If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past few months, you’ve probably encountered the buzz around AI chatbots—computer programs designed to use artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to understand and answer questions in a conversational manner. The quality of responses given by these computer programs has amused, astounded, and terrified many. The newest chatbots are not only knowledgeable, they are also creative.
However, they are not always accurate. Sometimes chatbots will give answers that seem entirely credible, but aren’t entirely true. So, we wanted to see what AI knows about Christianity in Cascadia. We were curious whether its responses would align with our understanding of this region and its Christian communities. We even asked it to write a prayer for the region that was surprisingly great—feel free to use it!
Below are a few prompts we gave to an AI chatbot in bold, its answers in italics, and our reflections on those answers in plaintext.
What is Cascadia? What makes it a distinct region?
Cascadia is a bioregion and a geographically defined region in western North America. It consists of the US states of Oregon and Washington, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and parts of southeast Alaska. The region is defined by the Cascade Range, a mountain range that runs from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to northern California. The region is known for its natural beauty, with mountains, forests, and diverse ecosystems. It is also home to several major cities, including Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.
What cultural characteristics do Cascadians share?
Cascadians, or people who live in the Cascadia region, share a number of cultural characteristics. One of the most notable is a strong connection to the natural environment. Cascadia is known for its beautiful landscapes and diverse ecosystems, and many people in the region place a high value on preserving and protecting the environment. As a result, there is a strong environmental and sustainability movement in the region, with many people actively working to reduce their environmental impact and promote sustainable practices.
Cascadians also tend to have a strong sense of independence and self-reliance. This is reflected in the region’s history of pioneering and exploration, as well as its relatively decentralized political and economic structure. The region is home to a number of small, locally owned businesses and organizations, and many people place a high value on supporting local businesses and communities.
Cascadians also tend to be fairly open-minded and progressive, with a strong emphasis on individual freedom and equality. The region has a diverse population and a history of social and political activism, and many people in the region are committed to promoting social justice and equal rights for all members of the community.
This is pretty good! A fair summary of the region and some of its distinctives. Christ & Cascadia has published numerous articles on environmental stewardship, social justice, and the entrepreneurial spirit of Cascadians—all characteristics mentioned by the chatbot. One caveat we would add to the chatbot’s thoughts on Cascadian business is that while there is a focus on local business, there is just as much focus (if not more) on big business, which draws people to the region from across the country. The influence of big companies like Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and Zillow on Cascadian culture is substantial. If you’re interested in learning more about the regional distinctives of Cascadia, we’ve outlined ten in this article.
The chatbot’s answers do align with our understanding of Cascadia; however, it seems that the chatbot’s summary focuses on Cascadia’s urban areas. While urban centers are generally progressive, rural Cascadia tends to be more conservative. In fact, we have several articles that explore the need for dialogue between these different communities.
It is also worth noting that while Cascadia may be known for social justice activism and a desire for equality, we have our own history of racism and bigotry that continues to affect the region. It even manifests in numerous white supremacy groups. Many would like to think of Cascadia as a place that celebrates and supports diversity, but in reality, historically marginalized groups face many of the same challenges here that they do in other parts of the US. Some Christ & Cascadia articles speak to these challenges and how Christians can help Cascadia live into its desire to be a diverse and equitable place.
The other cultural topic that the chatbot didn’t address is religion, so we’ll get into that next.
Is Cascadia secular?
Cascadia is a diverse region with a range of religious beliefs and practices among its population. While some parts of the region may be more secular than others, it is not accurate to say that Cascadia as a whole is a secular region. That being said, it is possible that certain parts of the region may be more secular than others. For example, cities that tend to have more diverse, urban populations may have a higher proportion of secular residents compared to more rural areas. Additionally, the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, which includes Cascadia, has a reputation for being somewhat more secular than other parts of the country. However, this is a generalization.
What is Christianity like in Cascadia?
Christianity is the largest religion in Cascadia, with a significant proportion of the population identifying as Christian. However, it is important to note that there is a wide range of Christian denominations represented in the region, and the experience of being Christian in Cascadia can vary greatly depending on the specific denomination and community an individual belongs to.
Overall, Christians in Cascadia tend to be diverse and open-minded, with a strong emphasis on social justice and equality. Many churches in the region are actively involved in social and community service, and there is a strong tradition of interfaith cooperation and dialogue. That being said, there is also a significant evangelical Christian presence in the region, and some Christian communities may be more conservative in their beliefs and practices. As with any region, there is a wide range of diversity within the Christian community in Cascadia.
How are Christians perceived in Cascadia?
It is difficult to make generalizations about how Christians are perceived in Cascadia, as the region is home to a diverse population with a range of views and attitudes. Some people in the region may have a positive view of Christians and the values that they espouse, while others may hold more negative views.
