Book Review: John Longhurst’s Can Robots Love God and Be Saved?

As someone with a rich background in the cutting-edge side of marketing and technology (and education) and someone often referred to as a futurist but is fascinated with ethical and theological impacts and contexts, I found John Longhurst’s “Can Robots Love God and Be Saved? (CMU Press 2024) to be a fascinating exploration of the convergence between cutting-edge technology, ethical considerations, and theological inquiry. This book speaks directly to my passions and professional experiences, offering a unique perspective on the future of faith in a rapidly evolving world where concepts such as artificial intelligence (and AGI) must be considered through both technological and theological lenses. 

A seasoned religion reporter in Canada, John Longhurst tackles various topics that bridge faith and modern societal challenges. The book is structured into sections that address different aspects of faith in contemporary life, including mental health, societal obligations, and the intriguing possibilities of artificial intelligence within religious contexts. Those are constructed out of interviews and perspectives from Longhurt’s interviews with a wide variety of cast and characters.

Longhurst discusses the ongoing challenges many face with mental illness and the role faith communities play in providing support. This aligns with my work in consulting and education, emphasizing the need for understanding and empathy in addressing situations such as mental health issues, whether in the classroom or the broader community. He also delves into the discussion on Christians’ duty to pay taxes and support societal welfare, raising essential questions about the practical application of faith from various personas and perspectives. I found this particularly relevant when contemplating the intersection of personal beliefs and civic responsibility, echoing ethical marketing practices and corporate social responsibility principles.

Exploring the deep bonds between humans and their pets, Longhurst touches on the theological implications of animals in heaven. This can be a fascinating topic in environmental science discussions, highlighting the interconnectedness of all life forms and reflecting on how technology (like AI in pets) might change our relationships with animals. The book also delves into ethical concerns about government surveillance from a religious standpoint, providing an excellent case study for understanding the balance between security and privacy rights—a crucial consideration in both marketing and technology sectors where data privacy is paramount.

One of the most thought-provoking sections of the book delves into AI’s potential role in religious practices. Longhurst’s exploration of whether robots can participate in spiritual activities and even achieve salvation is a direct intersection of my interests in technology and ethics. It raises profound questions about the future of faith, challenging traditional theological boundaries and offering a glimpse into future innovations in religious practice.

Longhurst also examines how religious communities can address the loneliness epidemic, which I found particularly engaging. The sense of belonging and support provided by faith groups is mirrored in the need for community in education and the workplace. Technology, mainly social media and AI, can play a role in mitigating loneliness, but it also highlights the need for genuine human connections. That’s also one of my motivators for exploring when setting up a marketing strategy: How does this product/service/technology help establish more genuine human connectivity?

Additionally, the book ponders the existence of extraterrestrial life and its implications for religious beliefs. This speculative yet fascinating topic can engage students in critical thinking about humanity’s place in the universe, much like futuristic marketing strategies encourage us to envision new possibilities and innovations. This is a hot topic, with other books such as American Cosmos making many “must read” lists this year, along with general interest in extraterrestrial / non-human intelligence / Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) / Non-Human Intelligence (NHI) very much in cultural conversations these days.

Longhurst’s exploration of AI and its potential spiritual implications is particularly compelling from a marketing and technology perspective. As someone who thrives on being at the cutting edge, this book fuels my imagination about the future intersections of technology and spirituality. The ethical questions raised about AI’s role in religious practices are reminiscent of the debates we have in marketing about the ethical use of AI and data analytics.

The work is a thought-provoking collection that challenges readers to consider the evolving role of faith amidst technological advancements. Longhurst’s ability to tackle complex and often controversial topics with nuance and empathy makes this book a valuable resource for educators, faith leaders, technologists, and marketers alike. It provides a rich tapestry of discussions that can be seamlessly integrated into lessons on environmental science, ethics, technology, and even literature in a succinct and “quick-read” fashion.

Can Robots Love God and Be Saved?” is a compelling exploration of how faith intersects with some of the most pressing issues of our time. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in understanding the future of spirituality in a world increasingly shaped by technology based on first-hand considerations rather than a purely academic or “one-sided” perspective. For those of us on the cutting edge, whether in marketing, technology, or education, this book offers a profound and thought-provoking look at the possibilities and challenges ahead.

Good read!

No Simple Highway, a Sermon

I’m was too young to see the Grateful Dead live with Jerry Garcia, but I’ve tried to make up for it over the years by going to shows by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and collective groups of the members of the band over the years. I particularly got into the Dead during my time in grad school at Yale in the early ’00s (lots of shows, bumper stickers, doing CD trading of bootlegs and soundboard recordings of old shows on Dead forums, etc).

I’m still listening to their music 20 years later and I’ve always marveled at some of the theology in the words and music that the band and lyricist Robert Hunter have brought into the world.

Particularly, Ripple is a song that exemplifies the human experience and the journey we all might take. It doesn’t have to be a “theological statement” but geez is it a good one if that’s your persuasion and what you hear.

I’ve been going through my own journey as of late, and I feel like I’ve stumbled and had to find my own path. It’s been a difficult season of listening, hearing, and discernment. I’ve been listening to songs like Ripple over the past few months as reflections of my own path and what may lie ahead in the Tarot cards of existing and the harps unstrung. Let there be songs to fill the air.

So when I happened to come across this sermon from 1988 that Elizabeth Greene gave to First Unitarian Church of Oakland about Ripple and her voice certainly came through the music and I held them as my own. What a beautiful hand-me-down.

Regardless of your religious persuasion, I urge you to click play on the video above and open up her sermon from all those years ago while you listen for yourself:

…The “ripple” image took on new meaning for me. It was as though the reaching out, one of us to the other, is what causes that ripple in the wellspring of God. It is our having the courage to ask and the love to respond that lets us partake of the fountain. When we do, we affect each other; when we try to let our voice be heard, we ruffle the water; when we hear each other’s voice, hear them with our hearts, we widen the circle.

My favorite line in this song (along with “no simple highway”) is, “If I knew the way, I would take you home.” I don’t know the way, and you probably don’t either. My path is for my steps alone, and so is yours. But when we truly say, “If I knew the way, I would take you home,” we have so much more than just our separateness.

We have the music. (The final part of the song is simple La-de- da-da-da, sung together in harmony.) We have the fountain, a wellspring of grace as we travel.

We have one another. We have the love that lets us hear each other’s voices, that lets us reach out when our cups are empty– and share when they are full. (I am vastly richer for having finally “heard” some of what my Deadhead friends hear.) We have our common yearning for home, the God-ache we all know in some form or other…

Source: No Simple Highway, by Elizabeth Greene

Just to close the loop because I wanted to know, I did some googling (I didn’t know Elizabeth Greene before stumbling upon this amazing sermon) and the journey she mentions here from First Unitarian Church of Oakland to the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was beginning. Turns out she pastored in Boise for 25 years and retired in 2013. What a journey. Goes along well with Ripple. Thank you, Rev. Greene.

“Catholic in nature”

In a letter dated May 10, 2018 to Baker, church leaders say the congregation voted 131 to 40 to take down the work because community members view it as “Catholic in nature.” “We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms,” the letter said, “As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church.”

Source: ‘The removal is between you and God’: Artist fights removal of C – – Columbia, South Carolina