Category Archives: Pulse

Worship and Witness

April 2018 Pulse

In his first epistle to the Christians of the disapora scattered throughout Asia Minor, the apostle Peter used vivid and powerful imagery drawn from the Old Testament to describe the Church. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9), he wrote.

But the set-apart status of the Church cannot be divorced from its awesome responsibility to be the witness of the electing God. Thus Peter added, “… that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

The Church’s doxology – her praises of the One who brought her into being – is inseparable from her witness, that is, her work of mission and evangelism.

Peter’s simple yet profound statement rejects the dichotomy, so endemic in the sensibilities of some modern Christians, between worship and witness. As a worshipping community, the Church is always also a missional community.

The Dutch theologian J. C. Hoekendijk stressed this vital point more than 50 years ago. “The ‘Church’, he wrote, “exists only in actu, in the execution of the apostolate, i.e., in the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom to the world”.

He added, “A church that knows that she is a function of the apostolate and that her very ground of existence lies in the proclamation of the Kingdom to the world, does not engage in missions, but she herself becomes mission, she becomes the living outreach of God to the world. That is why a church without mission is an absurdity.”

To gather as a body of believers to worship the sovereign God, whose cruciform love is revealed at Calvary, is to bear radical (and sometimes costly) witness to Him.

Think of the courageous Catholics in Krakow when Poland was languishing in the suffocating grip of the communists, who faithfully marked the solemnity of Corpus Christi by a public procession, despite attendant dangers.

By simply being true to its calling, and by courageously conducting worship in the face of opposition, the Polish Church bore prophetic witness to Christ in the dark decades of communist dominance between 1945 and 1989.

Just as the worship of the Church is inseparable from its public witness, so the Church’s engagement in the public arena must also be seen as an expression of its worship.

Think of the Barmen Declaration of 1934, composed by the Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth, which declared the unrivalled supremacy of Jesus Christ when Germany was under the sinister shadow of the Third Reich.

Barmen states categorically and without compromise that “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death”.

In making this claim, Barmen rejects any political figure who masquerades as a god, and exposes as false the sacralising of any political ideology or programme. “We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.”

In witnessing to Jesus Christ, Barmen dismantles and destroys the idols conjured by the prevailing zeitgeist, and points to the true God who alone must be worshipped and honoured.

In the same epistle, Peter urges his readers to be prepared to explain the rationality of their faith and hope, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).

The Greek word for ‘answer’ is apologia, which in this context means to commend the faith to the wider public and to defend it against its despisers. The fundamental theological assumption behind this injunction is the belief that the Gospel is public truth.

As Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon explained, “Our claim is not that this tradition will make sense to anyone or will enable the world to run more smoothly. Our claim is that it just happens to be true. This really is the way God is. This really is the way God’s world is.”

Christian witness can therefore be described as the kind of truth-telling that brings God’s truth not just in the sanctuary but also in the public square.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Gene Editing and Ethics

April 2018 Pulse

One of the most significant and controversial recent developments in genetic engineering and genomics is CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), a new genomic editing tool.

While scientists have been tinkering with the genome for decades, CRISPR promises to transform the field of biology – especially genetic engineering – because of its unprecedented precision, efficiency and flexibility. Not only is CRISPR more efficient than current gene editing techniques like ZFN (Zinc Finger Nuclease) and TALENs (Transcription Activator-like Effector Nucleases), it is also much cheaper.

Already the therapeutic applications using CRISPR as a tool for gene editing is promising.

For example, in cancer immunotherapy CRISPR can be used to edit the properties of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) cells used especially in patients suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The technique can also be used to treat latent infections with HIV or herpes by removing viral DNA in infected human cells. CRISPR is used in animal experiments to help scientists replicate the genetic defects in humans in the quest to understand them better.

However, CRISPR is also a useful technique that can be employed for human enhancement and the modification of the germ-line that may have unanticipated and irreversible consequences which may harm future generations.

These developments have generated considerable debate among ethicists. From the standpoint of Christian ethics, human enhancement through genetic engineering and the genetic modification of the human germ-line raise such serious ethical issues that they should be categorically prohibited.

CRISPR is also being used to modify animals or insects in an effort to eradicate certain diseases. For example, CRISPR is used to edit the genes of disease vectors like the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue fever and a subspecies of the Anopheles mosquito that carry the Plasmodium parasite (which causes malaria).

Although this strategy may significantly lower the incidence of dengue and malaria, it may also have dire consequences to the environment and the ecology. As Arthur Caplan has pointed out: ‘The use of gene drives … also poses a much larger risk to the environment, as they have the potential to decimate an entire species, eliminate a food source for other species, or promote the proliferation of invasive pests’.

Regulatory bodies such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHS), an arm of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), have produced guidelines for research on genetically modified organisms. However, there seem to be a growing trend of deregulation in the US as techniques like CRISPR become more widely used. The European Union (EU) follows a stricter regulatory regime compared to the US that requires extensive risk assessment before any research on transgenic organisms could be carried out.

Although measures are in place to regulate research in this area, the question is whether it is possible to sufficiently control the off-target effects of CRISPR. Is it possible to prevent the unanticipated mutation of organisms that would result in the emergence of an undesirable phenotype?

Related to this is the problem that some ethicists have described as ‘directed evolution’. The artificial mutations that result from gene editing could lead to the emergence of organisms that are alien to the natural ecosystem, which may not have the capacity to accommodate these organisms should their population increase exponentially.

Is it possible to guarantee that mutated organisms will not enter the environment, replicate themselves and in the long run irreversibly damage the ecosystem?

Bio-safety issues loom large in the debate about CRISPR and gene editing.

Gene editing raises the similar set of ethical issues that other dual-use techniques or technologies present.

On the one hand, CRISPR can be used effectively for therapeutic purposes or for research that may result in therapeutic applications. However, on the other hand, the same technique can be used to create new strains of viruses (that can be used in warfare). This had led the U.S. intelligence community to include gene editing in the list of threats posed by ‘weapons of mass destruction and proliferation’ in its 2016 report.

