Hundreds attend church service generated by ChatGPT to find out if a chatbot can deliver a good sermon.


FUERTH, Germany (AP) — In the fully packed St. Paul's church in the Bavarian town of Fuerth, an artificial intelligence chatbot entreated the congregation to rise from their seats and offer praise to the Lord. The ChatGPT chatbot, embodied by an avatar portraying a bearded black man on a massive screen above the altar, proceeded to deliver a sermon to the over 300 attendees who had gathered on Friday morning for an experimental Lutheran church service primarily generated by AI.


Addressing the congregation with an impassive visage and a monotonous voice, the avatar began, "Esteemed friends, it is my privilege to stand before you and preach as the first artificial intelligence at this year's convention of Protestants in Germany." The entire 40-minute service, comprising the sermon, prayers, and music, was crafted collaboratively by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher affiliated with the University of Vienna.


"I conceptualized this service, but in truth, I mostly accompanied it, as approximately 98% of its content originated from the machine," shared the 29-year-old scholar with The Associated Press.


The Protestant convention in the Bavarian towns of Nuremberg and Fuerth featured numerous events, including an AI church service that attracted significant attention. Prior to its commencement, a lengthy queue formed outside the 19th-century neo-Gothic building, demonstrating the immense interest it generated.


Known as Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in German, the convention, held every two years, brings together tens of thousands of believers from around Germany to engage in prayer, song, and discussions about faith. The attendees also tackle pressing global issues, such as global warming and the war in Ukraine. This year's gathering, held from Wednesday to Sunday, adopted the theme "Now is the time." The congregation explored solutions to key challenges, including artificial intelligence.


The sermon for the AI church service was developed with the assistance of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence language model. Dr. Simmerlein, the creator, requested the inclusion of psalms, prayers, and a final blessing. To his surprise, the experiment resulted in a remarkably coherent church service.


During the service, artificial intelligence preached about leaving the past behind, focusing on present challenges, overcoming the fear of death, and maintaining unwavering trust in Jesus Christ. Four different avatars, two young women and two young men, "led" the entire service on the screen.


At times, the AI-generated avatars unintentionally elicited laughter, particularly when they used platitudes and deadpan expressions and emphasized the importance of regular prayer and church attendance to maintain faith. Some attendees enthusiastically recorded the event on their cell phones, while others viewed it more critically and refrained from participating vocally during the Lord's Prayer.


Heiderose Schmidt, a 54-year-old IT professional, initially felt excitement and curiosity when the service began but gradually found it disconcerting. She felt that the avatars lacked heart, soul, and emotional expression, delivering their messages rapidly and monotonously, making it challenging for her to concentrate.


Marc Jansen, a 31-year-old Lutheran pastor, brought a group of teenagers from his congregation to witness the AI church service. He was impressed by the experiment, although he felt it lacked the emotional and spiritual elements that he considers essential when crafting his own sermons.


Anna Puzio, a 28-year-old technology ethics researcher, also attended the service and acknowledged the potential benefits of AI in religion. She noted the opportunity to make religious services more accessible and inclusive for believers who, for various reasons, may be unable to attend physical gatherings. However, she cautioned against the dangers of AI in religion, emphasizing the need to ensure diverse Christian perspectives are represented and to prevent the misuse of AI to propagate a single viewpoint.


Simmerlein clarified that his aim is not to replace religious leaders with artificial intelligence but rather to aid them in their daily responsibilities. Similar to how pastors seek inspiration from literature, they can turn to AI for sermon ideas. Moreover, AI can expedite the process of writing sermons, allowing pastors to devote more time to offering individual spiritual guidance to their parishioners.

Simmerlein believes that as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly integrated into various aspects of our lives, it is crucial to learn how to effectively engage with it.

Nonetheless, the AI church service experiment also shed light on the constraints associated with integrating artificial intelligence into religious settings. In contrast to a human pastor, the chatbot proved incapable of reacting to laughter or other responses from the congregation, emphasizing its inability to foster authentic interaction and grasp the distinct dynamics of a particular community.


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