Creed Screed: Robotic Religion

By Paul Leavans

A Buddhist invention highlights a common misconception about God. The world’s first “robo-priest” is busy praying and chanting at a cemetery in Japan.

“With bowed head and closed eyes,” reports Current Thoughts and Trends, “the lips move in sync with prerecorded blessings.” The robot can recite prayers and rituals for 10 different sects of Japanese Buddhism. The machine can also say special prayers on the anniversary of a person’s death, for a fee.

The inventor, Hirata Isao, created the $400,000 mechanical monk in response to the human priests who cut rituals short to go play golf. He expects robots like this to be in use all over Japan within a decade.

This Buddhist automaton is a striking example of the difference between the Christian faith and other religions. Many faiths claim to put ‘people in touch with God, but their vision of God is so limited and impersonal that even a computer can say the right words to make the religion “work.’’

Because Christ is a real person, however, mere rote will not do. Jesus warned against “babbling like pagans” because “your Father knows what you need” (Matthew 6:7).

I laughed when I read about the robot priest. But when I recalled some prayers and comments I’ve heard (or said) among Christians, it seemed many of us also expect God to perform some kind of spiritual barter: he delivers when we do our “bit.”

OK, God, I’ve prayed today — now I need that raise. My husband has cancer? How could God let that happen? He’s always been such a good Christian.

If you tithe, God will make you prosper. He wants you to be rich.

The Lord isn’t one to be manipulated. He is a living, loving, holy God. We can expect him to act according to his personality and purposes, not because we push the right ritualistic buttons.

A real relationship can bring risks — of unpredictability, of heartbreak. But consider the alternative: a robotic arrangement with all the warmth of a microchip.

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