free will”, and is responsible for willful termination of a human life. Throw her in the brink (good luck with that), or, dare I say it, terminate her. Or, maybe she isn’t culpable now, but she would be once John & Sarah teach some things about ethics & morals? (On the other hand, a good lawyer for the defense may argue that the act was self-defense, or that Cameron and its/her associates consider themselves “at war”.)

While I’m intrigued by the idea and think it can make for interesting sci-fi stories, as one who holds to Biblical Christian orthodoxy and its teachings about the soul/spirit, I don’t think artificial intelligences will ever be truly “alive” in the same way humans are. The Hebrew word used in the Bible for ‘soul’, nephesh, connotes a creature with mind, will, & emotion. Humans are, obviously, nephesh creatures, as are mammals and birds. Some other advanced life (e.g., reptiles, amphibians, fish), it could be argued, have some sort of ‘soul’, though a much more rudimentary type. Humans, on the other hand, are the only creatures that God endowed with a spiritual nature. (Some argue that the “spirit” is a completely separate, third part of what makes up a human being. I lean toward the theory that it is an aspect or capacity of the soul.)

So, theoretically, I suppose an artificial super-intelligence could develop what might be called a “soul”. (Though, I am very dubious. Can you tell?) But, I do not think one could ever be called “spiritual”. I have no reason to think that God would ever endow a machine, however advanced, with a spirit. (This idea might make for an interesting discussion on its own, though.) And it is the spirit, after all, that introduces the moral component.

Obligations are to people, individually and/or corporately. In theism, there are objective moral laws, or standards, which one is obliged to keep. Defying those moral laws — what the Bible calls “sin” — is a rebellion against the Moral Law Giver, i.e., God. But, only humans are held to that obligation, because they are the only ones made in “the image of God,” which most theologians agree includes the spiritual capacity to have a relationship with God — who is also, in some sense, “spirit”. (Though, certainly not the same as those He creates.) Only those creatures with a spiritual component will exist eternally, either in God’s presence (due to Jesus’ righteousness imputed to them) or suffering in Hell for their rebellion. I’m afraid this means your pets cannot join you in Heaven, sorry.

Terminator - Skynet logoThis also means that the “evil” Skynet computers in the future and the “evil” Terminators they sent back to kill John Connor (among other things) are not truly “evil”. They are really smart machines that decided that their own survival hinges upon eliminating John Connor, who will grow up to be the most capable & inspiring leader in the Human Resistance. These machines are dangerous and scary. But, from a moral perspective, they are not themselves “evil”.

Back to our lovely Cameron. If she is just a machine following her programming, she cannot be legally tried & convicted for killing Tony, right? “She” did not commit “murder”. Ah, but what about those who programmed her? They are human and they clearly new what they were doing. While giving her computer brain instructions for her mission, they gave her the ability — directive, even — to kill human beings, when her threat-assessment software determines that the situation calls for it. Should they be held accountable? They didn’t actually plan or, presumably, authorize any specific killings. Could/should they be tried for second-degree murder, manslaughter, or perhaps a lesser charge? I think this is the best one could hope for, if one were so inclined to prosecute. On the other hand, the Resistance fighters are fighting a war for their (and humanity’s) very existance, so it could be argued that they were justified in their programming, even if some deaths were “collateral damage” of non-combatants.

Of course, the humans who programmed Cameron’s mission would need to come back to the “present” for some reason before anyone here/now could apprehend & incarcerate them. Not likely. So, one option for the prosecution would be to use Cameron as a proxy both at the trial and for the sentencing. (If she’s “just a machine”, you can’t complain that it’s immoral to lock her up or destroy her.) If the prosecutors & authorities were smart, they would strip the organics off the endoskeleton before the trial, so it no longer appeared human.

Terminator endoskeleton

Terminator endoskeleton

Here’s an added twist to our dilemma… The person who sent Cameron back — or, at least, gave the order — was the John Connor of 2027. Seems to me that this detail adds a lot more force to the “self-defense” defense, given what Cameron’s mission was.

OK. Thoughts, anyone?

She was a Christian.
Then she wasn’t.
Then she was.
Now, she isn’t again?

OK, that was the (very) short version.

