The emperor’s new clothes: False prophecy in the news


Here is my first audition file.  The sound quality and performance aren’t the best, but I’ve chosen to post it anyway given the weight of the subject matter.

I need to show that I can speak off the cuff about current events, and an opportunity to do so came in the controversy over recent tweets by Maria Chappelle-Nadal.

A transcript appears below.


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TRANSCRIPT:

An opportunity has come up for me to show my ability to speak off the cuff about current events, so I may as well include this among my audition tapes. The sound quality may not the best, in that I’m having to record this in the day room at the shelter, and I won’t be in a studio environment again for two days.

A newly elected state senator, Missouri state senator, from the district that includes Ferguson, has been getting a lot of press lately pursuant to her activity on Twitter. In particular, there was an article at Salon.com today celebrating how much this woman had upset Tucker Carlson.

I have two basic observations here, the first being to question why this woman should be getting any attention; the second observation being that this is a perfect example of false prophecy, on which I will elaborate.

As to the first observation, I’m not expecting too much necessarily from a state senator. One of the preachers who presents at chapel here at the shelter ran last fall for state senator on the platform that the nation to return to its Christian roots.

It’s not clear for whom this woman speaks, it’s not clear that she has a following, and it’s definitely not clear that she has any plan of action. She has no legislation proposed that seems to be pertinent. In fact, all she seems to have in mind to do is intimidate certain people; and that doesn’t seem to me to have any likely practical consequence.

(I’m in a really challenging environment, here, to record.)

Some years ago, two of my pastors on two separate occasions told me that something I said had been “prophetic.” This gave me occasion to reflect on how my words and actions compared with those of other putative contemporary prophets and deriving [sic] certain criteria by which one could evaluate prophecy in contemporary life.

I came up with a half dozen criteria.

First, I concluded that prophetic speech is normally spontaneous and involuntary.

An example of this would be in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the emperor’s new clothes. At the end of the fairy tale, the emperor is leading a parade, dressed all up in his invisible new clothes, which were supposedly made of, from threads of silver and gold. The crowd is watching in stunned silence, until a little child calls out, “Mommy, the emperor’s naked!”, at which point the entire crowd bursts out in laughter. I count the child as a prophet, and the child’s speech was obviously involuntary and spontaneous. It’s also notable that it cut through all pretensions in the audience.

The difference between the fairy tale and real life is that in the fairy tale the crowd bursts into laughter in agreement with the message, whereas in real life the crowd is more likely to fly into a rage and kill the prophet, as happened in the cases of Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi.

The second criterion is that the speech is normally addressed to the prophet’s own people. Martin Luther King, Jr., was very skilled at this, speaking to different audiences from his different personal roles. He addressed his fellow blacks as a black man; he addressed American citizens as an American citizen; he addressed Christian clergy as a Christian clergyman.

Third, the speech concerns — the prophet speaks to his own people about their own conduct.

Fourth, the prophet is accountable to the people addressed. This is extremely important. We note that when David, when Nathan confronted David [See 2 Samuel 12.], he spoke to him specifically about his own conduct, and Nathan was completely accountable to the person addressed. David was an absolute monarch, and could have had Nathan put to death as he had had Uriah the Hittite put to death.

The fifth criterion is that the speech uses language the audience can reasonably be expected to understand. We see this again in Nathan’s confronting David, and we find a stark contrast with the conduct of the putative prophets, the Berrigan brothers, the Catonsville Nine, and the so-called prophets at Maryland’s Jonah House. The Jonah House prophets normally have had no accountability whatsoever to the people addressed except by virtue of their criminal actions. Moreover, their language justifying their actions is typically absolutely incomprehensible to the people they’re speaking about or speaking to.

The last criterion of prophetic speech is that the speech heals.

We find this for example in Jesus’ speech to the centurion about the centurion’s sick slave, where Jesus’ words in themselves bring about the healing of the servant [Matthew 8:13].

In the case of this Missouri state senator, we find that practically none of the criteria are met. Her tweets may be spontaneous and seemingly involuntary, but they don’t address her own people, they don’t address her own people about their own conduct, they are not posed in language that deserve [sic] the attention of the people she is addressing, and they definitely haven’t healed.

A comparison can be made to another woman whom I regard as the foremost false prophet of the 1960’s, Madalyn Murray O’Hair. A false prophet is very often someone who loves to hate and be hated, and Mrs. O’Hair definitely fit both those roles.

Another, and the last, very strange observation to be made about false prophets today is that they are somehow unusually prone to die of cancer. This is as if cancer is an occupational hazard of false prophecy. This is true of Mrs. O’Hair; it’s also true of at least one of the Berrigan brothers; and if you look down a list of putative prophets, you’ll find a high incidence of cancer deaths.  This has led me to a theory that there may be a genetically based irritable personality.  Thomas Paine also died of cancer.

That’s it for now.

Be well!

=========================================================================

Postscript, 2015-02-24:  I recently learned that Christopher Hitchens also died of cancer.

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