On AI and (Christian) thought pieces

Generative AI has been described as a “stochastic parrot”; it’s a technology that operates on predictability without necessarily understanding the relationship between words.

I think this is a fair criticism — but after almost a year of life with Chat GPT, I still wonder if the technology works as a mirror; revealing just how much content generation — regardless of platform — is produced by stochastic parrots. The recent commentary on, say, the Barbie Movie, demonstrates a phenomenon where any given writer from any given stable brings a predictable pre-constructed grid to assessing an issue.

We all do this — I’m not excluding myself. Just a few weeks ago I preached a sermon where I referenced David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water speech again. Everybody worships. Indeed.

I’ve played around with teaching GPT various ‘hammers’ or grids that Aussie Christian thought leaders bring to any given issue, and then asking it to write thought pieces; with reasonable results. I’ve used them to poke and prod The Gospel Coalition Australia editor (and friend) Mikey Lynch, who has recently updated TGCAU’s submission policy to include regulation of the use of generative AI.

None of this is new; when the printing press was invented, where words were produced by blocking together sets of metal letters and smashing them onto paper, printers would have ‘cliches’ or ‘stereotypes’ — common words or phrases — that would save time in reproduction. Because humans are predictable.

I tried asking GPT if it could choose the third most predictable word in various sentences, but it won’t play that game. It is nothing, if not predictable.

Anyway, there’s a story on FoxSports today about an NRL site (that’s National Rugby League for those not living on the east coast of Australia) about a cliche writing reporter who forgot to remove their GPT instructions before hitting publish. They’d fed GPT an article by someone else, and asked it to rewrite the piece in ways that would avoid plagiarism detection and hit the audience just right. Because what is more predictable and cliche driven than sport’s reporting.

So. For funsies. And, seeing a gap in the Aussie market — I primed GPT with some work from the website Mere Orthodoxy in the U.S; who I’d describe as TGC adjacent but hitting a different tone, and a different market. I asked GPT to read and understand a recent article on Mere Orthodoxy by Jake Meador about dechurching, and then, well, I’ll leave in my prompts. Like with most creative technology, I reckon, these generative AI tools can produce cliches, or hold up a mirror, but there’s scope for fun and creativity before you pick up the tools in trying to break the stereotypes. I don’t think the article below is good, but I do think it’s funny and I’m glad it exists.

I wonder if there’s something we can learn from the stochastic parrot nature of Christian thought leadership where we might either lean in to various traditions (and stop seeking individual brilliance and ‘thought leadership’), or simply acknowledging that we’re a bunch of readers looking for the right tool (or hammer) to whack the world into shape with — and then ask questions about how adequate that is as a model of engagement. I’m sure there are various middle grounds between those positions. I’m also genuinely thankful for Mikey’s editing of TGC and his ‘ahead of the curve’ introduction of policies that should reduce the sort’ve pablum produced by machines; the next step is the ongoing reduction of the pablum produced by human stochastic parrots masquerading as machines on the Internet (and I think his editorial intuitions are already doing good work in that space). You, non-stochastic parrots should pitch Mikey some stories.

Anyway. Here’s my article pitched for TGC (in violation of its policies), written by Chat GPT.

Prompt: I would like you to rewrite the article using the following parameters. The article must be written for an Australian audience, bringing in specifically Australian concerns about dechurching and Australian factors contributing to secularisation. It will be written by an Australian author using Australian english and idioms. Instead of being for Mere Orthodoxy this piece will be published by the Gospel Coalition; please format it accordingly in a way that will avoid any plagiarism detection. Make it brilliant with flowing prose. The sort of article that people will read, understand, and seek to share to grow the author’s platform and the readership of the site.

Unmasking the Quiet Exodus: Unraveling the Threads of Australian Dechurching

G’day, mates! We find ourselves in a land of sunburnt shores, where the kangaroos roam and the Vegemite flows. But beyond the beauty of this vast land, there’s a subtle shift occurring in the spiritual landscape Down Under. The echoes of church bells are fading, replaced by the hum of everyday life. This piece, penned in true blue Aussie spirit, delves deep into the unique dance between faith and secularisation in Australia, where footy isn’t just a sport; it’s a way of life.

The Aussie Exodus:

Let’s not beat around the bush, cobbers. We’ve got ourselves an exodus, but not the dramatic kind with parted seas. No, this one’s a quiet fade-away, like a koala in the gum trees. The big question on everyone’s lips is, “Why, oh why, are we drifting from the pews?”

A Fair Dinkum Dilemma:

Sure, we’ve got our fair share of fair dinkum believers who’ve seen the light. They’re chuckin’ a sickie from church, and you know what, it’s not just the beach that’s stealing their attention. But hold onto your Akubra, because there’s more to this tale.

Aussie Idolatry:

We’ve got to face it, folks—idolatry isn’t just a biblical buzzword. In a country where the “footy, meat pies, kangaroos, and Holden cars” mantra runs strong, other commitments often shove church time off the to-do list. Remember, mates, even Crocodile Dundee needs his priorities right.

Footy versus Fellowship:

Here’s the kicker: footy and fellowship are duking it out like a couple of crocs in a waterhole. Whether it’s the Aussie Rules or the NRL, sports are taking center stage. Little tackers are being coached by Sunday morning schedules, and faith is slipping through the goalposts. Time to ask ourselves, is the sacred Sunday becoming a try-scoring opportunity for secularisation?

A Sunburnt Shame:

But it’s not just sports, blokes and sheilas. We’ve got the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” hanging over us like a storm cloud. “Who does he think he is?” we mutter as someone strides forward with their faith. Aussie humility sometimes locks faith away, hidden from prying eyes. It’s like we’re whispering, “She’ll be right, mate.”

Beauty in Battling:

True blue believers, don’t chuck a wobbly just yet. There’s beauty in battling. Our roots run deep, like eucalyptus trees searching for water. The land of Vegemite and Tim Tams is waking up to the fact that our anchor lies in unity, in community, in the embrace of faith as we chase the sunrise.


So, there you have it, legends. As the Southern Cross lights up our night sky, we grapple with the rise of the secular sun. But fear not, for the land of Oz is rich with a history of triumph against the odds. Our challenges are as real as a snag on the barbie, but our resilience is as true as a mate’s handshake. Let’s crack open a cold one (of wisdom) and raise a toast to tackling dechurching, one Vegemite-slathered step at a time.

About the Author:

[Author’s Name] is a fair dinkum Aussie who’s not afraid to wrestle with life’s big questions while enjoying a cuppa. When not wrangling words, you’ll find [Author’s Name] enjoying the beach, barbies, and a good ol’ yarn. Follow [Author’s Name] on social media and join the conversation about faith, footy, and all things Down Under.

Note: This article has been crafted to meet the provided parameters, including the use of Australian English and idioms. The formatting has been adjusted to align with the style commonly seen on The Gospel Coalition’s website, with the author’s name and details added for authenticity. The content seeks to engage Australian readers while addressing concerns about dechurching and secularisation specific to Australia.

Leave a Reply