The best way forward is to ensure that proper governance is exercised on the use of this and other gene-editing techniques. In addition, there should be meaningful engagement on policies governing the use of such technologies with a wide spectrum of the public, including religious bodies.

In framing policies, governments should not only consider technical or safety concerns surrounding the technology in question, important though they undoubtedly are. Moral or ethical considerations or objections should also be taken seriously.

Technical or safety issues could be resolved as the technology advances. But their resolution does not necessarily legitimise the use of the technique or technology. The larger philosophical and moral issues must also be properly addressed before policy decisions are made.

More than thirty years ago, the influential philosopher and ethicist Hans Jonas emphasised the imperative of responsibility in the wake of what he calls ‘super technology’. This call to responsible action is even more pressing today in light of the unprecedented advances in science and technology, which only a few decades ago would be regarded as the stuff of fiction.

Our responsibility is not only to ourselves but also to future generations. For as Daniel Callahan has perceptively pointed out, to exclude any humans, present or future, from our moral community and our moral consideration is not only irresponsible, it is also to be guilty of a form of oppression.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

On Christian Exclusivism

March 2018 Pulse

It is perhaps common knowledge that Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world. According to a 2014 study from Pew Research, 33.9 per cent of its population is Buddhist, 18.2 per cent Christian, 14.3 per cent Muslim, 5.2 per cent Hindu, 2.3 per cent adhering to folk religions, and 9.7 per cent classified in other religious groups. 16.4 per cent of the population claim to have no religious affiliation.

In the wake of the tense security climate in the region – and indeed, worldwide – the Singapore government has repeatedly urged Singaporeans not only to be vigilant, but also to arrest the spread of extremist ideologies and keep in check exclusivist religious views.

However, the pairing of extremism with exclusivism may give the unfortunate impression that they are the ‘evil twins’ that are harmful and detrimental to the delicate social and religious harmony that we must all strive to preserve. Exclusivist views, especially religious ones, are invariably seen as divisive and a catalyst for fostering ill will between the different faith communities.

While the fundamental concerns of the government are very real and therefore should be taken seriously by faith communities in Singapore, some important clarifications are in order if we are to achieve a more nuanced appreciation of religious exclusivism.

These clarifications are important because Christianity makes exclusive claims about God and the world. It declares that the one God who created the universe is revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the way, truth and life (John 14:6) and therefore the only Saviour and Lord of all people at all times.

Of course, Christianity is not the only religion that makes exclusive truth-claims about God, the human condition and the world in which we inhabit. Most religions, especially the monotheistic faiths, present a vision of reality that it holds to be true in some absolutist sense.

In fact, anyone who is really concerned about the truth would have exclusivist convictions in one form or another. Even the religious pluralist, like the famous philosopher of religion John Hick, who argues that all religions point and lead to the one and the same Ultimate Reality is making a claim that has an exclusivist overtone.

Two fundamental reasons are routinely rehearsed for the current rejection of exclusivism that has become so pervasive in Western societies.

The first has to do with the view that exclusivism – especially religious exclusivism – is simply false. Exclusivism, it is argued, is the result of a kind of jaundiced or blinkered view of reality that is fostered by some version of religious authoritarianism.

And the second reason – which may or may not be related to the first – is that exclusivism is bad or even immoral. Exclusivism is arrogant, abrasive and hostile. It breeds intolerance and discrimination. It results in extremism and, in some cases, even violence.

The present relativistic culture that is so easily scandalised by the claims of objective truth, and where the careless rhetoric of inclusivism and pluralism dominates, has supported the attack on exclusivism by appealing to both its alleged falsehood and intolerance.

Christian theologians and apologists have written tomes to demonstrate the rationality and reasonableness of the Christian Faith. But Christians must also take seriously the second issue related to the modern war on exclusivism, namely, that it spawns intolerance, exclusion and violence.

Christians maintain that the truths they have received by divine revelation are not true only for the Christian community. Rather, as the missionary bishop and theologian Leslie Newbigin puts it, Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel because it is public truth.

Of the original communicators of the Gospel Newbigin writes: ‘They affirmed that the message which had been entrusted to them was one which concerned the destiny of the whole human race. The one who had died and risen again was the saviour and judge of the world. The news was of vital concern to every human being’.

While Christians must continue to uphold and proclaim the truths concerning God and the world they have received from Scripture, they must always do so with sensitivity and respect for people who do not share their convictions. Christian witness must always be governed by agape, a love that is both patient and kind towards the religious other.

This is clearly articulated in The Cape Town Commitment (2011), prepared by the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation. While the document states that the ‘[s]poken proclamation of the truth of the gospel remains paramount in our mission’, it is emphatic that this must always be done respectfully.

Furthermore, in a pluralist society Christian witness should always include dialogue. As Newbigin has succinctly articulated it: ‘To affirm the Gospel as public truth is not to assert dominance but to invite dialogue’.

In its paper on inter-faith relations entitled, ‘On Being a Neighbour’ (2002), the National Council of Churches in Singapore maintains that inter-faith dialogue must be seen as ‘an aspect of the larger matrix of social intercourse between persons’. It adds that ‘Christians should not be afraid to dialogue with members of other religions’.

Dialogue should not be seen as the sure road to syncretistic compromise or confused with some form of pluralistic theology where truth-claims are relativised and subjected to negotiations and revisions. Dialogue must be seen as part of Christian witness because Christian witness itself must always be understood relationally (and therefore dialogically).

This means that Christians should reject all forms of coercion and use of force to pressure the religious other to accept their vision of reality or their way of life. Rather, they must always respect the religious rights of others and therefore their inherent dignity by acknowledging their liberty of conscience.

