Saturday, June 24, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Cost of Discipleship for the Church

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., June 24, 2023

In case you haven’t noticed, churches in America are losing membership, and their  influence in shaping American culture is diminishing.  The church has traditionally been the primary source of America’s standards of moral legitimacy (what’s right and wrong).  Its nadir came in 2016 when most white Christians elected Donald Trump.

Trump’s narcissism is the antithesis of the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus on discipleship; and Trump’s continued popularity in the white church has sealed its fate.  The church seems beyond redemption, unable to reconcile America’s tribal polarized partisan politics, and unable to promote altruistic morality in a materialistic and hedonistic culture.

When the early church adopted Paul’s atonement doctrine it subordinated the cost of discipleship taught by Jesus to mystical doctrines of belief in a divine Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God and as a blood sacrifice to forgive the sins of all believers.  Church doctrines made those exclusivist beliefs essential to salvation, but they were never taught by Jesus. 

The church should promote the altruistic values taught by Jesus, and accept the reality that most Christians have put belief in exclusivist church doctrines over the teachings of Jesus.  Christians should oppose the corrupt moral values of America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.  While that may make them a political minority, they can be a minority for God's will. 

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It’s a universal moral imperative taken from the Hebrew Bible and taught by Jesus, and it has been accepted by Muslim scholars as a common word of faith.

Jesus was a Jew who taught his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.  It’s unlikely that a church that has grown popular and powerful by promoting the worship of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation will support universal salvation by loving the least of those among us--but that’s what Jesus taught in the story of the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.

The teachings of Jesus were never popular.  Church doctrines limiting salvation to exclusivist beliefs provided cheap grace by ignoring the cost of discipleship.  While that enabled the church to become popular and powerful, the election of 2016 exposed its moral weakness.  Discipleship has become costly to the church since like politics its measure of success is popularity.

The  church can remain a popular social institution and continue to ignore the moral imperatives of discipleship; but Christians who seek to follow Jesus will have to reject the cheap grace of exclusivist church doctrines and accept altruistic love as the cost of discipleship.  They will have to choose the narrow way of God’s love over the broad and popular ways of the world. 



On the largest and fastest religious shift in America that is well underway, see

On how remaining United Methodists must look to religious life after disaffiliations, see

On the Greatest Commandment as a Common Word of Faith, see

On Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light, see

On  Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos?, see

On Faith and Religion: The Same but Different, see

On Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter, see

On Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous, see

On Saving America from the Church, see

On Easter and the Christian Paradox, see

On The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World, see

On A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church, see

On Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy, see

On Hell No! See

On The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism, see

On the need for A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion, see

On A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion, see

On Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics, see

On Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again, see

On Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs, see

On Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos, see

On Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism, see

On Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America, see

On Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus, see

On The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics, see

On Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church, see

On The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity, see

On Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority, see

On Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Morally Muddled Mainstream, see

On Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Why Americans Are Losing Their Religion, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion and the Wisdom of God, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Jesus, the Church and Christian Nationalism, see

On Musings on the Need for a Civil Religion in America’s Dysfunctional Democracy, see

On Musings on the Evolution of  Christianity into the American Civil Religion, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of Christianity and Democracy, see

On An 18th Century Preview of America’s Political and Religious Schisms, see

On Musings for Christians Uncomfortable in Churches Without a Moral Compass, see

Friday, June 16, 2023

Musings on Artificial Intelligence as a Deepfaking Fad or as an Existential Threat

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., June 17, 2023

It all began in Hollywood, where special effects were created for entertainment purposes.  Today artificial intelligence (AI) is taking us beyond our imagination to where no one has been before, and the consequences could be dire.  The very idea of creating an uncontrolled superior intelligence is an existential threat to humankind, even beyond that of nuclear weapons.

The 2024 election cycle will preview deepfaking AI that misrepresents truth, but we’ve seen the distortions of AI before and can accept the challenge to find the truth.  It’s the idea that a superior form of intelligence that’s beyond human control can control our destiny that’s a frightening existential threat.  It’s known as artificial general intelligence, or AGI.

Most of America’s essential services are already controlled by the internet, making their control a matter of national security, and there are new waves of unprincipled hackers available to the highest bidder.  Few have contemplated where continued advances in cybernetics will lead us, but a self-perpetuating artificial intelligence seems to be within the realm of possibility.

There are good and bad sides to AI and AGI.  The good side includes internet functions that improve our lives.  The bad side includes manipulating facts with fake news, and functions that go beyond human accountability in controlling our destiny.  Scientific speculation of where AGI can take us sounds like something out of a science fiction nightmare.    

In America, every new advance--including AI--is measured by its economic impact.  On the stock market, big tech (Alphabet, Meta, Apple, Amazon, Nvidia and Tesla) have used AI to make exorbitant profits, turning a bear market into a bull market; but there is disagreement over whether AI is good for the economy, or an economic illusion based on the greed of investors.     

To prevent AI excesses, laws like slander and libel should be expanded to prohibit misrepresentations of fact in the media (fake news), and even faked conversations over the telephone.  And AI distortions of fact in the media beyond legal prohibitions should be condemned by all religions as immoral distortions of God’s truth.

HIstory confirms that human intelligence is flawed; and that Edmund Burke was right when he observed that in a democracy people forge our own shackles.  Pogo confirmed that truth when he said, We have met the enemy and it’s us.  If our human imperfections make us our own worst enemy, maybe AGI can help us build a better world to save us from ourselves.    

If a form of AGI evolves beyond human control, so be it.  Humans can either ignore it or learn to live with it while seeking to regain control of their destiny.  Who knows?  After more than 2,000 years, perhaps AI and AGI will confirm that the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves is God’s universal and eternal truth.  But don’t hold your breath; these days the world doesn’t seem able to discern God’s truth. 



On Deepfaking it: How America’s 2024 election collides with an AI boom,  see

On Artificial General Intelligence: can we avoid the ultimate existential threat?  “AI is an existential threat because of the unlikelihood that humans will be able to control an AGI/ASI once it appears. The AI may intentionally or, more likely, unintentionally wipe out humanity or lock humans into a perpetual dystopia. Or a malevolent actor may use AI to enslave the rest of humanity, or even worse. 

Human nature makes AGI too risky for trial and error.  “Since the inception of existential risk research, humanity has lost a lot of its na├»ve cheerfulness about landmark technological breakthroughs. While few in the past held the Luddite opinion that technological development is universally bad, the opposite view, namely that technological development is universally good, has been mainstream. Existential risk research implies we should reconsider that idea, as it consistently concludes that we run a high risk of extinction due to our own inventions. Instead, we should focus on making risk-gain trade-offs for innovations on a per-technology basis. At the same time, we should use a mix of technology and regulation to enhance safety instead of increasing risk, and AI Safety is a prime example of that. In the past, we used trial-and-error science and technology to manage nature’s challenges. The big question now is: can we use caution, reason, restraint, coordination, and safety-enhancing technology to address the existential risks stemming from our own inventions?” See

On how Wall Street has moved a bear market to a bull market in a bear economy, see

AI has spawned numerous innovative efforts to capitalize on enticing AI illusions.  One self-made millionaire has recommended ways to use AI to make thousands of dollars a month in passive income--with less than $100.  In selling AI on the internet, greed trumps truth.  See

On the religious dimension of truth, see What Is Truth?