A set of statistics has been ciruclating on social media today outlining the probability that certain jobs will be replaced by computers or robots. For telemarketers the probability is 99/100, for clergy it is 8/1000. Dentists, athletic coaches and recreational therapists are less likely to be replaced by robots than clergy – most other professions including accountants, chemical engineers, airline pilots and editors are more likely. I guess it depends how much of the job requires you to respond to unlimited different cirucmstances rather than following a prescribed set of behaviours.
I wonder too if it is to do with how much of the job can be taught and how much is about personality, character and virtue – undefinable and unquantifiable attributes that bring the best out of people, calm fears and motivate others. (Although my dentist has never yet persuaded me to floss!)
As part of my dissertation I asked around 30 people in a questionnaire what skills and attributes they would look for if they were recruiting a deacon – a kind of clergy person. What came back was not a list of skills, theological degrees or technical know-how but more a list of virtues. Worlds like prayerfulness, compassion, enthusiasm, humility, commitment and openess.
In fact reading the list – and its amazing that 30 people found 30 different ways of saying almost the same thing -I could see they wanted to recruit a deacon that was basically like Jesus. If you ever read the Church Times job adverts for fun you see pretty much the same thing. Everyone wants a vicar who walks on water and can turn water into wine (or perhaps that’s just me!)
It is a oft-quoted idea that the people who irritate us most are those who share our flaws and shortcomings. Conversely, I think that people like to be around other people who reflect back the virtues they have come to recognise in themselves. So Christian disciples want their ordained ministers to reflect the virtues and character that have been formed through their practice of faith -consequently in a church of 100 people that’s a lot of virtue being looked for in one person!
With my book group, I’m reading at the Desmond Tutu’s book Made for Goodness. His key arguement is that humanity if fundamentally good. We know this because we revere good people and we view evil and wrong as aberrations. He says: “Evil cannot have the last word because we are programmed – no, hardwired – for goodness…To be hateful and mean is operating against the deepest yearnings that God placed in our hearts. Goodness is not just our impulse. It is our essence.”
I wonder if our collective behaviour as the Church of God would change if we truly believed that God has made us in God’s image and hard-wired us for goodness. We talk a lot about sin in our liturgies and our prayers and while its good to stay humble and aware of our need of God, perhaps our sense of impending failure limits our capacity for goodness.
Its hopeful that the church (or the bit I have surveyed) wants its clergy to be good – courageous, humble, rooted, open, committed and flexible. It’s a daunting task certainly for this flawed human being but I think it might be even harder for a computer.
But if and when the computers replace the telemarketers, the accountants, the shop assistants and the estate agents I hope they too are hard-wired for goodness and are programmed to respond to a note of desperation in a voice, a look of despair or a gesture of hopelessness. And from time to time I hope they can perform random acts of kindness that lift the spirit and turn a transaction into a human encounter, or even an encounter with the goodness of God.