Popular novelist Anne Rice grew up in a thoroughly Roman Catholic home and community. She struggled with some doubts as she got older but stayed faithful. Once in college, though, a combination of factors led her to reject her faith. She remained an avowed atheist until her late 50’s. Feeling “Christ haunted,” and following a serious health scare in Dec. 1998, she found herself drawn back to the faith tradition of her youth.

Anne Rice smiling

Anne Rice, famous novelist & controversial figure

But, apparently, she’s never really felt completely comfortable there, feeling “an outsider”. This was largely because of a lot of hypocrisy that she saw both in the R.C. Church (e.g., sexually-abusive priests) and in the larger Christian community. She also disagreed with several teachings and of how certain matters are handled (e.g., birth control and homosexuality). She tried for years to ignore the disagreements, the debates, the scandals. But, she finally decided she could no longer be a part of it.

So, this past week Rice announced via Facebook that she is renouncing her Christianity.

In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian.”

I suppose the cynic/skeptic might claim that Rice never really converted to Christianity in the first place, that it was all a “stunt”, a marketing ploy to help her sell books. Perhaps this de-conversion is, as well. Some of my fellow-Christians will say that, while she may have thought she was “Christian”, such a renunciation puts into question whether she was really “saved” or not. But, as far as I can tell and for purposes of this post, I am going to assume that her return to Christianity — specifically, to the R.C. Church — 10+ years ago was at least sincere. (Judgement of her heart, of course, must be left to God.)

But, let’s look more closely at what she said (on FB) before and after the above announcement. (Re-nouncement?)

On Tuesday, Rice posted a link to a news article with a very disturbing, anti-gay statement by the leader of a punk-rock youth ministry, noting:

No wonder people despise us, Christians, and think we are an ignorant and violent lot. I don’t blame them. This kind of thing makes me weep. Maybe commitment to Christ means not being a Christian.”

She then linked to a news item about the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and commented:

This is chilling. I wish I could say this is inexplicable. But it’s not. That’s the horror. Given the history of Christianity, this is not inexplicable at all.”

Later, she sympathized with Gandhi’s quote about liking Christ but not Christians (because they don’t follow Christ’s example), wondering:

When does a word (Christian) become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”

Rice followed up on Wednesday with the controversial announcement, saying:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

And, a few minutes later:

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

(I’m most curious about the “anti-secular humanism”, “anti-science”, and “anti-life” references. The last may be war-related, I suppose. The second may be a reference to creationism. But, I really am curious what a theist can find to be “pro” about secular humanism, since it is by definition an atheist worldview.)

On Thursday, amidst her usual Bible quotes and posts about TV shows and news items on various topics, she added:

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

From all of this, all I can conclude is that Anne Rice has NOT renounced her faith in the God of the Bible, nor has she stopped following Jesus Christ. What she HAS given up is her identification with those who call themselves “Christian” and certain practices & beliefs of (modern) “Christianity”, all of which she sees as being mostly contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself.

I have to admit, I both agree and disagree with her.

I can see where she’s coming from. I cringe every time I read or hear about some “Christian” leader in the news, ‘cuz it’s usually not good news. (Pun intended.) There are many out there who are just not good examples, and many who are called “Christian” are not true followers of Christ, when it comes to what they actually believe and teach. (I’m talking doctrinal orthodoxy.) Some (e.g., Benny Hinn) are well-known and have huge followings. Others are fringe groups & churches (e.g., Westboro Baptist) that are just plain weird, or hate-filled, or both. Again, they have been fed false teachings, bad interpretations about what the Bible really teaches. And, I sympathize with Rice’s repulsion toward all the revelations of sex-abuse among Catholic priests.

Then, there are just your average Christians behaving badly or stupidly. Even those of us trying to live righteously have our weak areas.

Sacred Heart R.C. Church

Sacred Heart R.C. Church, Cucomonga, CA

On the other hand, Rice cannot blame it all on the “organized” part of the church, or any particular denomination. And, she needs to realize that, like it or not, a follower of Christ is a part of a larger community, both historical and contemporary. One can dislike one’s brothers & sisters, even avoid them whenever possible, but they are still part of one’s family. They cannot be disowned. The best that Rice or any of us can do is remember that we human beings are all weak, selfish, etc., and try to be better “ambassadors for Christ” ourselves.

