Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building

April 14, 2014

Well, once again, a lawyer has told me to clean out my desk and vacate the premises, this time in The Atlantic. In truth, he was talking about natural law, not me, Christianity. But whenever someone says, “A government that tries to invoke divine law ceases to be of, by, and for the people,” I’m indicted too.

Of course it’s not just the lawyers. There are lots of really, really smart people saying that I have no business in legislative proceedings, court arguments or the public square generally. And they’ve been saying it for a while. The Atlantic article reminded me of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who dismissed the idea that we could invoke divine morality almost one hundred years ago when he said, “The law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky.” You get law from people. Period.

Suppose then that all of my moral principles and I really did pack up our desk, put our files into a box, and let the security guard escort us out of the building? John Lennon said to imagine a world with no religion. Let’s just try imagining a public square with no Christianity.

For starters, I guess I would have to take any concept of innate human equality and dignity with me. You didn’t get that from the Greeks, Romans, or pagan barbarians. You got that from me. I taught you to treat people as ends, not means. It would make me sad to take it back, but you say you don’t want Christian morality, so…

I would have to take back your ideas about inherent rights, too. I’m not saying non-Christian Founders and others haven’t talked about rights for a long time. But lose the concept of a good, personal, and—you won’t like this word—righteous God who endows human creatures with these things called rights; lose the idea of a God whose law makes respecting rights right, and you really have no foundation for them. Rights would come home with me, I’m afraid.

I admit, I’m thinking here about your political philosopher Richard Rorty. He conceded that, from your secular perspective, “There is no answer to the question ‘Why not be cruel?’—no noncircular theoretical backup for the belief that cruelty is horrible.” So Rorty, a bit of a prankster, calls himself a “liberal ironist.” “Liberal” because he wants to support things like equality and tolerance and the wrongness of torture, but an “ironist” because he knows that he has no real foundation for these political preferences.

To be honest, that’s the dirty little secret in political philosophy departments these days. Get your professors behind closed doors, and they’ll all admit that the democratic West has no real foundation for its conceptions of justice, equality, rights, and freedom. So the best and brightest devise clever-but-indefensible ways of co-opting Jesus’ whole do-unto-others shtick. Have you heard of John Rawls’s original position? Others invoke the country’s republican (small “r”) traditions, but all this is just nostalgia. Which means, I guess I have to take my “do unto others” morality with me when I go too, don’t I?

You also should realize that when equality, dignity and rights go, your ideas about justice will change drastically. Maybe you can adopt an old Roman definition of justice—justice as giving people their due. I’m okay with this definition so long as it’s fastened to equality and dignity. But without these, there’s nothing to measure what you’re due, no standard for establishing parity on the scales of justice. Justice becomes, “You deserve to be my slave because I proved superior in war.”

And then there’s compassion. You know how everyone from your public school teachers to your favorite movie stars have taught you to feel compassion for slaves, victims of torture, or children caught in the sex-trade? I’ll have to clear that out of the file cabinet. I mean, it’s not just equality and rights that go. The compassion you’ve learned to feel for the oppressed and exploited has to exit. Where, after all, did you think you learned it? Can you name another religion with a story like the Good Samaritan? Even if you want to name a non-Christian philosopher or novelist who has written on compassion, like Rousseau, from whom would you say they learned about compassion? I’m afraid compassion goes in the take-home box with the picture frames and coffee mug.

Mercy, too, right? Mercy is sort of my thing. You know, God mercifully offers to forgive sins through Christ’s death on the cross? So you’ve been talking a lot about forgiving student loans and Third World debt, or a fresh start for the bankrupt. Now you don’t need to bother, because I’ll unburden you of any instinct for mercy.

Then there’s love. People made a big deal over that rap song “Same Love” at the Grammys and its push for same-sex marriage. But if there ever was a Christian idea, it’s that every human should be loved with a same love. It’s interesting then that people, including that song, are scream-in-my-ear clear that they don’t want a several-thousand-year-old-book telling them what love really requires. Fine, but love or “same love” goes with me, too. You can keep your same-sex marriage, but you can’t have my love to justify it. Call these political and legal changes what they really are: a new might making a new right.

Actually, give people a few years and they won’t really want marriage at all. You know where the whole institution of marriage came from. Genesis 2! You don’t want that.

I’m tempted to take the separation of powers with me. Yes, the idea showed up vaguely in Aristotle’s talk of “mixed government.” But really it was the Christian anthropology of men like Locke, Montesquieu, and Madison, a religiously mixed bunch to be sure, who gave it a boost. Think of Madison’s quip in the Federalist 51: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” That’s not what we’re hearing these days, as presidents talk of going it alone “with or without Congress.” Unless you can affirm on your own non-Christian terms that human beings are both really good and really bad, you’re going to eventually tire of separate branches, bicameral legislatures, judicial review, federalism, a bill of rights. Give all the power to the majority. Or to the executive. Or to the courts. But forget about inefficient checks and balances.

Finally, tolerance for people who worship different gods—that would need to come with me. Some Christians have been very intolerant, I admit. But biblically, I can’t impose my worship on you both because God hasn’t authorized me to and it would be futile anyway. So while I’m in the public square debating new legislation, I’ll try to persuade you that a few of my moral principles are most just and best for human flourishing, just like you can try to persuade me of your principles, no matter their source. But I won’t make you go to my church, or burn down your place of worship, or force you to take all your ideas and evacuate the public square.

Yet if I leave the public square, what will keep you from burning down my church? On what basis will you tolerate me and my so-called false god, even if he’s tucked away in the private sphere? You might refrain for pragmatic reasons for a little while. But if you can manipulate the levers of power to get rid of troublesome religious minorities like my own, why wouldn’t you?

So I guess the big question in all of this is, if I and my morality left the public square altogether, what would you be left with?

Power. Unaccountable, unconstrained, unfocused power.

That’s what freedom from that brooding omnipresence in the sky means.

Admittedly, I think the new arrangement would work, at least until the Christian habits and cultural traits that you presently possess dry up. You’re still enjoying them, you know, which is why Western democracies remain such wonderfully livable places. People follow the rule of law. Leaders are held accountable for corruption. Natural disasters arouse national compassion. I could keep going.

Are you sure you want me to leave altogether? I’m not sure you can imagine this world, Lennon’s pretty song notwithstanding.

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman (PhD, University of Wales) is the editorial director for 9Marks and an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC. He has written for a number of publications and is the author or editor of a number books. He is also an occasional lecturer at Southeastern Baptist Theological … Read More

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