By: Christopher West
A friend who knows I like to stay informed about disturbing trends in society recently sent me an article announcing the world’s first life-size sex robot complete with artificial intelligence and “flesh like” skin. Douglas Hines, its creator, explains that she’s more than a sexual play-thing: “She’s a companion . . . She hears you. She listens to you. She speaks. She feels your touch . . .We are trying to replicate a personality.” Those willing to pay seven to nine thousand dollars (depending on options) can detail their preferences in a mate at the company website, much like online dating. When Roxy the Robot arrives in the mail, she’s programmed to suit. “She knows exactly what you like,” says Hines. “If you like Porsches, she likes Porsches. If you like soccer, she likes soccer.”
The Resurfacing of an Ancient Problem
Despite Hine’s attempt to “personify” these robots, what we see here, of course, is the epitome of the modern depersonalization of the body and sexuality. It’s the sad result of a new outbreak of an ancient and deadly disease: Manichaeism — that tenacious heresy that ruptures body and soul, the physical and the spiritual. In his 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II diagnosed the problem as follows: “[T]he human family is facing the challenge of a new Manichaeism, in which body and spirit are put in radical opposition. …Man thus ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object.” It is precisely this “objectification” of the human body that allows one even to conceive of the idea of a robotic “girlfriend.”
John Paul continues: “This neo-Manichaean culture has led, for example, to human sexuality being regarded more as an area for manipulation and exploitation than as the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (Gen 2:23). This same wonder is echoed in the words of the Song of Songs: ‘You have ravished my heart … with a glance of your eyes’ (Song 4:9).” All one need do to see how far we have fallen from Eden is contrast Adam’s delight in Eve on the day of creation with the neurotic “excitement” of desperate-Joe as he pulls his pre-programmed robotic doll from the cardboard box and bubble-wrap on the day of her UPS delivery. As John Paul II exclaims: “How far removed are some modern ideas from the profound understanding of masculinity and femininity found in divine revelation!” Ain’t it the truth . . .
Robots Aren’t People
Contrary to this modern depersonalization of sexuality, divine revelation “leads us to discover in human sexuality a treasure proper to the person, who finds true fulfillment in [marriage and] the family but who can likewise express his profound calling in virginity and in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Letter to Families 19). Both vocations — marriage and celibacy for the kingdom — flow from the same truth of our creation as male and female: the call to live the sincere gift of self, that is, the call to love in the image of God. Obviously, only persons can love in the divine image. Robots that “replicate personality” are not persons. They are replicas. And as I write this, I find it difficult to fathom that such a point even needs to be made. Robots aren’t persons: Isn’t that just common sense? Then again, in an age when teams of highly skilled technicians spend their careers engineering sex robots, we can conclude that common sense isn’t so common.
The whole enterprise is yet another indication that, as John Paul observed, we live in “a society which is sick and is creating profound distortions in man. Why is this happening? The reason,” he concluded, “is that our society has broken away from the full truth about . . . what man and woman really are as persons. Thus it cannot adequately comprehend the real meaning of the gift of persons in marriage, responsible love at the service of fatherhood and motherhood, and the true grandeur of procreation” (Letter to Families 20). If civilization is to survive, it is absolutely critical that we recover the “great mystery” of God’s glorious plan for human sexuality (see Eph 5:31-32). John Paul II’s stupendous Theology of the Body unfolds it for us. Take it up. Study it. Live it. Share it with everyone you know and we will not fall short of renewing the face of the earth (learn more at thecorproject.com).