TRANSCRIPT: Christmas and the Culture

December 23, 2014

Phillip Bethancourt: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program. I’m Phillip Bethancourt joined here by Russell Moore, and we want to talk to you some more about the holidays. Think about the topic that seems to come up every Christmas season, and that’s the war on Christmas. So, the media will draw attention to issues that are going on out there in the culture, but then people are experiencing this on their own right, whether it’s a cashier who says, “Happy holidays” to you instead of “Merry Christmas,” and that gets under your skin, or maybe a Christmas party that’s dubbed a “holiday party” at your office, or the way that a school labels the winter break instead of calling it Christmas break. So, Dr. Moore, when people are experiencing this Christmas season and the types of war on Christmas things that go on around them in our culture, what are some of the things that will help them to think through how to navigate the war on Christmas?

Russell Moore: Well, you know, I thought about this a couple of years ago. I wrote a little piece about this because I found myself really, really irritated one day. I was on a plane, and they had one of those airline magazines, and I was flipping through it, and there was an advertisement from Budweiser, I think, one of the beer companies, that had the headline, “Silent nights are overrated.” And then I flipped the page a couple more pages through, and there was an advertisement for this really expensive, high-end, outdoor grill, and it says, “Who says it’s better to give then to receive?” And my response is Jesus is the one who says it’s better to give than to receive! And I was really irritated because I just sat there and thought you know, would they put an ad in their airlines in the Islamic world during Ramadan that says, “Fasting is overrated” or, you know, put something in one of their airlines in India that says, “Who says everything is one with the universe?” And I thought, you know, why would they do that with us? And the issue was that I was totally missing the point, and I was seeing things out of perspective because I was taking a kind of personal offense at these issues rather than seeing the bigger picture.

Now, as you know, I think we have tremendous problems when it comes to a militant kind of secularization with some of the church-state questions that the late Richard John Neuhaus used to call “the naked public square,” but I think that this outrage that we are expressing toward the commercial marketplace sometimes is overblown. We see things as persecution, that really aren’t. Sometimes there are. You know, sometimes we do see situations of a school system penalizing a child for writing “Merry Christmas” instead of saying that this is a holiday card. But the huffing and puffing that we tend to do when marketers don’t get our Christian commitments is, I think, a little bit off base.

First of all, I think we need to keep in mind most of these issues that we take offense at are done by corporations, and these corporations are trying to sell products. They are really not trying to offend constituencies. It really isn’t good business to go out of your way to offend

constituencies. That’s not good economics at all for anybody. And I think the problem is with those ads that really got me upset, I am willing to bet that whoever came up with these ad campaigns didn’t even know that they were making fun of Jesus Christ and of the birth in Bethlehem in the case of Silent Night or with Jesus’ statement that Paul records in his letter to the Corinthians that it is better to give than to receive. They just know we’ve heard it’s better to give than to receive, probably something from Benjamin Franklin or somewhere. We know Silent Night, that’s a Christmas carol that people sing. They didn’t trace that through I’ll bet. They just know it’s just part of the background music. And so for them, it probably is the same as saying something about decking the halls or reindeer games or Heat Miser and Snow Miser, any other kind of Christmas background music that’s around there. And so, it’s just people who don’t get all of that because they are living in a time in American culture that is much more secularized.

So, our response to that I think ought not to be a sense of outrage as though we’re victims. I think instead we ought to say okay, this tells us that our culture is less and less connected with the more basic roots of Christianity, and many, especially in the culture-making sort of sectors in American life, see Christmas kind of the same way that most Americans see Hanukah. We know about—we know what a menorah is. We know what dreidels are, but most people don’t really know about the Maccabean fight. They don’t really know about the miraculous provision of oil to the Maccabeans. They don’t know the background story there. And that ought not to make us angry. It instead ought to say let’s take the opportunity to understand our neighbors here and understand that they see us, when they think of us and when they think of Christmas, they think about it more in terms of the trivialities than they do in terms of incarnation and blood atonement and the kingdom that dawned there in Bethlehem. So, they know about Silent Night like they know about Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, and they don’t see just how momentous it is to say Emmanuel, God is with us.

And so, I think that ought to tell us we need to spend some more time engaging our neighbors with exactly why the incarnation is good news, why the incarnation is scary news, why Herod receives this as bad news, and if you think about it, the Christmas message really is one that if it is really understood, it just doesn’t fit with all the trivial trappings of the holidays anyway. It’s much, much stranger than that, and I think that’s a good thing. We ought to embrace the strangeness at Christmas and all year round because frankly, a gospel at Christmas or any other time that is safe enough to sell beer and barbecue grills isn’t the kind of gospel that is going to be able to make blessings flow far as the curse is found, as Isaac Watts put it.

And so I think we ought to, when we think about this war on Christmas, we shouldn’t turn this into a fight for our right to party. I think instead we ought to remind ourselves that we live in, as every other generation before us has done, what Isaiah in Isaiah 9 calls a land of deep darkness. That’s what he said would settle over Galilee of the Gentiles. And we need to remember that that darkness isn’t overcome by sarcasm or personal offense or retaliatory insults or boycotts of Wal- Mart or whatever it is. The light of Bethlehem shines in the darkness, and that’s what we need to recover in our churches, in our families, in our communities.

Phillip: Thank you for listening to the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question that you would like Dr. Moore to answer on a future podcast, please send that to [email protected].

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