Sunday, July 31, 2005

Prophetic nonsense

OK. I know I said I won't have anything to do with the warped fundy wackiness of so-called "Christian" apocalyptic "literature" like the awful Left Behind series. Truthfully, I probably can't criticize those books as effectively as Fred Clark at slacktivist can, so go visit his weekly LB series archive when you're done here.

But, I couldn't resist a free shot at such nonsense when I came across this BS at the books' website (I just hope going there didn't give me a virus):

One of the hardest things for American prophecy students to accept is that the United States is not clearly mentioned in Bible prophecy, yet our nation is the only superpower in the world today.
-- Tim LaHaye

What explains this scriptural silence? Mark Hitchcock, contributing editor to the Left Behind Prophecy Club, outlines four possible explanations on why America is not specifically referred to in prophecy.

Possibility 1
America will still be a powerful nation in the last days, but the Lord simply chose not to mention her specifically.

This is possible, but it seems unlikely. In Scripture, the dominant political and military power in the end times is centered in the Mediterranean and in Europe. This scriptural silence concerning America seems to indicate that by the time the tribulation period arrives, America will no longer be a major influence in the world.

Possibility 2
America is not mentioned specifically in Scripture because she will be destroyed by other nations. She will suffer a fall from the outside.

Those who hold this theory are quick to point to the notion that America will be crippled by a nuclear attack. However, in recent days the terrorist attacks on our nation have led some to conclude that our own freedom and technology will be the Achilles' heel that brings us down.

Possibility 3
America is not mentioned in Bible Prophecy because she will have lost her influence as result of moral and spiritual deterioration. She will suffer a fall from the inside.

As you can imagine, this is a very popular view today in light of the moral malaise we see all around us. Proponents of this view have no trouble citing alarming statistics related to drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, children born out of wedlock, divorce, pornography, abortion and on and on.

Possibility 4
America is not mentioned in Bible Prophecy because she is brought to her knees by the Rapture.

If the rapture were to happen today and all the true believers in Jesus Christ were whisked away to heaven in a split second, America would be devastated. It is estimated that America will lose somewhere between 25 and 65 million citizens: Christians and their small children. Not only would the country lose a minimum of 10% of her population, but she would also lose the very best, the "salt and light" of this great land (see Matthew 5:13-14).


These people need a very loud wake-up call.

This line says it all: "the dominant political and military power in the end times is centered in the Mediterranean and in Europe." The scriptures these people like to quote were written at least 2000 years ago. America isn't mentioned because she didn't exist.

Many of the Old Testament "prophecies" refer to Assyria, Persia, or Babylonia not as symbols but in reality because those nations dominated the Middle East for long periods of time. The Book of Daniel and other "prophecies" have nothing to do with 21st Century life.

Similarly, the New Testament "prophecies" refer to ROME, which was then the superpower, and are largely veiled political statements slamming the imperial regime and its occupation of Judea. At best, they were somebody's reasonable assumptions that, in the then-not-too-distant future, the tensions in Judea would boil over and spark a massive Roman backlash. Such a thing did happen in CE 70, culminating in the infamous seige of Masada and the sacking of Jerusalem. At worst, they were an expression of someone's serious psychological disorder; we often see such pronouncements coming from the disturbed minds of schizophrenics.

When valid, such predictions need no divine guidance, just a good grounding in politics and social issues. "Prophecies" that are so grounded are more likely to be clearly expressed and accurate, or at least disprovable. That's also true of some of the things we've been talking about in this blog -- peak oil, nuclear war, etc. I don't believe in prophecy, but I do believe in reasonable predictions based on fact.

Anti-occupation "prophets" and "messiahs" pop up frequently when a people is undergoing severe cultural crisis. Anthropologists and historians have documented this phenomenon very clearly among several Native American tribes in the late 1800s (Wovoka's Ghost Dance was the most famous), the Cargo Cults of Papua New Guinea, Mayan end-time prophecies that date back to interaction with the Toltecs, and elsewhere. I'd bet that if we looked at a random selection of cultures who faced oppression by an expansionist society, we'll find similar stories in most of them.

