As anthropology researcher Holly Waters describes in a recent post for The Conversation, there are significant problems with the use of robots in religious settings, such as robotic arms that perform the “aarti” rite in India, which involves lighting a candle to honor Hindu deities.
While some worshippers are enthusiastic about the aarti robots and other similar devices, such as a life-size animatronic elephant used to make a Kerala temple “cruelty-free,” others are worried about what their use may signify for the future of religion.
According to Waters, who cites research showing that younger people are indeed attending church less frequently, “there are concerns that the proliferation of robots might lead to greater numbers of people leaving religious practice as temples begin to rely more on automation than on practitioners to care for their deities.”
The anthropologist believes that these worries are related to widespread spiritual uneasiness.
She wrote, “Scholars frequently observe that these worries all tend to reflect one pervasive theme—an underlying anxiety that, in some ways, robots are better than humans at worshiping gods. They may also cause internal difficulties regarding one’s purpose in life and position in the cosmos.
She goes on to say that several scholars have remarked that “robots, unlike people, are spiritually incorruptible,” which may make them a more advantageous replacement for troublesome people.