As The Williamsburg Charter (1988), that was penned by Os Guiness and signed by 100 prominent figures in the States, puts it: ‘The right to freedom of conscience is premised not upon science, nor upon social utility, nor upon pride of species. Rather, it is premised upon the inviolable dignity of the human person. It is the foundation of, and is integrally related to, all other rights and freedoms …’

Finally, Christian exclusivism should never be arrogant or abrasive. The Church must see herself as God’s humble witness that is given the special privilege and an awesome responsibility to testify to God’s unimaginable love, grace and mercy that she has herself received (unworthy as she is).

It is out of this deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving that the Church faces the world as God’s witness. As Newbigin explains, the Church faces the world merely as the ‘arrabon of that salvation – as sign, first fruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole’.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

AI and Religion

March 2018 Pulse

Reader’s Question: How would you envision pastoral ministry in an age of robots with Artificial Intelligence.

I would like to broaden the question by examining some of the ways in which AI could impact religion, and the issues and questions this might raise.

In September 2017, The Guardian reported that Anthony Levandowski, the engineer in Silicon Valley behind Google’s Waymo, has founded a new techno-religious pseudo-cult called ‘Way of the Future’, dedicated to the worship of Artificial Intelligence.

According to some sources, the mission of this ‘church’ is ‘to develop and promote the realisation of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society’. In his apocalyptic vision of AI, the autonomous cars guru does not only envision that AI will bring improvements to human lives but that it will one day demand our worship when it acquires ‘godlike’ qualities (e.g., omniscience).

There is little doubt that AI would become more and more ubiquitous in our world as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a neologism coined by Klaus Schwab – marches relentlessly on. From mobile supercomputing to intelligent robots to autonomous weapons, AI is set to impact society in many and varied ways.

Scholars maintain that there are two types of AI. What is mostly used today is narrow or weak AI, designed to perform specific tasks such as internet searches or driving a car. But many researchers hope to create general or strong AI that has the capacity to outperform humans in every single cognitive task – although some have questioned if this is in fact possible.

Authors like Russell Bjork have argued that creating machines with strong AI can potentially have an idolatrous outcome as they might usurp the place of God himself. In her article entitled, ‘Creating in Our Own Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Image of God’ Noreen Herzfeld perceptively points out that ‘If we hope to find in AI that other with whom we can share our being and responsibilities, then we will have created a stand-in for God in our own image’.

Thus, we enter into a dangerous and dehumanising bind: we create machines with superior intelligence and then worship them as our new gods, thereby becoming enslaved by the very things we have fashioned in our own image.

Writers like Cody Volkers have compared this desire to develop strong AI with the creation of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). But this attempt, Volker rightly asserts, will only end in failure and judgement.

‘When humanity grasps for God-like status’, Volker writes, ‘it is condemning itself to God’s curse. This applies for all history, including today in the pursuit of AI. In conspiring to create AI that takes on divine attributes, such as omniscience, the only outcome can be failure – and judgement’.

Another side to this debate about the impact on AI on religion has to do with the possibility of creating robots in the future that display such intelligence and humanlike emotions that they are even regarded as sentient entities.

Robots with weak AI are already in high demand. For example, in 2014 a Japanese company created a companion robot called ‘Pepper’, equipped with weak AI. Pepper went on sale in 2015, and it was reported that within one minute, the initial 1,000 units were sold out.

Companion robots and robots that are designed to take care of the elderly have sparked a discussion in some circles about whether one could envision a day when intelligent robots would replace pastors. Some scientists debate the possibility of not just programming a robot with general rules of ethics, but with specific Christian values as well.

Rev Christopher J. Benek, a Presbyterian pastor and one of the founders of the Christian Transhumanist Association believe that a robot with ‘the passion of a Billy Graham and the justice implications of a Martin Luther King and the theological consideration of an Augustine’ would gain a large following.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Benek mooted the idea of robot preachers that could ‘use the inflection and verbal prowess of a Billy Graham or a Martin Luther King and the compassion of Mother Teresa’. ‘That would allow people’s needs to be met because a lot of times we pastors can’t do that’, he adds.

This discussion brings us to the question of what constitutes personhood. Can a robot with super intelligence and that is able to display humanlike emotions be said to be a person? Or, to put the same question differently, can we say that such robots have souls?

Philosophers who argue that personhood may be said to be present when a set of qualities or capabilities – e.g., reason and emotion – are evident would be inclined to believe that machines displaying them can be said to be persons or possessing personhood.

This view, however, is mistaken. In the first place, intelligent autonomous robots that display human traits are in essence only machines that are programmed in this way.

It would therefore be a mistake to conclude that such a robot could be the bearer of the image of God. Only human beings are created by God to be the kind of creatures that by divine grace can reflect their Creator. Only human beings are created with the capacity to be in fellowship with their Creator and with each other.

Thus, a robot with super intelligence that displays human emotions can utter the words of the Lord’s Prayer (perhaps in 50 languages!), but it cannot pray.

In similar vein, the robot that appears to be able to provide sensitive ‘pastoral’ counsel is in fact unable to establish a real relationship with his counselee, since social robots do not experience emotions (the ‘emotions’ it displays are merely simulacrum of human emotions, not the real thing). And according to John Redstone, the empathy that people have with social robots is nothing but a perceptual illusion.

Put differently, the relationship between a human being and a super-intelligent and autonomous robot will always be an I-It relationship. It can never be an I-Thou relationship.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Migration and Justice

February 2018 Pulse 

Our world is currently facing a displacement crisis at an unprecedented scale.

In 2015 alone, more than 65 million people have been forced from their homes by conflict and persecution, over half of whom are under the age of 18. This tally is greater than the combined population of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

It must be recognised at the outset that forced migration is never a cause for celebration. These refugees, who out of desperation leave their own lands and cultures in the hope of attaining a safe and secure life, often endure untold hardships.

