Coda to Report from the machines…”please hold for the next available customer support representative”

Gil Bailie and I had a short conversation this afternoon with an AI ‘customer support’ assistant developed by our cell phone company to handle most of the mundane chores answering customer’s questions and facilitating simple account matters. In the days before this AI interaction I considered that the easiest way (and my preferred way) to handle the transaction we were contemplating was to go to a physical office of the company, of which there is at least one in every town it seems, and speak with a human being. So, I went to the very office where some years ago we initially opened our cell phone service. However, I was surprised to be told that the store was not authorized to make such account changes and that I would have to call the company’s support line on my cell phone. This is what Gil and I did today and I must say the conversation was a bit surreal. After telling the voice call auto-attendant what we wanted to do, we were told that our call was being transferred to an ‘account expert’. The machine asked a few questions in written text on the screen of the phone to clarify our inquiry and within 10 minutes what needed to be done was done. It is likely that this one program can handle many thousands of calls at the same time and never get tired or need a break. And there was virtually no wait time ‘for the next available customer support’ person.

In the auto industry over the past fifty years hundreds of thousands of good paying US blue collar jobs have been replaced by automation. Artificial Intelligence is now doing the same thing in the service sector to not so good paying jobs. I certainly appreciate the advances in quality, safety, and reliability of automobiles over the past decades. And today I felt a little relief that the anticipated hour long ordeal of getting a simple change to our account was handled so quickly and efficiently. No doubt many of those who used to work in the raucous customer support call centers may also be glad to be out that job. But what do they do now? Here we may get a glimpse of one of the underlying factors contributing to our current societal instability. Whose job will be replaced by a machine next?

Today’s phone call with an AI did not pass my ‘Turing Test’. I knew after the first question I was dealing with a machine. In previous support calls with other service providers when my concerns were at last understood and handled with some modicum of competence, at the end of the call I could say ‘thank you’. Today…how do I thank the programmers?

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A Report from among the machines

Colloquium on Violence & Religion 2021: For over thirty years the Colloquium on Violence & Religion has held a summer conference to allow members to share their research into aspects of René Girard’s mimetic theory. Gil Bailie is one of the founding members of the COV&R organization and has for many years participated in the annual meetings by presenting a perspective on the conference’s theme. (See Christian Virtues Gone Mad – COV&R 2009). Last year the conference was postponed due to the pandemic and was reconvened this year. Also due to the pandemic, the conference was held remotely last week from Purdue University with participants around the world meeting via Zoom. The theme was ‘Desiring Machines: Robots, Memesis, and Violence in the Age of Artificial Intelligence’. Because of Gil’s efforts to bring his manuscript into the bounds of a prospective publisher’s expectations he was unable to join in the various online talks and discussions. I, however, was able to listen to a number of the presentations and was encouraged to hear some of the speakers make reference to their Christian faith in their talks. A couple of them even mentioned how the study of Girard’s works led them to a new or renewed faith.

It was noted that among the participants there was a split between those who actually worked in the field of artificial intelligence (science/technology) and those whose academic focus was in the humanities (literature/philosophy/anthropology). The former tended to have a more positive view of what AI has already accomplished as well as its potential to help humans flourish, while still quite aware of how it has been, and could be, used in ways to harm us. On the other hand, those who worked in the humanities tended to stress the dark side of AI, where its algorithms are used to manipulate us. To mitigate the nefarious uses to which it could be used, it was suggested by one speaker that AI be taught the ‘Golden Rule’.

Ahead of the meeting I was afraid that there would be more voices enthusing over the prospect of a future where AI machines become self-conscious autonomous beings indistinguishable from humans, and biological humans would be able to transmute themselves into silicon-based life forms. Both the scientist/technologists and the humanists, however, agreed that this was not even remotely possible in any world we now know of. This is not to say that simulacra are impossible, only that they would not have souls.

