Johnathan Merritt, writing for The Atlantic, highlights to the work of The Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek as Merritt wrestles with issues surrounding AI and Christianity. Read the full story HERE. Related Stories- Gizmodo – 8 Ways ...


The Atlantic – Is AI a Threat to Christianity? and more...

The Atlantic – Is AI a Threat to Christianity?

Johnathan Merritt, writing for The Atlantic, highlights to the work of The Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek as Merritt wrestles with issues surrounding AI and Christianity. Read the full story HERE.


Gizmodo – 8 Ways Virtual Reality Is For More Than Just Video Games

Carli Velocci, of Gizmodo, points to the work of The Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek as she explores various uses of VR in the modern context. Read the full story HERE.


Architect – Strapping on the Sacred: When Religion Enters Virtual Reality

Nicholas Korody, writing for the Architect, quotes The Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek as he investigates what VR will mean for the future of Religion. Read the full story HERE.


Pokémon GO Proves that Congress Needs to Establish Augmented Reality Property Rights Now

With the massive success of mobile game Pokémon GO there is no question that augmented reality is here to stay. Newzoo recently reported that, months after its launch, over 700,000 people a day are still downloading the game. More than that, Niantic, the game’s creator, is steadily collecting roughly $2,000,000 a day in revenue. But even with such reality-changing success, the coming AR boom is going to require Congress to get involved soon so as to protect the rights of many individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses.

The main concern arises because of the new medium that emerging technology has created. Augmented reality (AR) supplements a computer-generated reality to enhance one’s present-world environment in real-time. So in the case of Pokémon GO – a player’s (also called trainers) mobile device augments a digital cartoon character as if it is presently in front of you. The game then revolves around catching various types of Pokémon by flicking Poké Balls (traps) at them to capture them.

Much of the fun of the game is that the animated characters that one can’t see with the naked eye are potentially all around the player. The trainer’s mobile device then becomes a detective tool by which these augmented created beings can be discovered, tracked and collected.

Unfortunately this same element of the game that makes it adventurous and fun has also led to some problematic and even illegal behavior by players. Because of the randomness of where the Pokémon spawn, trainers often track Pokémon to unlikely places. Taking this to extremes, the Daily Mirror reported that a player was shot and killed for trespassing while on a Pokémon hunt. Several players have been robbed and assaulted while playing. People have literally walked off a cliff and another has crashed into the back of a police car while playing. Like any technology, playing Pokémon has its risks if appropriate boundaries aren’t enacted.

But the AR elements of the game go far beyond just catching Pokémon. In order to catch these little AR critters and excel at the game, participants need to constantly collect and restock an array of items to help them in their efforts. Of necessity are Poké Balls that trap the Pokémon. And for players to collect these items and to compete with other players they have to go to fixed AR locations named PokéStops and Gyms. And this is where trouble arises.

AR locations are created by the game’s creators on present reality locations without the owner’s consent. For instance, the church that I serve at in Ft. Lauderdale has two Pokéstops on our campus and there is another across the street at a nearby public park. Additionally, there is a Pokémon Gym just down the street at the famous Floridian Diner and Las Olas Boulevard is littered with AR locations. More than that, the AR creatures can spawn just about anywhere for anyone to see. Many of my congregants have caught numerous Pokémon within the church. I have even caught a couple in my office.

Now nobody is currently complaining about this. Many of our congregants enjoy Pokémon GO, myself included (I’m only a lvl. 24!). But with Pokémon GO’s profitability you can bet that AR interaction is only going to continue to increase. One day, not long from now, people will likely wear AR glasses or even contact lens that will display a whole AR world in addition to the reality they presently experience. Our car windows will also likely be infused with this emerging tech. And as long as those experiences are tame no one will likely complain.

But what happens when AR developers cease to be polite? Remember AR can literally be superimposed over any present physical environment. So what happens when an Internet porn company decides to make public pornographic AR that resides on a church campus? What happens when a business’s company headquarters is defaced by competitor advertisement? What happens when school bullies slander your child with AR graffiti on their locker at school? Or worse yet, what happens when citizen’s homes begin to be targeted with racial, homophobic, or gender slurs? Without much imagination one can quickly see an infinite possibility of problematic situations that can arise in this new medium.