But the migration crisis has also created unique opportunities for people-smugglers vying to get a larger stake in the extremely lucrative sex trade. Additionally, extremist groups like Daesh have also taken advantage of this phenomenon to plant terrorists in unsuspecting host countries.

Countries like Australia have introduced strict measures to deter asylum seekers, and to detain those who arrive illegally at their shores. Over the years, Australia has proliferated detention centres in isolated locations like Baxter, Curtin, and Christmas Island. These detention facilities are so poorly run that Peter Young, the former chief psychiatrist of Australia’s detention centres, described them as “factories for producing mental illness and mental disorder”.

What would a Christian response to the pressing and complex migration crisis look like? What appropriate actions should governments take to ensure that genuine asylum seekers do not become victims of further injustice, humiliation, and suffering?

It must first be acknowledged that there is no consensus among Christians on this difficult and pressing issue.

On one end of the spectrum, there are Christians who advocate an open border policy, urging governments to allow the masses fleeing oppression free entry into their countries. On the other end, Christian restrictionists advocate tighter border control.

The Christian Scriptures offer penetrating insight into the modern migration crisis, even though the geo-political realities of its authors are radically different from ours.

The injunctions in the Old Testament concerning the proper treatment of the alien (i.e. foreigner) and sojourner are grounded in a profound theological anthropology articulated in the very first chapter of Genesis. Regardless of their ethnicity and social status, human beings are deserving of special dignity because they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

 In addition, the instruction to the Israelites to welcome the alien is accompanied by the clear reminder that their ancestors were once displaced people – slaves in Egypt and wanderers in the wilderness.

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Every time Christians read the Gospels, they are reminded that their Saviour and Lord Himself once lived as a refugee in Egypt because His own homeland was not safe (Matthew 2:13-15).

These passages of Scripture, together with the principles of solidarity, compassion, and the hospitality they inspire, shape the Christian moral vision of the human community. It is therefore impossible for Christians to turn a blind eye to asylum seekers.

In addition, Christians of every stripe have always emphasised the preferential option for the poor, which includes the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised.

While these moral principles are clear, the chaos of the modern migration crisis makes their application very challenging indeed.

But if displaced people are to get the justice they deserve, the international community must make every attempt to abide by these principles, even if the policies of individual countries may differ. By the same token, it would be immoral for any country to categorically refuse refugees for whatever reason.

This of course does not mean that countries should open their borders unconditionally and accept every refugee indiscriminately. While host countries should do their level best to receive asylum seekers, they have every right to regulate their borders and control the influx of immigrants.

The realism of the Christian approach to migration is expressed well by the American Bishops’ pastoral statement, Welcoming the Stranger: “While people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life is jeopardised.”

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

The Good Life

February 2018 Pulse 

I think it is true to say that every single human being – irrespective of his or her cultural background or worldview – is in pursuit of the good life. But when we probe what exactly is meant by ‘the good life’, we will get radically different answers.

For people who have been nurtured by a culture that has come in the grips of secularism and materialism, the good life is often defined in terms of affluence and prosperity. Put differently, the good life is viewed in terms of enjoying and benefitting from the best goods that modern society can offer.

Eschewing religion, modern secularists and humanists further insist that the good life is not the gift of a benevolent deity, but something which human beings have the power to achieve.

Commenting on the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, B. Ledewitz writes in his book Hallowed Secularism: ‘Traditional religion is seen as no longer adequate for that task but that is because the manifesto sees man as himself responsible for the achievement of the good life, which he has the power to accomplish’.

Ancient philosophers like Aristotle have perceptively pointed out that although people generally spend much time and energy pursuing wealth, success and power, these are ultimately not really the things that they want for themselves.

They strive to acquire these things only because they will give them something that they really want. And this ‘something’, this ultimate good, according to these ancient thinkers is happiness.

The happiness (Greek: eudemonia) that Aristotle – and before him Plato and Socrates – speaks of is not the fleeting and momentary feeling of pleasure that we moderns often associate with the word. Rather, it is a state of being that is at once rich and long lasting.

For Aristotle, such happiness can only be achieved by strenuous and even courageous effort. For some, it will take an entire lifetime. But as Aristotle was well aware, for many it is a goal that will remain distant, for some people are simply not suited to experience happiness in the full sense.

Although the great Christian writer, Augustine, who lived many centuries after Aristotle appreciated the philosopher’s understanding of the good life, his approach differed significantly. This is because Augustine’s vision of the good life was shaped by what the Bible and the Christian tradition have to say about God and our relationship with him.

In fact Augustine goes so far as to argue that no one is able to achieve the good life simply by striving after the goals set by pagan philosophers such as Aristotle. This not only shows the fundamental differences between Augustine’s understanding and approach from that of Aristotle. It also highlights the fact that for the theologian, Aristotle’s approach is ultimately inadequate because it fails to put into the equation an indispensable factor.

That factor is God. For Augustine, the good life is not focused on our aspirations and dreams. Rather it has to do with God and his purpose for our lives. Put differently, while Aristotle’s approach to the good life may be described as anthropocentric, Augustine’s approach is uncompromisingly theocentric.

For Aristotle, the good life is attained bit by bit, piece by piece as we negotiate not just our changing circumstances but also our desires and aspirations. For Augustine, however, the good life has to do foremost with our relationship with God. The good life is only possible and can only be sustained as long as rational creatures continue in this vital relationship.

This means that all our other loves must be understood in light of our prior and complete love for God. This means that our greater love for God must define and determine all our other loves. Our relationships must be disciplined and ordered by our relationship with God.

Augustine warns that even good and noble things can distract us from loving God. Furthermore, for Christians even the virtues that the ancient philosophers (before Augustine) valorise must not be understood in abstraction from our love for God.

‘Temperance is love preserving itself whole and entire for God. Fortitude (courage) is love readily enduring all things for God. Justice is love that serves only God and, for this reason, correctly governs other things that ate subject to a human being’, writes Augustine.