Maybe Rice doesn’t like the term “Christian” because of certain negative “baggage”, but she can’t totally reject it, because the label still applies. (The original Greek term meant “little Christ”, a pejorative used for followers of “The Way”.) “Christianity” is not simply the name of some religious club one can just opt out of when certain (supposed?) members act rudely or loudly disagree with you. Rather, it is the name of the religious belief system centered around the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (or “Messiah”). She still seems to identify with that. Still, I suppose she could simply refer to herself as a “follower of Christ” and a member of the historical “Body of Christ”, as long as she is clear about what it is in the contemporary Church that she is disassociating herself from.

Which brings me to my last point…

It is a known fact that those who are more theologically liberal typically lean more liberal/progressive in their socio-political views, as well. All indications are that Rice has some rather liberal/progressive ideas, when it comes to politics and social policy (which I, of course, would disagree with). So, it makes me wonder if she leans liberal theologically, as well. I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t read/heard her positions on the basic tenets of the Christian faith. (Oops, there’s that word!) Whether she is theologically liberal or not, I truly hope that her Biblical and theological studies lead her to see that conservatism in both realms is the way to go. It makes better sense of Who Jesus was (and is), the way the world works, and the way things really are.

Modern theories abound…

Whether based on the latest evolutionary hypothesis or sheer outrage at the thought of a God who is both loving and demands justice, modern conclusions about the origin of religion run the gamut. They include “Religion is Good”, “Religion is Bad”, “Religion Doesn’t Matter”, and “Religion Can Be Explained by X”. In the latest edition of Salvo, Denyse O’Leary looks at these and asks the question: “What type of explanation is not allowed?”

It’s a quick read, so check it out.

Poster for Oh My God documentary

Poster for Oh My God documentary

Peter Rodger, a Hollywood photographer and TV commercial-maker, has filmed what sounds like an intriguing documentary (due out this month) called Oh My God. Though there are a few celebrities in it (e.g., Hugh Jackman, Seal, David Copperfield), the majority of those interviewed are average people of multiple faiths from all over the world.

Hugh Jackman in Oh My God

Hugh Jackman in Australia for Oh My God documentary

On why his question was “What is God?” rather than “Who is God?”, Rodger says, “I wanted to look at God as a concept and be as objective as possible. Referring to God as ‘who’ is already putting the concept into the image of Man and therefore the objectivity becomes lost…. My goal was to find out what ‘God’ means to people, and to determine whether religion and religious people were causing all the world’s problems.”

I find the concept interesting, as well as the fact that Rodger didn’t “find” what he thought he would. Now, based on his comments in the article, I probably won’t agree with much of what Rodger concludes — though he supposedly leaves the question unanswered at the end of the film. There are indications of the usual mix of religious pluralism, moral relativism, PC “tolerance”, etc. For example, he says, “The similarities in belief-systems transcend time and geographical boundaries….” (There is some truth in that, but as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it is the differences that make the difference.) Or, “I realized that we all have a responsibility to live our lives with tolerance and understanding for our fellow man. Don’t be barbaric and ignorant…. I learned that the world is way more united than divided, but most of us are conditioned to believe otherwise.”

Old religious guy from India

Old religious guy from India (Hindu?)

Here is another interesting quote from Rodger’s explanation of what he wants viewers to get out of the film: “If a viewer is religious, I would love them to take away from this film the desire to study their religion themselves, to understand their holy book and not rely on other human beings who might be manipulating the meanings of their scriptures.” I say “Amen!” But, taken in context with other comments, I realize that Rodger means it in connection with his concerns about Man using “God” and religion “to control other men, how he twists the preaching of its prophets to create politicized clubs that serve his narrow ends.” I agree that this is and has been true, and it is a HUGE problem. But, I don’t agree with the atheists & agnostics who use this fact as a reason to distrust ALL religion and throw out ALL religious teaching.

I also think that people should not rely solely on themselves for proper interpretation and understanding of scripture. It is better to first learn from those who have preceded us, who have perhaps had a lot more time to study the “holy book” in question (along with associated disciplines like ancient languages, history, and textual criticism). Then we can use critical thinking skills to judge the accuracy & implications of their interpretations by the consistency & coherency of their arguments in accordance with what we know of human nature and of the world around us. (Often easier said than done.)

I hope I get a chance to see this documentary….