Bishop’s column: Faith key for navigating life in AI world

(OSV News photo/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

Editor’s note: This column is excerpted from the commencement Mass homily Bishop Knestout delivered at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, on Saturday, May 11. 


What a gift you have received in your education here at Belmont Abbey College! What a precious, treasured gift. Your education here will serve you well in meeting the challenges the world presents in this age. Allow me to illustrate this.

Earlier this week, Apple launched an advertising campaign for their new iPad. It is the thinnest and most powerful iPad yet. The ad generated some negative attention, unanticipated by Apple. They were not attentive to the meaning of the symbolism it expressed.

The ad opens with a view of a polished steel platform upon which are a piano and bugle, stereo systems, record player, arcade game, paints and artistic instruments. All are symbolic or expressive of creativity and human achievement. The audio is Cher singing the upbeat “All I Ever Need Is You.”

As the view pulls back, you see another polished steel slab descending. Slowly it crushes these objects, these symbols of creativity. They’re all obliterated, pulverized under this vice. As the slab lifts back up, all you see is the new thin iPad.

I am sure their intention was to show how every tool or instrument of creativity, inspired and used by the human spirit, is found in this powerful iPad. But they were blind to the symbolism and the meaning. Those in artistic fields were insulted and disturbed by the ad because it symbolically suggested the crushing of the creative human spirit, not its facilitation. They certainly interpreted the spirit of the age, but something was missing.

Then and now

Now go back 40 years. In December 1984, having completed my studies at the University of Maryland, I attended the commencement ceremony at the university’s School of Architecture.

At the beginning of that year, the Super Bowl aired an ad from Apple unlike anything we had ever seen.

The ad began with a backdrop setting that looked like the inside of a drab factory. Sitting on benches on the factory floor are rows of what appeared to be slaves in a dystopian future concentration camp. They are watching the projected face of a looming Big Brother on a large TV screen as he lectures them.

An athletic woman runs into the large building wielding a sledgehammer, and casts it at the screen. The screen explodes as the dronelike factory workers look on. The force of the explosion passes through the factory with the force of a great wind – something like the force of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost.

The ad conveyed a message that a soul-inspiring individual was conquering a soul-crushing Big Brother. The Apple desktop computer was overcoming the influence of the mainframe. This ad marked the beginning of a decades-long boom in finance, technology and the economy that would lead to the internet and AI world we have today.

Computers’ limitations

What happened in the time between 40 years ago, when Apple showed the creativity of the human spirit, and today, when they seem to show that technology is crushing the human creative spirit? They captured well the spirit of the age, and the human spirit, but they missed the crucial importance and impact of the Holy Spirit.

Technology is simply an instrument. It can be put to good or bad use. Its use will be inspired and directed by either the spirit of the age, the human spirit, or the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.

We know and believe that God dwells in the human heart out of love – something that no silicon chip or vast array of computers can ever experience. It is your spirit, strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit, that can direct and shape the technology and innovation that assists our lives toward good ends.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The readings (1 Cor 12:4-13 and Jn 14:23-26) speak to us about the Holy Spirit, especially the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts help us overcome the weakness of our flesh and the effects of sin, and help direct our lives toward good ends, toward God’s will, leading to happiness.

The Spirit sends us gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding to remedy the darkness which sin introduces into our intellectual capacity. The Spirit sends us gifts of courage, right judgment, piety and reverence to remedy the weakness which sin introduces into our will and actions.

These gifts help us act upon what we receive from the fullness of revelation in Christ so we can navigate through a world of challenges and temptations, making quicker and easier progress toward holiness. The Spirit we receive is the spirit of truth and power to transform the world in conformity with the truth of the Gospel.

What the world desperately needs

The gift of your education at Belmont Abbey was not just about forming your mind and body, but also forming and strengthening your spirit. Your spirit, guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, leads you to bring the spiritual gifts you receive to remedy the injuries and burdens of the world, becoming cooperators with God in leading all to the fullness of life and love.

The Spirit we receive is the revelation of Christ, leading us to all truth! The truth about the human person, about our dignity, created in the image and likeness of God, and our destiny in the fullness of life and love in his presence.

Your future is bright and promising because your faith and your education give you the key to navigating life in an AI world. Your education has been infused with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, who assists and perfects all that you have learned and all that you are as a human person.

We give thanks for this great, precious gift you have received that offers the world what it desperately needs: the remedy that gives meaning and purpose to life and fulfills the deepest needs of the human person.

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