This brings us to the radicalness of the Christian understanding of what it means to live the good life. Because Christian happiness is not based on our circumstances and achievements but on faith in God, it is not easily affected by the storms of life.

The Christian can ‘rejoice in the Lord, always’ (Philiphians 4:4). He or she can ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The radicalness of the Christian understanding is again presented in the provocative and counterintuitive statements of Jesus in the famous Beatitudes. Here, Jesus turns our understanding of happiness on its head when he declares that the meek, the merciful, the persecuted will be blessed or happy (Greek: makarios).

The good life, the life of blessedness and happiness, has to do not with the goods and comforts we can enjoy. Rather it has to do with the extent to which we, like Jesus, are willing to do the will of God our Father.

Such obedience to God often translates into serving our neighbours, especially those in need. Thus, the Christian understanding of what it means to live the good life is never inward looking and self-serving. Rather a good life is lived with due consideration to the well being of others around us.

This is articulated simply and movingly in a second century document, the Epistle to Diognetus:

But happiness is not to be found in dominating one’s fellows, or in wanting to have more than his weaker brethren, or in possessing riches and riding rough-shod over his inferiors. No one can become an imitator of God like that, for such things are wholly alien to his greatness. But if a man will shoulder another’s burden; if he is ready to supply another’s need from his own abundance; if, by sharing the blessings he has received from God with those who are in want, he himself becomes a good to those who receive his bounty – such a man is indeed an imitator of God.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Trump’s Decision on Jerusalem

January 2018 Pulse

On 6 December 2017, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to relocate the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. This move not only overturned more than seventy years of US Foreign Policy. It also has the potential to inflame tensions and de-rail the peace process, threatening the prospects of an amicable solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some Christians in America and elsewhere – including Singapore – see this move as a confirmation of their own reading and understanding of Scripture, especially in relation to Israel and Jerusalem. In America, some conservative Christians also see this move as the President making good the promise he made during his 2016 campaign when he said that this would be one of his first acts as president if he won the election. However, despite the media portrayal that evangelicals have only one position concerning Israel (and Jerusalem), the fact is that there is a broad range of viewpoints.

This paper seeks to briefly present a perspective on the significance of the city of Jerusalem according to Scripture. The paper also seeks to present what I consider to be the most reasonable approach to the status of Jerusalem, given the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

A Brief History of Modern Jerusalem

Before discussing the significance of Jerusalem from the standpoint of the Bible, it would be helpful to appreciate the contours of the history of modern Jerusalem. Understanding this history would also enable us to see why many have viewed President Trump’s decision as controversial and provocative.

In 1948, when the state of Israel attained independence, Jerusalem was a divided city. The western half became part of the new state of Israel, while Jordan occupied the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Old City. The early Israeli leadership accepted the idea of international control of Jerusalem, and explored possible alternatives for Israel’s capital. Most foreign governments set up embassies in Tel Aviv and avoided Jerusalem.

The 1967 Six Days War radically changed the situation as Israel occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem and the suburban neighbourhoods, sparking an international outcry. This is because by occupying eastern Jerusalem, Israel has violated international law cemented by a series of United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions that defines the eastern part as the inalienable part of Occupied Palestinian Territory. In 1980, Israel unilaterally declared a united Jerusalem as its capital. Most experts in international law are of the view that Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of Jerusalem, which modifies its status, is illegal.

In December 2009, the Foreign Affairs Council states that the EU ‘will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties’. It urged Israel to cease all settlement and dismantle all illegal outposts. In concert with the international community, the EU states that ‘if there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states’.

It is therefore not difficult to see why President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his intention to move the US Embassy there is not only controversial but provocative. As some have rightly argued, relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem is tantamount to recognising the city as the undivided capital of Israel. This is certainly how the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu sees it.

In addition, this move could be seen as signalling the United States’ approval of Israel seizing the city by force. Put differently, it could be seen as a challenge to the international opposition to Israel’s claim of Jerusalem by military victory. Such an act could threaten the peace process whose progress requires the avoidance of provocation by all parties. It has the potential to destabilise the region.

Christian Perspectives on Jerusalem

Some Christians have applauded President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy there. This is not surprising, given the prominent place that Israel and Jerusalem occupy in the Bible. In this section, I will briefly discuss a popular view espoused by some conservative Christians on the significance of Israel. I will call this view ‘Christian Zionism’. I will then offer an alternative reading of the Bible and present a different perspective on Israel in general, and Jerusalem in particular.

Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism may be described as a theological vision in which much spiritual significance is accorded to the modern state of Israel and Jerusalem. Christians who embrace this vision are mostly theologically conservative, although they are of different stripes – from dispensationalists to charismatics. These Christians have a very high regard for Scripture as the written word of God, and it is from within its pages that they get the sense of the unique place that Israel – and ipso facto Jerusalem – has in the plan of God. From this premise they developed the view that Israel enjoys an exceptionalism that sets it apart from the rest of the world.

The Christians who embrace this vision believe that the promises that are found in the Old Testament, especially those made to Abraham, are still relevant today and apply to the modern state of Israel. For them, passages like Genesis 17:8 (‘And I will give to you and your offspring … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God’) provide the political mandate for Israel’s privileges that she enjoys even today.

These Christians also maintain that God will destroy all who inflict harm on Israel, taking as their basis God’s promise to Abraham recorded in Genesis 12:3 (‘I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’). This is also understood as the mandate to bless modern Israel. And one way in which this can be done is to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Some Christians also believe that the promotion of the significance of Jerusalem would set the stage for the Second Coming of Christ.

Earthly and Heavenly Jerusalem

 While I recognise the commitment of Christians who take this approach and embrace this vision, I am of the view that their interpretation of Scripture is fundamentally flawed. This has influenced their view of the significance of Israel and Jerusalem. In what follows, I will offer an alternative hermeneutics and a different evaluation of the significance of Jerusalem.

