Hey Google, who is Jesus?

The question ‘Who is Jesus?’ divides the world. It’s the question Jesus himself put at the centre of his gospel (Mark 8:29), and it’s a question that apparently confused Goog­le Home. This web-connected ‘intelligent’ personal assistant (other brands are available) seemed to know who Buddha and Mohammad were, but when it came to Jesus it simply replied: “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help.”

Perhaps predictably, an internet firestorm followed, with some smelling secular conspiracy and others putting it down to a technical oversight. But even if Google Home did give the Wikipedia answer to who Jesus is as it normally does for simi­lar questions, would that have been OK? Would we have just scrolled or clicked on the next story? Surely there are bigger issues at stake here.

When I speak with children and young people, they frequently use the phrases “ask Google” or “look on Wiki” without seemingly asking who creates the content and why. Recently, Tim Keller said that the single most important thing you can tell anyone as they go off to college is that no one is neutral.

Maybe the Google Home story is the wrong one to focus on. What about the story of consumerist individualism that pervades almost all media? And the way in which ‘intelligent’ personal assistants might be feeding that through the data they gather? Maybe it’s the things we have learnt not to notice that are the most dangerous.

It’s great for youth and children’s workers to think deeply about these things (try Practicing Discernment with Youth by David White), but the problem is often that church workers are only present in the lives of youth and children for a small amount of time, and often not at the moments of opportunity when life happens or when Google Home speaks! Meanwhile, parents (biological, legal, grand or any other) are there and, in main­taining an awareness of the learning opportunities that life provides, they can have a great impact on the lives of their children.

Chap Clark has spent a significant portion of the last 20 years trying to convince us that the major issue facing youth and children today is abandon­ment (see Hurt 2.0); of children not being given the quality interactions with adults that they once had and now crave. Whether this is overplayed or not, the social media revolution has led to a whole new universe of potential abandonment. As Ian Henderson of the Naked Truth Project says, parents wouldn’t drop their children off in central Manchester for a couple of hours unsupervised, but they’ll throw them an open tablet to keep them entertained.

Parents are key, as they can most readily seize opportunities thrown up by life to teach their children about God and the world. Deuteronomy 6 is often quoted in this section of Premier Youth and Children’s Work, and rightly so because it is parents who are there along the way, or at least should be if they understand the dangers of aban­donment and the need to practise discernment in all areas of life.

Deuteronomy 6:4-8 says: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you ask Google.” (I might have changed that ending.)

Gareth Crispin is youth, children and families minister for St John’s Church in Lindow, Cheshire.

Consultation on smacking in Wales

Christian parents in Wales are being urged to take part in a twelve-week consultation on smacking. The Welsh government is proposing to remove the defence of reasonable punishment to the offences of battery and assault, essentially banning smacking. It is asking parents to give their opin­ion before a possible change in the law takes place.

Speaking to Premier Youth and Children’s Work, Alistair Thompson of the Be Reasonable Campaign, a group supported by the Christian Institute, shared why he thought it was important for believers to have their say: “Make sure you go online and take part in the consultation because otherwise this will be another sort of power-grab by the state that will be dictating to parents how they can and cannot discipline their children, and that’s just not right.”

If a change in the law is introduced, Wales would follow Scotland in outlawing smacking. Minister for children and social care, Huw Irran­ca-Davies, justified the law change by suggesting that smacking is never loving or caring. He said: “We now know that physical punishment can have negative long-term impacts on a child’s life chances, and we also know it is an ineffective punishment.”

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