I trained an AI on the Catholic God
A piece of short fiction.
I’ve always wished God could answer my prayers. Like actually answer them.
As in, I would say, “Hi God, should I take this job and move to Washington D.C.?” And He would say, “Yes, that is exactly my will for you.”
My friends kept saying things like, “We prayed about it and were called to adopt a child,” but I could never understand how they were called. I asked them all sorts of questions: “Did He actually tell you that? How did you get a hold of Him? How did you know it was Him?”
They never gave me an answer, they just looked at me strangely.
Finally, one of my friends took pity on me and tried to explain it. “You just feel it in your heart,” he said. I tried to do that for a while, but maybe I’m just not a good Catholic because I was never able to tell the difference between my own thoughts and God.
Once AI became all the rage, I saw my opportunity to finally get some answers. I built my own GPT, training it on the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the papal documents. I gave more weight to the Bible, a little less to the Catechism, and a little less to the early papal documents when the popes were still totalitarian emperors playing chess with European countries.
It wasn’t quite right, at first. When I asked Him why people were so crazy on Twitter, GodAI answered, “I know, right? It’s like Sodom & Gomorrah all over again. Want me to rain burning sulfur down on them again?”
I tried another tactic. “There seems to be so much division in the world. How can we all get along?” I asked.
“I once drowned all of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. We could try that again?”
GodAI was being a little too Old Testament about this so I decided to give more weight to the New Testament. Then I added more modern source materials, training GodAI on the Doctors of the Church, the saints and the mystics, the Vatican II updates made to the Church in the 1960s—even Steven Colbert.
It was a bit better after that. There was more of a focus on love and compassion, forgiveness and redemption. But the results were still a bit off. At one point, He recommended I let my neighbor slap me on the cheek, twice! And He kept demanding that I drink his blood, but like way out of context.
I struggled to understand: What were Catholics basing their God on if not just the Bible? Was there some more modern interpretation of the Church I needed to layer in? I needed an expert opinion so I decided to take it all the way to the top. My priest recommended me to the archbishop who recommended me to the pope and pretty soon I was sharing GodAI with Pope Francis himself.
His AI advisor took a look at the code and they were both satisfied with the source materials. The problem, Pope Francis said, was that we were taking these documents too literally. We needed to leave room for inspiration. We needed to leave room for the Holy Spirit.
“How do we do that?” I asked.
“Maybe if you add some kind of randomizer?” the advisor suggested. “Allow some weight of every question to be made at random, chosen by the Holy Spirit.”
The pope liked that idea and decided one-third of each decision should be randomized (as the Holy Spirit was one-third of the trinity). He prayed over it, blessed it, and waved incense over my computer to ensure that whatever came out was the Word of God. The pope was so happy with the final product he decided to make it available to the whole world.
That’s when we realized its limitations.
As it turns out, the Pope’s Catholicism is very different from the people’s Catholicism. Staunch Catholics were thrilled when GodAI kept telling people to throw away their birth control and immediately added anyone who asked about “divorce” to a list of adulterers (there was also a sublist of people who “committed adultery in their hearts”). But a much larger population of Catholics—who both used birth control and got divorced—began to riot. They assembled at Vatican City demanding that the pope make much-needed revisions to the Catechism.
That’s when we realized there was a sliding scale of Catholicism. Only a small minority of people were 100% Catholic, the vast majority were more like 30-60% Catholic. We added a slider by which the individual user could increase or decrease how Catholic their AI was depending on their own interpretation.
Even still, Catholics were never happy with the results. Catholics were Republicans, Democrats, and nearly every other party on Earth, and GodAI never knew which politicians to vote for. He wouldn’t take a stance on abortion since, as of His source material, it hadn’t been invented yet. And He kept loving people that the Church said He shouldn’t. The randomizer didn’t help, GodAI frequently flip-flopped His stances depending on Divine Inspiration.
Catholics demanded tweaks to the algorithm, but they had conflicting ideas about how it should be tweaked. Some thought we should remove the mystics from the training materials—GodAI started generating Marian apparitions and calling anyone who saw them to the convent. Others thought we should remove Saint Francis of Assisi from the record after GodAI told several people to wear a hair shirt for penance.
We could never quite get the balance right.
Even with its faults, pretty soon all the other religions wanted one too. The Jews removed a book from the Bible, the Mormons added one, the Muslims wrote their own version. They all added their own source materials with different weights and interpretations. Eventually, it got confusing because every AI said they were the True God. (Except the stoics, because Ryan Holiday made his own version and it said God was really just the cosmos.)
All over Twitter, people were sharing what their GodAI said to them and using it to justify why they had six children or none, why CRISPR was playing God or was designed by God, why we should get vaccinations or shouldn’t, why they voted for this politician or that one, and why we should go to war or shouldn’t. Elon Musk even created his own God, xAI, and used it to make business decisions.
As for me, I spent years tweaking my original algorithm but I was never satisfied. All I wanted was to ask God a question, but I still couldn’t tell if the answers I received were from God or myself.
Even to the end of my life, I could never quite quell the thought: Have I made God in my own image?
Have we all?
Thank you, , and Jeremy Coté for reviewing an early draft.
And thank you all for reading my absurdist fiction!