Of course some will say: “Well just don’t use AR.” But, in the near future, that simply won’t be an option. AR will be as common as driving a car, using the Internet, or talking on a cell phone. People will want and even need to access AR to be able to function in their day-to-day life. And that is why it is essential that Congress establish AR property rights in our present reality now.

Of course, we need to understand that this is no small task. The United States Government will need to take the appropriate steps to prevent international AR cyber threats from occurring in the United States and its protected territories. And to do this an appropriate balance will need to be created between personal digital anonymity and public accountability. This will also likely mean that US politicians and diplomats will need to take an active role in encouraging ethical AR behavior globally which will require a tireless effort. But the alternative of ignoring these issues is potentially far more devastating to the future fabric of humanity.

This is precisely why Congress needs to get out in front of this issue now – because the various incidents that have ensued from catching a few imaginary creatures is going to soon be the least of our AR concerns. Without appropriate oversight, AR abuse is likely to be on humanity’s horizon. And that could mean that the personal, religious and corporate freedoms that we presently experience could be significantly augmented to create a present reality that no one wants to experience.


Challenging Christian Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Supporters

As featured in the Christian Post: HERE

This article is adapted from my 9/11/16 sermon titled “Searching for Repentance” preached at First Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. You can view that sermon HERE

I once read a story… a surgeon, an engineer, and a politician were debating which of their professions was the oldest. The surgeon said, “Eve was made from Adam’s rib, and that of course was a surgical procedure. So obviously surgery is the oldest profession.” The engineer countered with, “Yes, but before that, order was created out of chaos, and that most certainly was an engineering job.” Hearing this the politician smiled and said triumphantly, “And just who do you think created the chaos?”

I don’t know about you but when I watch political coverage on the news these days –that joke seems to hit a little close to home. Our current political election cycle has become like an extended reality TV show – and “chaos” may be understating what is happening right now. All one need do is watch the news and it appears that America is at war with itself. Slander, divisiveness and even physical altercations surround our presidential candidates.

This has often caused me to ponder: “What teaching from Jesus Christ taught us to view a political candidate – or any person for that matter – with such disdain, such hatred?” Spoiler alert: there isn’t any.

To the contrary – Christians are to be supporting our presidential candidates spiritually. The apostle Paul – in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 – urges Christians to be “making requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for everyone” – for government leaders and all those in authority. Paul wrote this letter as a charge to develop the directive that he had given his young assistant to, among other things, refute false teachings.

And do you know who was in power when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy? The notorious Roman Emperor Nero. Nero – the Christian Killer. The non-Christian historian Tacitus details Nero as “extensively torturing and executing Christians.” Christian writer Tertullian is the first to call Nero the first persecutor of Christians. Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea – writes that Paul was beheaded in Rome during Nero’s reign and that it was specifically Nero’s persecution that led to Peter and Paul’s deaths.

But, again, what does the apostle Paul urge folks to be doing? To be making requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for everyone.

Quite frankly, we as modern Christians have failed to do our Christian duty in this regard. And this reality personally hit me pretty hard during the presidential primaries earlier this spring because of something I read.

I read then – and it was confirmed later – that Donald Trump was actually baptized in the denomination in which I serve – the Presbyterian Church (USA). So this means that somewhere, at some time, my larger Presbyterian tribe assumed responsibility for Donald Trump’s Christian nurture. Now, of course, I wasn’t there at Mr. Trump’s baptism – but when the larger community pledges to care for individuals baptized in Christ – I think that we all, as Christians, have a responsibility throughout the duration of our lives to live into that charge. Wherever and whenever that pledge is made we, as a family of faith, need to try and uphold it as best we are able.