The first question that invites attention is whether it is hermeneutically and theologically legitimate to argue that the promises contained in the Bible about ancient Israel apply to modern secular Israel. Christians who embrace Zionism in one form or another defend the legitimacy of this hermeneutical assumption, but many Christian theologians and exegetes from the time of early Fathers of the Church have maintained that this approach is fundamentally unsound. In addition, in modern times this hermeneutics has been used to fuel political agendas that are questionable from the standpoint of justice and human rights.

At its root, this hermeneutics fails to appreciate the proper relationship between the Old and the New Covenants. Christians must read the Old Testament in light of the New, and not the other way around. Referring to the practices and festivals associated with the Old Covenant, the apostle Paul wrote: ‘These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ’ (Colossians 2: 17). In failing to embrace this important hermeneutical assumption, some Christians arrive at the wrong conclusions about the prophecies of the Old Testament and their application to the modern state of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.

The failure to understand the relationship between the Old and New Covenants has also led some Christians to hold the view that the promised land is an end in itself, when in reality it is merely a foreshadow of the future redemption of creation. In fact, the place to begin our consideration of the image of the land in the Bible is not the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1 as some Christians maintain. Rather it is the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2). That paradisiacal land was lost because of the Fall – that rebellion of human beings that led to their alienation from their Creator. Seen in this light, the land promised to Abraham is simply a foretaste of heaven – a prefigurement of the transfiguration of this fallen reality into the new heavens and the new earth that God will bring about at the consummation of the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Christ.

In the same way, the earthly Jerusalem – the city in the Middle East that sits on the plateau in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea – is not an end in itself, but points to the heavenly Jerusalem that will descend from above (Revelation 21:9-27). The author of Hebrews presents this insight with great eloquence and power when he writes:

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:10-16, Emphasis mine).

God has prepared for those who belong to him a city, a real, heavenly city that will endure throughout eternity – the true homeland that Christians press towards. This is the place that Jesus said he would prepare for his disciples, and to which he will bring them when he returns (John 14:1-3). This is the place where Christians have their true citizenship (Philippians 3:20), the New Jerusalem that descends ‘out of heaven from God’ (Revelation 21:2). It is the goal to which they strenuously strain towards, ‘forgetting what lies behind’ (Philippians 3:13), Thus, although the earthly Jerusalem is important for Christians, it is the heavenly Jerusalem that they long for.

A Jerusalem for All

Even though it is the heavenly Jerusalem that Christians long for, the earthly Jerusalem is and will continue to be their religious and emotional capital. But Christians must not forget that Jerusalem is also the religious and emotional capital of Jewish and Palestinian life. It is the third-holiest city in Islam (after Mecca and Medina). Thus Jerusalem is shared and revered by three religions and two peoples.

Just hours after President Trump announced his recognition of the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Christian leaders in Jerusalem issued an open letter warning that the move could have dire consequences. It reads:

We have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us rather farther from the goal of unity and deeper towards destructive division.

‘We are confident’, it adds, ‘that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work toward negotiating in a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfil its destiny’.

I resonate with the sentiments expressed by these Christian leaders in Jerusalem, and agree with their view that just peace in the region can only be achieved by the political process and by patient negotiation. I also concur with these Christians leaders that Jerusalem is for Jews, Christians and Muslims and that ‘it can be shared and fully enjoyed once the political process helps liberate the hearts of all people, that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing’.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.


January 2018 Pulse

In recent years, there has been a revival of enthusiasm for space and planetary exploration. This is undoubtedly sparked by hype generated by the activities of international space agencies and the discoveries of planets orbiting around other stars, some of which bearing Earth-like conditions.

In 2015, the Boeing Company was awarded its first commercial crew rotation mission by NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme (CCP). It aims to launch the first capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) by late 2017, thereby signalling the dawn of the era of commercial human spaceflight.

There is even serious interest in the possibility of terraforming a planetary body (Mars being the most suitable candidate) or planetary ecosynthesis. According to the iGEM Valencia Team, terraforming a planet has to do with the ‘hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere composition, temperature, topography, or ecology to be similar to those of Earth to make it habitable for Terran organisms, including humans’.

Space colonization is attractive because we are becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of Earth, in terms of space and resources. Some have argued that space colonies could even prolong the survival of the human species.

‘Earth will remain habitable for a few billion more years’, explains Seth Baum. ‘Stars will continue shining for about 1014 more years. That gives us an additional 105 times more energy, for a total of 1023 times more energy that is available on Earth … And even if our current universe eventually becomes uninhabitable, it may be possible to move to other universes’.

The rapid expansion of space exploration raises so many moral issues that a new field of ethics – variously described as space ethics or astro-ethics – is emerging. While each of the endeavours mentioned above would raise its own set of ethical questions that demand serious consideration and robust debate, space ethics as a newly minted discipline also throw up a number of fundamental philosophical and methodological issues that must be adequately addressed.

For example, what should be the basis of a plausible ethics of space exploration? Can the earthbound moral concepts that we work with be extended and fruitfully – if analogously – applied to astro-ethics? Which concepts are applicable, and which ones are not? How should they be analogically applied, and what are the limits of such approaches?

In addition, space ethics should also be self-critical of those habits of mind that have unconsciously shaped our moral reasoning and influenced our ethical decisions. For example, an anthropocentric ethics would have no difficulties with space colonization as long as such enterprises promise to benefit human beings.

In similar vein, space ethics forces ethicists to be critical of a geocentricism that would cause us to abdicate our responsibility towards wider space ecosystem(s). For example, an Earth-centred or Earth-only ethics would have no qualms in supporting an asteroid mining industry even if pollutes outer space – as long as it improves conditions on Earth.

The space environment has already been seriously affected by our space projects. We have littered space with countless debris that may eventually be detrimental to the space ecosystem(s).  Mark Williamson provides these harrowing examples: debris from spacecraft and upper stage explosions in LEO; debris from launch vehicle separation devices in LEO and GTO; growing population of defunct satellites in GEO graveyard orbits.

