It takes a Human to Live a Christian Life

It takes a Human to Live a Christian Life May 18, 2024

The hand of the Father reaching out to touch the hand of Adam, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel
image via Pixabay

 

I found myself thinking about the difference between a human and a robot’s version of Christianity, for the second time in a few weeks. This time, Harrison Butker is to blame.

I don’t even know who Harrison Butker is.

In fact, when I saw the words “Harrison Butker” next to a photo of a meticulously coiffed bearded man at a college graduation, I actually thought the photo and name were something an AI had mocked up. I believed this for a ridiculously long time. I wish I still believed it. I don’t want to know a thing about Harrison Butker. Alas, here I am.

In any case, if you haven’t heard, Harrison Butker, who plays professional football, gave the commencement speech at Benedictine College last Saturday, and the internet has been talking about it ever since. I finally read the transcript of that speech just now, and it’s got me even more convinced that Butker must be an AI, because the speech reads like somebody asked an AI to write a Traditionalist Catholic commencement speech.  In fact, just now I asked ChatGTP to make me a Traditionalist Catholic commencement speech, and it did a much better job:

This is the first time I’ve ever used ChatGPT, for the record, and I never plan to do so again.

In any case, I don’t really want to get into the many errors that Mr. Butker made in that speech. Everyone’s already talking about antisemitic dog whistles, natural family planning and women who have careers outside the home. I just want to talk about the fact that I thought he was an AI, and that his speech reads like something that was generated by a robot. In my mind, I keep comparing that mishmash of platitudes and cliches to the strange case of Father Justin, which had the internet in an uproar last month.

If you recall, Catholic Answers had created a chatbot in a clerical collar named Father Justin, whom people could ask catechism questions. Next thing we knew, Father Justin was attempting to absolve people of their sins over the internet and praising an incestuous marriage, and everyone was accusing Catholic Answers of violating Canon Law by impersonating a priest. We all had a funny time dragging Catholic Answers. I’d like to do it again. Somewhere in that mess, I mentioned that an AI can be an apologist, but it takes a human to be a Christian.

I’m saying that again now: it takes a human to be a Christian. Christianity is a human thing. It comes to us from God, but it’s a thing that only a human can participate in.

Christianity is what happens when a human chooses to be drawn into the Life of Christ. There is another thing which looks like the practice of Christianity,  but it’s a counterfeit Christianity. There’s a thing where you blurt out the expected answers because you think you’re supposed to, and imagine that that makes you a Christian– that Christianity is a matter of repeating the things you’re supposed to say. And when people dedicate themselves to that counterfeit Christianity, they start spitting out answers in a triumphalist way without even stopping to consider what they’re saying. They’re saying what they’re saying not because it has value, but in order to belong to the clique that they think is Christianity. It makes them sound like a robot, like an algorithm. Butker is, as far as I know, a human being with infinite dignity, but he stood at that podium regurgitating talking points like a robot.

Blurting out the triumphalist things you’re supposed to say is a robot’s religion. Christianity is a human religion.

It’s not about saying a bunch of words, it’s about living a life, your unique human life, in Christ. Sometimes, while you’re living your life in Christ, you’ll find you know just what to say and give an answer and be right and feel clever. Often you’ll find you were wrong and repent. Far too often, you won’t know what the answer is. You’ll wrestle and struggle with your faith. You’ll walk in darkness and think you’ve lost your faith. Your faith will find you again.

It takes a human to do all of that. Only a human can live a Christian life. And, I suppose, living a Christian life will make us less and less like robots and more and more human.

In any case, that’s all I had to say about the Harrison Butker commencement speech. If you want to hear a takedown of some of his most offensive talking points, the Benedictine Sisters have an excellent one.

As for me, I’ll keep trying to find the real Christianity.

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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