But that is not what I have seen happening. Quite to the contrary – on one side I have watched my friends who are self-proclaimed liberal Christians demean Trump and on the other side, I have seen self-proclaimed evangelical Christian Republicans mock him. You know all the verbiage – you have heard it for months on end.

But when we lose compassion for other human beings, when we stop being intentional about going after the lost, we are sacrificing individual and collective pieces of our humanity and we are exchanging them for evil.

Any follower of Jesus knows that the slander, the back and forth insults and accusations, the hatred that is displayed…. we all know that is not of Jesus Christ. We know it. Both candidates are doing it. The media is doing it. Many of us do it. But that is not the way of Jesus.

And after a while I began to wonder, with all this criticism, has anyone considered what happens if Donald Trump actually wins and our only response has been ridicule? Is that really the best tactic? Isolate ourselves completely from the next potential president of arguably the most influential and powerful country in the world?
I don’t know what you think but, in my mind, that doesn’t seem helpful. What if our response to every fledgling Christian was simply to turn away from them in their religious infancy? How would anyone mature in Christ? Certainly, we don’t have to agree with people to express love to them do we? Just because Donald Trump says “Two Corinthians” doesn’t mean that I now think that that’s the actual name of the book. Isn’t my job as Christian, to literally, in the words of the old sixties adage, “love the hell out” of people?

So after considering all of this – I decided to start doing something a little audacious. I didn’t see any pastor in my denomination trying to support Donald Trump – so I started calling his national campaign line and leaving messages. I made it clear in those messages that if Donald Trump is in need of a PCUSA pastor and wants to grow in his Christian faith – if he wants someone to support him in moving closer in his life to Jesus Christ – then I will volunteer to walk with him.

Now I called a lot. To be clear, no one ever answered – but I repeatedly left messages offering my support. Then, around the time of the presidential primary, I called the local Ft. Lauderdale Trump-supporter group organizer and she passed me on to a higher-up at the state level; the short of it is, no one ever called me back. Of course this is no real surprise. I mean who am I that Donald Trump might humbly come to me to grow in his faith?

And – before I go any further with this – you may be wondering why I didn’t extend this same invitation to Hillary Clinton? Well it’s because she has quite often clearly stated that she’s a Methodist – and I don’t want to step on my Methodist clergy friends’ toes. But let me just say it here, as Hillary’s Christian brother, I extend my offer to her as well.

But regardless as to if I ever have any contact with either of these candidates, what I came to recognize was that – as a follower of Jesus – I needed to progress to a place of Christian maturity where I would be committed to continually praying for both of these candidates – win or lose. And so now I do just that; I pray regularly that they will be conformed to the will of Christ.

You see – I believe that the deep division that we are seeing in our country today is a result of poor spiritual behavior. Allow me to emphasize the point by posing a further question: Do you think that the terror of this world will end by fostering further division? Because that seems to be the only construct that the world is currently offering. And I want to suggest that that proposition is not only NOT of Jesus Christ – but worse yet – it is theological terrorism.

When we say to one another “If you don’t do things my way you are my enemy – and I will slander you – or worse yet, I will harm you… or worse yet, I will abandon you”– then we aren’t acting in Christ – we are simply holding each other hostage in evil.

Fifteen years after the devastation of 9/11 – we remember that theological terrorism only ends in death and destruction. But what we also need to remember is that the reconciliation of the world can only happen though Love.

Redemption can only happen through Love.
Peace can only happen through Love.
Justice can only happen through Love.
And the lost will only be found in Love.

But if we abandon Christ’s command to love one another in our search for theological clarity – if we are quick to abandon one another over ideological disagreements – then we have already succumbed to becoming the very opposite of what we aspire to be in Jesus Christ.

So in light of that, I have a challenge to all Christians this presidential season. I want to challenge you to find someone who disagrees with your choice of political candidate. Then, if your candidate loses, I am challenging you to invite that identified person out for coffee, or have them over to your house for dinner. And then, during that time of hospitality, I challenge you to offer to pray with them for the US President Elect. Put simply – you and I were created to be better than what the world is currently offering us… but that redemptive change will only advance when we start exuding love.


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