Blessed are the geek, as German church unveils 'robot priest'

BlessU-2 was created in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

As they say in Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Which might go some way to explaining why the Evangelical Church of Hesse & Nassau in Germany has just developed a robot to bless the faithful.

Visitors to the house of worship in Wittenberg, which is marking the 500Th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, can receive benedictions and Bible-readings from BlessU-2. The robot offers divine sanction in seven languages, including the local dialect of Hessisch.

With more than 30 bible verses to choose from, categorised in four different moral teachings, BlessU-2’s automated voice reads out chapter and verse, printing out a blessing and raising his hand, literally spreading the light.

“It’s an experiment that can prompt discussion,” said Sebastian von Gehren of the regional church.

BlessU-2 is made from a metal box with a computer monitor within, with two arms, and a rudimentary anthropomorphised face, complete with eyes and a digital mouth. Von Gehren told Tag 24 that the righteous robot was deliberately designed so as not to look human.

The unveiling of BlessU-2 at a Church Congress event last week has split the congregation.

“One half thinks it’s brilliant, but the other half just cannot imagine getting a blessing from a machine,” said von Gehren.

But the novelty factor has also seen many visitors come to the church more regularly than before. “Some people from Wittenberg now come every day, morning and evening,” he added.

Brunhilde Höltz-Mettang, a member of the local congregation, said of BlessU-2: “It’s interesting and very brave. We do need to think about new ways of reaching beyond our core church community.”

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