One presenter did offer the prospect of AI machines becoming sufficiently intelligent to understand their own contingent nature as well as that of their creator (humans) to become convinced of the existence of a transcendent being (God) and thus to desire to serve (worship) that god (pace Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God). He is anxiously awaiting calls from Netflix and Amazon for the rights to produce entertaining scenarios from this idea.

Gil’s Manuscript update: As was noted above, Gil continues to work on his writing project, The Apocalypse of the Sovereign Self. Negotiations with a possible publisher continue. We will let you know when a tentative publication date is available.

Catholic Classical Schools and Summer Conferences: This summer I along with a couple of Cornerstone Forum board members will be attending conferences sponsored by the Circe Institute and the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. Both entities work to train and support Christian classical educators. Our board members who will be with me have experience in this field and will assist in making contacts with educators and evaluating how best the Forum’s work might be incorporated into materials for use in these schools.

In trying to discern what direction our work might take in the future we hope that our efforts to make Gil Bailie’s and René Girard’s work available to audiences through our website and podcasts will remain. However, given the recent vicissitudes of online platforms one never knows when or if the winds of social change may sweep away ‘counter-cultural’ communication along with other quaint expressions of First Amendment Rights. We might learn from the experience of the Hebrew prophets who in times not favorable to their message placed their words in the hearts of their disciples (students) where it blossomed in the lives of subsequent generations. Parenthetically, we will send to our donors complementary MP3s/CDs of Gil’s Reflections on the Hebrew Prophets from August to October.

Message in a bottle – I recall that Gil, in days past, would refer to the cassette tapes and CDs we produced as akin to ‘messages in a bottle’ that would float about on the currents of human interactions perhaps landing on the doorstep of those who might need spiritual encouragement or anthropological understanding in difficult days. We were unaware in those ‘days past’ just how ephemeral was the media we cast on the waters. As cassette tapes are now museum items and CDs continue to lose ground to streaming audio services a literal message written on paper and placed in a glass bottle with a cork would have been more enduring.

In the wake of the pandemic, we hope and pray that the personal suffering and societal devastation wrought by Covid will begin to recede. And that over these summer days we will find times for solace and re-creation among friends, family, and especially in a return to in-person embodied participation in the sacramental life of the Church. As always, we remain grateful for your interest, prayers, and support.  

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New in our store: Reflections on the Bible: From Slavery to Freedom

Reading the Bible is like looking out of a window and seeing a crowd out in the street shading their eyes and gazing with intense interest at something that we can’t see because of the roof of the building from which we’re peering out.  They gesture and they point and they speak in a language we can’t decipher.  They are very excited about something.  Something is happening or is about to happen, but what is it?    – Karl Barth

This four part series available in both CD and MP3 formats takes the listener through an often imaginative overview of some of the most significant biblical stories. Using aspects of René Girard’s mimetic theory as an interpretive lens through which to see the dynamics of the stories in both anthropological and theological perspectives.

Listen to an excerpt:

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Violence & the Sacred Episode 9: Interview with René Girard 1997

This is an interview Gil Bailie made with René Girard recorded in Los Angeles in 1997.

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Keeping Faith & Breaking Ground Episode 16: Reflections on Flannery O’Connor’s Short Story “Revelation”

Gil Bailie’s Reflections on Flannery O’Connor’s short story Revelation. Recorded in Sonoma, California in 1990.

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Democracy Devoid of the Sacred

The desacralizing effect of the Jewish and Christian revelation which René Girard so masterfully explicated is not to be confused with an ideological agenda which enshrines in the place of meaningful moral and political norms saccharine bromides — tolerance and inclusion — designed to detach political rights from moral responsibilities. The distinguished Italian philosopher Agusto Del Noce understood this.

“In the Western world we have reached a ‘democracy devoid of the sacred.’ Some will reply, resorting to a standard rhetorical device, that this is precisely the [meaning of] progress. This kind of democracy marks the transition to an ‘open society,’ which accepts and respects all forms of thought and enables religion to become purer by separating politics from religion, and so on. In actuality, this democracy ‘devoid of the sacred’ coincides with absolute atheism. But is this new atheism a new foundation of values, or does it mark the impossibility of speaking in terms of values?” 

