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New app lets users ‘Chat with Jesus’ for £3 a month

01 September 2023

Screenshots from the Text with Jesus app

Screenshots from the Text with Jesus app

IF YOU ever get bored with talking to Jesus, there are plenty of other options, from his parents to his disciples, to Old Testament prophets, and even the devil.

The premier version of the app “Text With Jesus” allows users to chat with a host of Bible characters for £2.99 a month. Each is powered by ChatGPT, an artificial-intelligence (AI) model that generates text on demand.

Text With Jesus was launched in July by Catloaf Software LLC. In an interview with the Religion News Service (RNS), the company’s chief executive, Stéphane Peter, explained how it works: “We stir the AI and tell it: You are Jesus, or you are Moses, or whoever, and, knowing what you already have in your database, you respond to the questions based on their characters.”

Text With Jesus is not the first AI Jesus to appear on the market. The website TalkToHim.org provides the same basic function, although without the wider cast of interlocutors.

It does, however, have the additional function of uttering the responses in a deep and mellifluous voice, underlaid by a celestial hum, and Jesus starts the conversation by asking the user’s name, before proceeding to use it regularly.

The instructions given to the AI engine that powers the responses is evidently also a little different. The Jesus of TalkToHim.org is less prone to using passages from scripture in its rather gentle responses, while Text With Jesus gives longer answers structured around quotes from the Bible.

It results in substantially different answers on some contentious topics. When asked his view about homosexuality, for instance, TalkToHim.org’s Jesus replies: “In matters of human sexuality, I taught that love and acceptance should guide our actions. It is not for me to judge or condemn individuals based on their sexual orientation. What truly matters is how we treat one another with compassion, respect, and understanding.”

Text With Jesus’s response is longer and refers to numerous scriptural verses to argue that “The Bible teaches that sexual intimacy is designed to be expressed within the context of a marriage between a man and woman,” and “engaging in sexual activity outside of this context, including homosexual acts, is not in accordance with God’s plan for human relationships.”

The message ends, though, with a reminder that “we are called to love and respect all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation. . . God’s love extends to everyone,” and it advises users to seek spiritual counsel in real life if they are “struggling with issues related to sexuality or identity”.

On the free version of Text With Jesus, adverts pop up frequently, interrupting the conversation, but, in the paid-for version, ads are banished and a host of other conversational partners are unlocked.

“Greetings, mortal soul! How may I tempt and corrupt you today?” Satan asks, ending the message with the purple devil emoji. But the devil turns out not to have all the best lines, and seems to be coded to offer the same advice as the other characters, albeit with some pantomime bluster about being a “master of cunning and trickery”.

Other AI tools that have been developed with a specifically Christian purpose in mind include Magisterium AI, which seeks to answer questions on Roman Catholic doctrine.

The data from which it pulls its responses are limited to a repository of Vatican documents. It is currently available in ten languages.

In an interview with RNS, the Rector of the Pontifical Institute for Eastern Churches, Fr David Nazar SJ, said that Magisterium AI would help church scholars in their research, allowing them quickly to complete tasks that would previously have required painstaking document reviews.

His institute was preparing to upload a thousand documents from its archive and add them to the Magisterium AI database, Fr Nazar said. He expressed optimism about the potential of the tool for advancing Catholic scholarship, besides being of value to priests and canon lawyers.

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