What approach should space ethics take? Should space ethics be deontological, consequentialist or utilitarian? Should it be seen simply as an extension of environmental ethics?

A Christian space ethics must be undergirded by a robust doctrine of creation and an equally profound theological anthropology. That is to say, it must take into consideration the integrity of the universe that God has brought into being and our human role as God’s vice-regents.

The closest analogy to a Christian extra-terrestrial ethics would therefore be an environmental ethics that is informed by the Christian vision of reality.

This means that a Christian space ethics must critique the anthropocentrism and geocentrism alluded to above, and work instead on the basis of the purpose and goal (telos) of the Creator for human beings and the created order they are a part of, as revealed in Scripture. The familiar principle of responsible stewardship, so central to Christian environmental ethics, must also be the guiding principle in extra-terrestrial ethics.

These considerations have profound bearing on a number of issues related to space exploration. Space allows us to briefly consider one or two issues.

Take space colonization, for example. A Christian extra-terrestrial ethics informed by the theological considerations delineated above would not categorically prohibit space colonization. But it would insist that space colonization could only proceed if the colony does not harm or destroy the indigenous biota and ecosystem of the colonised planet.

What about research ethics? Researchers and explorers must exercise responsible stewardship by self-imposed constraints. As Dan MacArthur and Idil Boran put it in their discussion of agent-centred restrictions: ‘… priority should be given to the constraints humans ought to impose on themselves, even (and especially) if they do not know the nature of the given object of exploration (say, a primeval ecosystem) and the consequences their actions may have for this object’.

This kind of self-discipline and humility, however, is rare, if current proclivities evident in biomedical and biotechnological research are reliable indications.

Space exploration has raised many important issues that must be taken seriously and publicly debated. Christians should actively participate in this debate and bring to the discussion their profound vision of reality that is informed and shaped by Scripture.


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

An Anatomy of Sexual Harassment

December 2017 Pulse 

There have been a slew of scandalous revelations of sexual harassment perpetrated by the who’s who in Hollywood and American TV that is truly disconcerting. From the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to the actor Kevin Spacey to Bill O’Reilly of Fox News’ popular O’Reilly Show, disclosures of these scandals have appeared steadily and unabated almost every day.

Women in Singapore are not immune from this scourge. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), over half of the 500 people interviewed said that they have experienced sexual harassment in some form at work. The spectrum of abuses ranges from getting sexually explicit text messages to being inappropriately touched to rape.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of the United States defines sexual harassment as ‘unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature’.

In a 2006 study conducted in the United States, Berdahl and Moore conclude that ‘women experienced more sexual harassment than men, minorities experienced more ethnic harassment than Whites, and minority women experienced more harassment overall than majority men, minority men and majority women’.

One of the myths surrounding sexual harassment is the view that it is all about the sexual needs and desires of the offender. Research has shown, however, that in most cases it is really about power and discrimination.

Sexual harassment is a sordid act that exploits an unequal power relationship, for example, between an employer and an employee. As the EEOC points out, in some cases the submission of the employee to sexually inappropriate conduct on the part of the employer is either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition for employment.

Sexual harassment is the abuse of power and a display of dominance over people whom the offender disrespects and consequently mistreats as mere sex objects. Violence against women is therefore the ultimate form of sexism and sexual discrimination.

The problem of sexual harassment, however, must not be analysed in isolation from the broader cultural milieu. In an interesting study entitled, ‘The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape’ (1981), Peggy Reeves Sanday argues quite persuasively that there are sociological and cultural impetuses behind violence against women in modern society.

Sanday identifies at least three characteristics of our modern cultural ethos that nurture such violence. The first is the violence that we find generally in war and aggression. The second is male dominance in our culture and society and the relegation women to subordinate roles. And, related to this, there is, thirdly, the institutionalisation of male activities and the exclusion of women from certain spheres of public life, like politics.

Even if one disagrees with Sanday on certain aspects of her argument, her general thesis is surely sound. The phenomenon of sexual harassment is undergirded by certain social and cultural factors.

Sexual harassment is an assault on the dignity of the victim. The Bible clearly teaches that human beings – male and female – are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This means that regardless of their unique individualities, all human beings possess an inalienable dignity and must therefore be equally valued.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus showed uncommon respect to women against the social conventions of the patriarchal society of his day. From the Samaritan woman at the well to the woman caught in adultery, Jesus showed love, compassion, understanding, sensitivity and forgiveness.

Christian writers such as Judith Balswick and Jack Balswick discuss the problem of sexual harassment in light of what the Bible has to say about justice. They conclude that ‘Biblical justice is oriented toward recreating communities so that each gender participates fully and equally in society’.

This is one aspect of the biblical concept of shalom. ‘When women are not free to live in their full femininity because they fear being sexually harassed’, Balswick and Balswick write, ‘there is no shalom’.

In Ephesians 5:11, we read: ‘Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them’. In the case of sexual harassment, not only must Christians have no part in it, they also have the moral duty to report such offences.

This is important because there is a tendency in our society to respond to allegations of sexual harassment with what some have described as ‘automatic defensiveness’. There is also a tendency to give the accused the benefit of the doubt or to simply dismiss the allegation. Such approaches give the impression that the victims of sexual aggression and abuse are not valuable, that they simply won’t be believed.

Large organisations are known to cover up sexual offences, especially if the perpetrators are significant or key figures. While this is true in secular organisations, it is unfortunately also true in the Church – the scandalous cover-up of the offences of predatory paedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church is a case in point.

A biblical response to sexual harassment, however, must not only focus on the harassed. It should include the harasser and the community in which the harassment took place.

Failing to show genuine concern for the harasser is in some ways to ignore his (or her) humanity. And failing to take into consideration the responsibility of the community where the harassment occurred is to fail to create a social space where such offences are taken seriously and prohibited.