Overall, however, it is likely that Christians in Cascadia are generally well-respected and valued members of the community. The region has a long tradition of religious tolerance and freedom of belief, and people of all faiths are generally able to practice their religion without fear of discrimination or persecution. That being said, it is important to note that there may be some who hold negative views of Christianity or of Christians.
We’re less impressed with the chatbot’s knowledge of Christianity in Cascadia. The responses here are vague and could be true of any number of regions in the western world. From our conversations with researchers like Dr. Patricia O’Connell Killen, Christ & Cascadia has come to understand that faith in this region is distinct from other regions of the US and Canada.
Perhaps our main distinctive is summed up in the popular label the “None Zone.” Those of you who work in church or parachurch settings have probably heard this term. It stems from the fact that on surveys about religion in this region, the number of people who say they have no religious affiliation is substantially higher here than in other parts of the country. When asked about their religious ties, they check the “none” box. This trend, documented in the early 2000s, continues today. In fact, we recently published a book review of Religion at the Edge: Nature, Spirituality, and Secularity in the Pacific Northwest that speaks to this growing trend.
The “None Zone” is not devoid of religion, however. Many people still feel connected to a faith or sense of spirituality, but they do not adhere to a particular tradition and they do not think attendance at religious services is important for their faith. This reality seems to be spreading to other parts of the country. In light of that, faith leaders in Cascadia have the unique opportunity to innovate and experiment in ways that may influence other regions of the western world down the road. Others will learn from both the successes and failures of Cascadian Christians. This is, in fact, a foundational hope for Christ & Cascadia.
Another distinctive of Cascadia is that it’s what Killen calls an “open” religious environment. Unlike other parts of the US, there is no single prevailing denomination or particular Christian faith tradition. The largest, Catholic, only makes up about 10% of Christian adherents. In her interview with Christ & Cascadia, Killen says that, “In an ‘open’ religious environment like the Pacific Northwest there is less social pressure and social reinforcement for participation in religious organizations. Individuals must repeatedly choose to belong and participate. This creates space for innovation in religious ideas, practices, and modes of organization.” New expressions of Christianity have room to grow here—and they do. Dr. Chris James, another contributor to Christ & Cascadia, has done significant research on church plants and other budding faith communities that are experimenting with ways to be the church in this place. You can read more about his research in his Christ & Cascadia articles, like this one.
As for how Christians are perceived in Cascadia, we agree with the chatbot that it’s difficult to make generalizations. We interviewed Pastor Gail Song Bantum of Quest Church in Seattle about this topic a few years ago. She explains that in her experience as a pastor, she has encountered more skepticism here than in other parts of the country. While pastors are automatically seen as community leaders in more churched regions, this is not true of Cascadia. Bridge-building and the establishment of trust are required here for Christians who want to connect with individuals and organizations outside the faith.
What might an organization called “Christ and Cascadia” do?
There are many different ways that an organization with this name could approach the intersection of Christianity and the Cascadia region.
Some possible activities or initiatives that an organization called “Christ and Cascadia” might undertake could include:
- Providing spiritual support and guidance to Christians living in the Cascadia region.
- Working to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding in the region.
- Engaging in community service or social justice work inspired by Christian values.
- Organizing events or retreats for Christians in the region to come together and grow in their faith.
- Educating the public about Christianity and its role in the history and culture of the Cascadia region.
Since Christ & Cascadia has shifted focus under its new editorship, we thought we’d ask what the chatbot would do with the name, given that it has so much information at its immediate disposal. Its first suggestion comes closest to our goal to inspire innovative faith practice and the exchange of ideas among Christians in Cascadia, and it’s right that we’re looking forward to organizing events.
Let us know what your response would be!
Write a prayer for the Cascadia region.
Here’s an example of a prayer for the Cascadia region:
We give you thanks for the beauty and wonder of the Cascadia region. We marvel at the majesty of the mountains, the bounty of the forests, and the power of the rivers. We are humbled by the diversity of life in this land, and we pray for wisdom to be good stewards of this precious gift.
We ask for your blessings on the people of this region. We pray for peace and harmony among all who call Cascadia home. We pray for the well-being of those who are struggling, and for the strength and courage to meet the challenges that we face. We ask that you would bless our families and communities, and that you would give us the wisdom to build a future of hope and prosperity for all.
We ask for your guidance as we work to protect and preserve the natural resources of this region. We pray that we may be good stewards of the land, and that we may find ways to live in harmony with the earth and all of her creatures.
We give you thanks for the rich history and culture of this region, and we pray that we may continue to build on the legacy of the past in order to create a brighter future for all.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
To that, we’ll only add: Amen and amen.
Cover photo credit: Christin Hume