Giving Prophecy A Good Name, pt. 1

Originally posted by idiosynchronic on 12/20/06

Part of 1 an unknown number of diaries dealing with secular prophets – people whom have pushed, shoved, cajoled, and simply kicked the modern world into understanding and action.

From Dear Leader Nonpartisan’s Statement on Gore this morning:

No, this is not the Gore you remember.  This is SuperGore, Gore the Magnificent.  Gore the Old Testament prophet, denouncing short-sighted governmental debauchery in the name of Science.

Maybe Gore’s prophecy is one more reason why Gore was slimed un-mercilessly in 2000.  It’s easy to demonize someone who is getting visions of world doom as a street-walking, sign-holding unshaven nutball.

As a result, labeling any public figure as a prophet or investing in anyone’s prophecy these days is fraught with a rhetorical danger.  Prophecy as a definition to the layperson is seen as metaphysical event – for those of simple religious faith they’re visions sent from God.  To the atheists (and others of various backgrounds), prophecy is something that the insane and deluded engage in.  Even a moderate Christian will look at prophecy as a slight insanity that causes you to get on the Internet and tell the world the that the United Nations is an agent of the End Times.  A labeled prophet in this day and age is one step away from being portrayed as a loonie that no one with a right mind takes seriously.  (There’s a good reason PastorDan called his progressive religious blog Street Prophets as a tongue-in-cheek metaphor.)

Progressives and liberals of all stripes often get accused of playing Cassandra for our predictions of gloom ‘n’ doom and enjoying it.  It’s a clever rhetorical trick of making your opponent look both unhinged, unreasonable, and a complete attention pig by playing the role of the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind who refuse to listen.

But prophecy is a much more complex condition than the English language and modern perspective let on to.  The American Heritage Dictonary (via answers.com) defines prophecy as:

proph·e·cy (pr?f?-s?) pronunciation
n., pl. -cies (-s?z).

    1. An inspired utterance of a prophet, viewed as a revelation of divine will.
    2. A prediction of the future, made under divine inspiration.
    3. Such an inspired message or prediction transmitted orally or in writing.
  1. The vocation or condition of a prophet.
  2. A prediction.

Prophecy in protestant theological terms however is a different condition.  There are two broad categories (explained well for non-theologians here) – foretelling, or seeing the future, & forthtelling, speaking the mind of God.  (The Catholic theology around prophecy is different, but I’m not touching it now.)  The latter function of prophecy is what we’re interested in, for speaking the mind of God actually encompasses part the former of seeing the future.  Forthtelling is literally the old saw of, “if you don’t change, you’ll regret it later!”  The Greek legend of Cassandra is actually that of a foreteller, she had limited knowledge of the wills of the gods; the Hebrew prophets play the role of the forthtellers, even though several of them don’t know the future other than if the Israelites don’t follow what God told them, God will damn them.

Prophecy in the secular or non-religious realm is related, but somewhat different.  Foremost, it’s a prediction of future events by means of analysis and deep thought of data we currently know;  it can also include or consist entirely of the analysis of previously unknown data.   (And then there’s illogical points of view masquerading as pieces of data . . )  The conclusions of the prophet are usually unpopular, if not completely world-turning.  But prophecy includes an element of taking your prediction and standing before your peers and the world and enduring the fallout and defending the truth.  Use of the word prophecy implies that what ever the truth is, it’s unpopular, and it’s going to take work, repeated tellings, and debate to convince people otherwise.

Of course debating prophecy is just asking for trouble.  Angry looks, name calling, denunciations, pitchforks, torches, guns . . and you can guess the rest . . soon, as Michael Crichton asserted in one of the most cynical applications of cognitive dissonance ever seen, scientific conclusions are then assailed as  unchallengeable religious dogma.*

According to this working definition, whom else would you consider a modern prophet?

* This author doesn’t endorse endorse Crichton’s views.  But they are important to the nature of the prophet image – his antithesis or the anti-prophet character is an important counterpart.

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