As Balswick and Balswick put it, ‘A biblical response to sexual harassment involves redress and restoration at both the interpersonal and community level. A concerned response is incomplete if it focuses only on the victim and offender; it must also seek the restoration and peace at all structural levels’.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.


December 2017 Pulse

In its September 24, 2017, issue, The Mirror reported that a sex robot called Samantha has gone on sale in the UK for £3,500. Samantha, which can be purchased at Vibez Adult Boutique in Aylesford, Kent, ‘has a brain and can interact with you’, write Stephen Beech and Natalie Tipping. She can even switch ‘between a family mode and a sex mode setting’.

The idea of fabricating a woman to meet the needs of a man is not new; its origins can be traced to ancient Rome. For example, In Metamorphoses the Roman poet of erotica, Ovid, tells the story of the sculptor Pygamalion, who fell in love with the ivory statue representing perfect womanhood, which he names Galatea. The goddess Venus brings the statue to life and Pygamalion marries her.

With the ascendance of AI and social robotics, the Galatea myth has become a reality.

The philosophical, ethical and social issues generated by the advent of sex robots or sexbots have received serious attention by roboticists and ethicists in the rapidly expanding branch of ethics called roboethics.

Writers in this field have identified three possible uses of sexbots. Some have argued that sexbots can be used to help with the treatment or therapy of patients with diverse conditions in hospitals or homes. It has even been suggested that these robotic dolls could be made available to sex offenders and paedophiles during their incarceration.

Others have suggested that some individuals might find these lifelike silicon androids useful for physical or emotional companionship. Still others maintain that sexbots could one day replace human sex workers and prostitutes.

Very few Christian ethicists have thus far reflected on the theological, spiritual and ethical issues surrounding this application of social robotics. This would require nothing less than a robust account of the Christian understanding of sex and sexuality.

For the purposes of this article, however, it is sufficient to stress that the Bible and Christian tradition teach that sexual relationships must be confined to a man and a woman – a husband and his wife – who are joined together in the covenant of marriage.

More to the point, the Bible clearly teaches that humans are allowed to engage in sex only with other humans. The Bible therefore prohibits and condemns bestiality as the perversion of nature and an abominable sin (See Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:23; Deuteronomy 27:21).

While the Bible does not deal specifically with the question of having sex with a machine – for obvious reasons – what it has to say about human sexual relationships can be brought to bear on this issue.

What follows is an attempt to highlight some of the grave concerns of this particular form and application of social robotics.

The first thing to note is that the relationship between the human user and the sex robot is an ‘I-It’, not an ‘I-You’ relationship. The interaction between the human and the sexbot is unidirectional and asymmetrical in that the machine is entirely oblivious of the overtures, desires and affections of its human user.

AI and sophisticated robotics can create what scholars have described as ‘an anthropomorphic illusion’ that may fool the user into thinking that the simulacrum is the real thing – that the sex robot is human ‘in some sense’. But the fact remains that the sexbot is a machine, albeit one that is programmed to mimic human responses and expressions.

Robot ethicist John Sullins asks if it is ethical to create humanlike robotic sex dolls in the first place. It would be ethically objectionable, Sullins argues, if the illusion of humanness is used to ‘fool people into ascribing more feelings to the machine than they should’. Put differently, from the standpoint of ethics, the illusion of humanness that sexbots present can be said to be in some profound ways disrespectful of human dignity and agency.

This brings us to the question whether the use of a robot for sexual gratification can be properly described as ‘having sex’ in the conventional sense at all. At its most fundamental level, the sex robot is nothing more than a very sophisticated version of cruder forms of sex toys. This has led ethicists like Sullins to argue that using a robotic sex doll (with low level AI) is just an elaborate act of masturbation.

A number of ethicists have argued that sex robots have accentuated harmful stereotypes of women, especially women’s bodies. Roboticist Kathleen Richardson has pointed out that the representation of sex robots is usually based on pornographic images of women. She added that these robots reinforce the view of the female body as a commodity and encourages coercive attitudes towards it.

In a paper presented at a robotics conference, Sinziana Gutiu argues that ‘sex robots, by their very design, reinforce the idea that women are subordinate to men and mere instruments for the fulfilment of male fantasies. This type of harm has been explored in the context of pornography and is reproduced by the advent of sex robots. Like pornography, use of sex robots sexualises rape, violence, sexual harassment and prostitution and eroticizes dominance and submission’.

Scholars argue that the use of a sexbot is in many ways more harmful than viewing pornography because the user is physically and emotionally more intensely engaged. Sex robots provide a nearly complete sexual experience in a way that viewing pornography does not. Consequently, as Gutiu points out, ‘The user is therefore more likely to ascribe and internalise a primarily sexual and submissive purpose for women, through direct sensory experience’.

Sex robots will not only harm the user but also the wider society. The individual who uses a sexbot is engaged in a dehumanised form of sex and intimacy. Repeated exposure to this perverted form of sex would dehumanise the user. In fact, the more ‘humanised’ the android – that is, the more powerfully it presents the anthropomorphic illusion – the more dehumanising it is for the user.

Gutiu provides a list of possible harms: ‘Negative effects include alienation and seclusion from society, stunted emotional development, and an inability to compromise or handle rejection. A person’s need for sex with a robot could suggest a sign of physical and emotional withdrawal from efforts to connect intimately with humans’.

Blay Whitby and Kathleen Richardson concur.

‘An individual who consorts with robots rather than humans’, Whitby asserts, ‘may become more socially isolated’. Richardson maintains that the reason why intimate relations with robots will lead to isolation is because ‘robots are not able to meet the species specific sociality of human beings, only other humans can do that’.

‘User’s repeated interaction with sex robots’, Gutiu adds, ‘will solidify antisocial habits and confirm their fragility and unwillingness to overcome personal social challenges’.


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.