'Western Civilization Is in Evident Decline,' Author Argues
By Jim Denison, Crosswalk.com
Pope Francis is in the hospital today with a respiratory infection. He also made news recently when he wore what the Atlantic describes as “a stylish white puffy jacket.” Except he didn’t. The image was generated by artificial intelligence (AI), as were pictures of Donald Trump being arrested. Time has helpfully provided tips on spotting AI-generated images, an issue that will undoubtedly be part of our future media consumption.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Elon Musk and more than a thousand AI experts and industry executives have written an open letter calling for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly launched GPT-4. This AI moratorium has been requested because “powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable,” according to the letter.
Here’s one example of the need for an AI moratorium in today’s news: as many as three hundred million full-time jobs around the world could be automated in some way by the latest AI, according to Goldman Sachs economists. They estimate that approximately two-thirds of jobs in the US and Europe “are exposed to some degree of AI automation” and up to a quarter of all work could be done by AI completely.
"The global transformation of Christianity is here"
In my website paper, “ChatGPT and artificial intelligence: What you need to know,” I outline the history of artificial intelligence, explain how “chatbots” work, and discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by what is truly an epochal moment in human history. In yesterday’s Daily Article on the subject, I quoted Elon Musk’s apocalyptic warning, “Artificial intelligence is a fundamental risk to human civilization.”
Here’s what I didn’t have room to say: in the midst of such technological and cultural transformation, you and I are living in a day of unparalleled spiritual transformation as well.
For years, I have been focusing on the “fifth great awakening” sweeping much of the world. We are seeing unprecedented advances for the gospel in the Muslim world, the underground church in China, and much of the Global South.
In her New York Times column last Sunday, Tish Harrison Warren agreed. Titled “The Global Transformation of Christianity is Here,” her article notes that “the last century has seen a near-complete reversal of the global demographics of Christianity.” For example, Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa has grown from around 9 percent at the beginning of the twentieth century to almost 45 percent at the end of it. Warren quotes Sam George, the director of the Global Diaspora Institute at Wheaton College: “Christianity at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the most global and the most diverse and the most dispersed faith.”
The largest church congregation in the world is Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, with around 480,000 members. Latin America boasts fourteen megachurches with a total membership of over twenty thousand. By some estimates, China will have more Christians than any other nation by 2030. Warren cites what she calls “conservative” estimates that there were around 98 million evangelical Christians globally in 1970; now there are over 342 million.
"A decadent slum of unforeseen consequences"
Secularists have been predicting the death of Christianity in Western culture for a very long time, but God refuses to abandon us. In fact, as Os Guinness notes in his marvelous new book, Signals of Transcendence: Listening to the Promptings of Life, our Creator continues to draw us to himself in ways we might expect and ways we might not.
Guinness tells us how Malcolm Muggeridge, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, and several other cultural luminaries came to faith. In each instance, something in the temporal world sparked or “signaled” the transcendent longings in their hearts.
According to Guinness, our culture desperately needs to listen to these “signals” before it is too late. He writes: “Our present need for a massive spiritual awakening dwarfs the many other problems of our modern age and represents the only hope of redeeming modernity itself. Western civilization is in the civilizational moment it finds itself in because it opposes the Jewish and Christian faiths that made it, and it has no satisfactory replacement.
“Western civilization is in evident decline. The West will therefore stand or fall according to whether it experiences such an awakening and sees the renewal of the faiths that made it. Without such a spiritual awakening, the West is shown up as a cut-flower civilization whose once vibrant life and beauty can only wither and die. Brilliant as it may be, our highest ingenuity and mastery will fall short in guiding the world forward, and in its wake, they will produce a decadent slum of unforeseen consequences, unknown aftermaths, and insoluble social and moral problems that range from wars and revolutions to suicide.”
"Only God can save the world now"
The greatest “signal of transcendence” in human history was the ministry of Jesus Christ. More than any person who ever lived, he uniquely pointed us from the temporal to the eternal, then he uniquely made a way for us to experience the transcendent today.
Compare Jesus with AI: while the latter has access to current digital data, the former is so omniscient that he knows the past, the present, the future, and the thoughts of every human heart (cf. Matthew 12:25). AI-enabled apps can guide your journey, but Jesus alone can guide you to your best life in this world (John 10:10) and your eternal destination when this life is done (John 14:3).
AI can instruct you; Jesus can forgive you. AI can provide you with information; Jesus can provide you with his loving presence in every valley and storm of life (cf. Matthew 28:20).
This is why knowing Christ and making him known are the most urgent priorities in the world. As Guinness notes, “The truth is that our Western commitment to hedonism has proved empty and damaging, and our Western reliance on technocracy will always let us down. Only God can save the world now.”
He adds: “Man cannot live by shadows alone. For all who have seen the sun, the shadows will never again deceive and satisfy, but the challenge then is even bigger and more arduous: the task of building societies and a civilization that are genuinely sunlit too.”
How will you bring sunlight to the shadows today?
Publication date: March 30, 2023
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Red Goldwing
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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