Sex Robots Are Changing 'What It Means to Be Human'

(Rex Features via AP Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Christian apologist addressed the issue of sex robots at the Colson Center’s “Worldview Weekend” in the nation’s capital on Friday morning. John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, argued that relationships with sex robots will become easier than relationships with flesh-and-blood people.

“Would you rather come home, and the robot looks exactly as you want, the trophy spouse? They respond with empathy and they respond with care, and you never have to hear about their day,” Stonestreet, who works to explain the Christian worldview in a secular culture, told a packed ballroom of about 200 people. “This is a real challenge about learning to interact well.”

Indeed, some have ordered sex robots, and even claimed to have “fallen in love” with these inanimate or artificially intelligent objects.

Due to a cultural redefinition of what it means to be human, “companion robots” and other cultural “waves” — like the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage — illustrate the deeper “currents” in the sea of culture, the apologist argued. The heart of the matter does not trace back to sexuality but anthropology, what it means to be human.

“Our culture has not just lost its way morally, our culture has lost its way anthropologically. What does it mean to be human?” Stonestreet said. “Don’t get me wrong, tons of moral shifts have taken place in our culture, but the moral shifts are not the cause, they’re the effect.”

“Our culture actually believes the most important thing about them is their sexual urges and inclinations,” the apologist argued. The sexual revolution has taken “away our identity as made in the image of God and replaced it with what we desire sexually.”

This fundamental shift has followed from four “currents,” according to Stonestreet.

First, he addressed the “Information Age,” which has equated to a “drowning of the truth in noise.” The transition from an industrial society to an information society has the same kind of destabilizing force as the shift from an agrarian society to an information society. The apologist quoted T.S. Eliot, who asked, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

“Knowing stuff is confused with how to live. Being able to navigate facts is confused with being able to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Stonestreet explained. Bombarded with noise, modern people have lost the knowledge of how to live well.

The apologist discussed “the two greatest educators in history, Socrates and Jesus.” Asking questions, the style of both Socrates and Jesus, leads people toward true discernment, “the ability to tell the difference from the good and the genuine from the false and the counterfeit.”

The question “What do you mean by that?” can help establish common ground. Stonestreet presented “love” as the most important example of a word for which different people have different definitions: “From songs and movies to laws and policies, love has been defined down as either sentimentality or sexuality. There’s nothing in there about brotherhood, about friendship, about sacrifice.” He suggested C.S. Lewis’s “The Four Loves” as an important corrective, giving a deeper and more expansive view of love.

The loss of this deep meaning to the word “love” also tied in to Stonestreet’s second cultural “current,” that people are losing the ability to form real relationships. He noted that younger people tend to prefer text messages to phone calls, and that fewer and fewer people are able to make eye contact with their conversation partners.

The apologist suggested “sacred spaces, screen-free zones” as an antidote to this loss of relationship. Encouraging books and significant conversations in families and other social groups can reinforce “relational time over things that matter,” and thereby circumvent the self-isolation of technology and even ultimately sex robots.

Stonestreet also identified “perpetual adolescence” as a “current,” explaining that “there was a time literally where there were no teenagers.” In most of world history, “kids went from being kids to being adults. Kids were expected to grow up.” Today, parents, teachers, and movies do not have that expectation, leading to a extended adolescence.

“If anything is a social construct, it’s adolescence, and it’s evolving in a hurry, so that now adolescence is getting earlier and earlier,” the apologist said. Some identify “pre-adolescence” as beginning at the ages of 9 or 10. Adolescence itself seems to extend later and later into life, such that the responsibilities of adulthood never arrive, allowing people to make satisfying their urges the ultimate purpose of life.

High expectations provide the antidote to adolescence, Stonestreet argued. “When it comes to aesthetic taste, when it comes to virtue and character, when it comes to entrepreneurship and creativity, we penalize the next generation with low expectations,” he said.

The apologist’s fourth cultural “current” explains the setting for all this change — “identity after Christianity.” He argued that “the image of God is the most significant gift Christianity gave to modernity.” According to the Bible, all men and women are made in the image of God and have inherent dignity. Americans tend to take this huge moral idea for granted, not realizing that universal human dignity was foreign to most cultures throughout history.

Without the foundation of God giving all humans equal dignity as made in His image, much of Western freedom and prosperity falls apart. Even the Declaration of Independence grounds America’s moral independence on God as the “Supreme Judge of the World.”

Large and attention-grabbing cultural moments like sex robots or the legalization of same-sex marriage may stand out in people’s minds, but the fundamental change tends to escape direct notice. Stonestreet argued that an understanding of what it means to be human lies at the center of the upcoming (and partially already begun) controversy of sex robots.

Ultimately, if humans are defined by their sexual desires, then what does it matter whether they find sex with sex robots or in a committed personal relationship with another person? Stonestreet argued that only God can provide the most satisfying explanation of human dignity, and God explains why real relationships will always be better than using sex robots.