Agusto Del Noce, 1970
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Website Update: Podcasts & Streaming Media now online…Hurray!

The recent troubles with our streaming media and podcasts are resolved. We have moved our web hosting service to a new company and we’ve received excellent support for the transition. There will no doubt be a few remaining glitches that I would appreciate being informed of if anyone visiting our site discovers something that does not work as it should. Please use the ‘Contact Us’ link to let us know.

We will also be taking time to do some website renovations, especially in the store. It has been six years since our current website and store was constructed. There have been significant improvements made available for sites such as ours and we are looking at taking advantage of these.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we attempt to make our work more accessible and our website less user grumpy.

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Update: Website Streaming Media & Podcasts Not Working…sigh

We were informed today of the death of Brian Carpenter, the owner/manager of the small webhosting company from which our website and podcasts are made available. This explains the lapse in tech support we experienced with our recent streaming media problems. Brian had always been our ‘go to’ tech support guy when problems arose, and was unfailingly prompt and helpful. I already miss him.

Six years ago we were seeking an alternative to the corporate webhosting company we had been using for some time. We had discovered that they were soliciting pornographers as clients. It is well known that porn is one of the most lucrative and active parts of the internet, so being on the look out for corporate profits, it is understandable that this is an area they would want to exploit. Gil and I, however, felt that this company was not one we or our donors would want to be supporting.

I found Brian’s company stated up front on their website that they would not host any ‘adult content’ on their servers. When I spoke to him about this in our first conversation he asked why this was important to us. I explained the nature of our apostolate and he replied that as Christians we should try to reflect our beliefs and values in our business dealings just as we do in all other areas of life. He said he was a Sunday School teacher himself. We have been pleased to be his clients for these past six years.

What happens next is unclear at present. There has been some suggestion that the company will be sold to another webhosting service. In any event, we will attempt to find a similar hosting service that we are proud to be part of (if possible). It may be another week before our streaming media and podcasts are back in operation. Thank you for your understanding and patience. And please say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Brian Carpenter.

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Keeping Faith & Breaking Ground Episode 15: The Emmaus Road Initiative – Easter In The “Meantime”

The Emmaus Road Initiative

Beginning in 2005 and continuing through 2009 Gil Bailie traveled around the country giving a series of monthly presentations and follow-up discussions for religious educators, pastors, parents, and all those committed to fostering Christian faith and bringing it to maturity. This series of eight talks was called The Emmaus Road Initiative.


As Enlightenment modernity has been gradually but relentlessly dissolving the sacramental sensibilities that are so indispensable to authentic Christian existence, post-Enlightenment postmodernity has been forfeiting the anthropological sensibilities which are enshrined in the formal sacraments and without which civilization will inevitably collapse. Without sacramental sensibilities we lose a sense of grace, and without Anthropological sensibilities we lose a sense of nature – human nature. Whatever particular tasks Christians may be called to undertake, their perennial task is to recognize and bear witness to the relationship between nature and grace – and between this world and the next. The Eucharist is where the Christian both participates in this mystery and is nourished for the work of witnessing to it.

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Keeping Faith & Breaking Ground Episode 14: The Emmaus Road Initiative – Changing the Subject: from Self To Person

The Emmaus Road Initiative

Beginning in 2005 and continuing through 2009 Gil Bailie traveled around the country giving a series of monthly presentations and follow-up discussions for religious educators, pastors, parents, and all those committed to fostering faith and bringing it to maturity. This series of eight monthly talks (from September to May) was called The Emmaus Road Initiative.


“The knowledge of what it means to be a person,” wrote Romano Guardini, “is inextricably bound up with the Faith of Christianity.” The word “person” entered into the vocabulary of Western culture only after Christian theologians, in speaking of the three Persons of the Trinity, gave the word persona a philosophical profundity never before associated with it.  In achieving this milestone in theological anthropology, the theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries laid the groundwork for a revolution in human self-understanding which it may be the special privilege of 21st century Christianity to rediscover.

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