Breaking the Christian Hobby: Sleeping While Judas Acts

August 20, 2014

In May 1532, soon after resigning as Chancellor of England, St. Thomas More wrote his epitaph. Reflecting on what he presumably thought lay before him, More wrote of having obtained “the thing which from a child in a manner always he wished and desired, the he might have some years of his life free, in which he little and little withdrawing himself from the business of this life, might continually remember the immortality of the life to come.” For students of history, of course, More’s wishful thinking was not to be. Not even one year later, More was arrested by King Henry VIII for treason and executed in 1535 for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, denouncing papal authority and proclaiming the English crown head of the Church in England. While on the scaffold, he famously proclaimed that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Despite his connection to the Reformation, St. Thomas More has been widely honored as a role model by both Catholics and Protestants in recent years, with St. John Paul II declaring him the patron of statesmen in 2000 after requests by leaders from multiple religious backgrounds. Indeed, with the progressive movement’s wielding of state power and popular culture to punish Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims for defending marriage, sexual ethics, and the right to life, More remains not just a man for all seasons but the role model for our time. Yet, how do we reconcile his martyrdom for Christ in 1535 with the epitaph he wrote for himself just a few years earlier? By 1532, Henry VIII had already purged most of More’s supporters from the clergy and courts, and More was shrewd enough to see the writing on the walls. Within his epitaph, therefore, we see less of a wish and more of a plea. A public plea—carved in stone, no less—indicating his willingness to exit public life and pleading with the king to let him be. Henry, however, demanded acceptance—not just silence—from More, which More as a Catholic could not provide. More did not choose conflict, but he refused to avoid it if it also meant avoiding his call to be a witness to Christ.

Regardless of which side of the Reformation you find yourself standing upon, the parallels between More’s dilemma and our own as Christians in the 21st century are unmistakable. As Hollywood has increasingly produced and promoted films hostile to Christian values, we have turned to our own Christian studios and directors. As our universities have become liberal institutions while maintaining a façade of academic freedom, we have sent our children to Christian universities like Hillsdale, Biola, and Ave Maria. Like More, in response to hostility, we seek to be left alone, but how do we justify this with our Christian calling to be witnesses to Christ?

Fortunately, More’s epitaph was ironically not his last word on the subject. In The Sadness of Christ, his final work written while imprisoned in the Tower of London, More points out the contrast between the energy of Judas with the sleep of the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. He writes, “Does not this contrast between the traitors and the Apostles present to us a clear and sharp mirror image . . . a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times to our own?” In response to the Tudor threat, he—facing death—urged the bishops of England, “Do not be afraid.”

If then we seek to stand for Christ in our time as St. Thomas More stood for Christ in his own, we must learn his courage—the courage to remain awake and be a witness for Christ, which invariably requires suffering. Yet as More’s own struggle shows, even for those firm in their religious convictions, the temptation to choose sleep over sacrifice is strong. We read the stories of courageous religious figures like More, Bonhoeffer, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, yet it’s hard to apply their leadership to a world so different from what they face. Yes, individuals like former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich and Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography in New Mexico have paid prices in their careers for defending marriage, but we live still in a society of religious intolerance that has not (yet) reached the level of religious persecution.

For the average Christian in America today, we still get up each morning, go to work or school, and proceed through life’s activities in ways remarkably similar to non-Christians with some religious activities after work and on the weekends replacing yoga and book club. For the majority of us, life has not yet forced us into the binary choice between Christ and the world, and our religious upbringing reflects this profound reality. Growing up, I participated in numerous youth activities including praise and worship, community service programs, regular Church attendance, and Christian Awakening Retreats. The activities emphasized the importance of Christian community and our reliance on God, two lessons that are important. As I entered adult life, however, I was prepared by my upbringing to be a witness to Christ but not to actively place myself in positions that needed a witness to Christ. I could loudly proclaim that I was pro-life at the March for Life, but in the working world, my faith life was death by a thousand paper cuts. I didn’t want to alienate potential new friends or isolate myself from co-workers by discussing controversial topics where it wasn’t appropriate, but in the end excuses like these eventually isolated my faith life from my working life. Was the only way to truly live a religious life and hold a career to work for an organization that aligned with my views?

The lesson of St. Thomas More says that the answer to this question is a definite no. Many are called by God to the religious life, but the Church is in and of this world as it prepares us for the next, and for that it needs laymen, like More, to be servants of God and also dedicated workers for our businesses, schools, law firms, and city halls. To advance a truly pluralistic society, we have to be witnesses of Christ daily, not to lecture about Christianity (lectures have their own time and place) but to be present as Christians. In every action and interaction, our neighbors, friends, and citizens need to know that we are God’s servants through our dedicated work and charity. As St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” When opponents of those who defend marriage declare us hostes humani generis—enemies of the human race—they need to be reminded that we are their co-workers, roommates, neighbors, family members, and friends. We must not be sleeping; we must be present in the world to remind the world of the beauty of our faith and the legitimacy of our arguments.

Will our witnesses to Christ leave us vulnerable to suffering? Of course it will. As long as humans remain imperfect, any interaction with the world will leave us open to suffering. If we wait until just the right moment to be witnesses to Christ—whether it be after we graduate college, or just until we can get our foot into the door with that first job or big promotion—we will always have an excuse not to be witnesses to Christ. As More wrote in Utopia, “do the best you can to make the present production a success—don’t spoil the entire play just because you happen to think of another one that you’d enjoy rather more . . . for things will never be perfect, until human beings are perfect.”

In the end, despite More’s example, only one bishop in England refused to submit to Henry VIII’s demands, More’s friend and fellow martyr St. John Fisher. May we not be caught sleeping when we are called to be witnesses to Christ and His teachings in our own time.

Derek Bekebrede

Derek attended Harvard University where he wrote for the Harvard Crimson. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24