Stories that claim to peer centuries into the future really come in two types. The best of it exists in modern science fiction. Those authors make no claims of prophecy, but our distant descendants might find what they wrote to be true and affix the label of "prophet" on some of them long after the fact. If their insight into how today's technology and society may change stands the test of time, they should be honored then, but hopefully not in a religious sense. The thought of somebody finding the works of good SF writers like Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, or David Brin "sacred" in CE 3000 is unnerving & ridiculous... probably even to them.

I do not, BTW, consider Left Behind to be SF, even if it's shelved as such in stores. To be science fiction it has to be based in some conception of science, even a mistaken one, not nonsense.

The vast majority of stuff purported to predict the future is so confusing it could mean anything, or nothing, and is very easily twisted into any form proponents wish to twist it. That, of course, is particularly easy if the "prophecy" was written a long, long time ago, in some language nobody can now read, or one that wasn't written in the first place. That's the big problem with most biblical "prophecy" and New Age distortions of the legends of various Native peoples.

The most obvious case is Nostradamus. Have you ever tried reading his weirdness? It's a mishmash of (mostly) French, Latin, Spanish and words the guy made up himself. There are several translations (I'll admit, I once owned Erika Cheetham's version), but they often disagree. Even when they do agree, what they say frequently makes no sense.

There's more like this nonsense all over the Web, and such BS riddles prophetic communication throughout history. Certainly, "prophecy" is communication, and at times it's done with good intentions, usually as part of an effort to renew the culture it comes from.

But Left Behind and similar claims of modern bible-prophecy (Hal Lindsey, the so-called Dominionists, and their ilk) represents the worst kind of chiliasm. Instead of being creative and forward-looking, today's fundamentalists steal and distort their prophecy from a culture (ancient Judaism) that's not their own. Unlike Wovoka and the others I noted, they do not promote renewal of the culture that gave them birth; in fact, they promote its destruction as a requirement for their own narcissistic salvation. Although they talk about fighting cultural decay, they are actually a cause of it, because they impede and reject genuine efforts at renewal.

Such peddlers of "prophecy" & distorted reality need to be reined in by the rest of us before their delusions become self-fulfilling and cause a lot of suffering.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

I wish you could somehow advertise your blog to Apocalypse fans! It's great to see a blog devoted to debunking the silliness that surrounds that particular book of the NT. It really is so silly - I guess because it's talking about something very very serious (the end of the world), doing wacky things like trying to predict dates and wondering how America got left out - "Hey, God, like we are IMPORTANT, ya know... Wake up call?" - and all the while taking themselves seriously!

Could you do some kind of comedy skits on this! Probably Monty Pythons already got to this subject matter?

8/01/2005 9:08 PM  
Blogger Jay Denari said...

Thanks, Paul.

If you know of any lists, group-blogs, etc, that talk about this stuff, let me know. It'd be fun to toss a little reality their way! :)

I'm actually NOT focused on Revelation, but on the very real threats our society faces and needs to deal with. The fact the Revelation exists and has been embraced obsessively by a not-insignificant percentage of our population makes a realistic appraisal of such threats that much harder.

8/02/2005 1:18 AM  
Blogger Tonya said...

Way to go Jay. I love it. I am glad there are smarter people than me out there who can say the things that matter intellgently. Me, I just vomit it all out there in a string of too long sentences and too much personal inflection. You do it right!

8/03/2005 9:47 AM  
Blogger Clyo said...

Hi Jay, this is Clyo.

You visited my blog for Prayerforce.org and asked for my comments on your blog since I am a Christian.

First off, I must say I agree with your logic and arguments.

I think what we have going on in Christianity today is one of those arguments such as "how many angels fit on the head of a pin."

To bemoan and analyze why "America" is not named as such in biblical prophesy misses the point of what religion is supposed to be about.

My view of religion, in general, is that its function is to connect us to our Source (whatever the name) so we may receive guidance as to how to overcome the tendencies we have to cause ourselves and others misery.

The problem with Christians, as I see it, is that we incorporate too little of the sacred in our lives while having a great and powerful need to prove we are right, i.e. that God exists. (And, following that, that our religion is the "right" one.)

But how do we prove the existence of the Invisible?

How do we convey - without sounding like space cadets - our own spiritual revelations and connection with what we feel we know is a loving God?

It's impossible. There is no test, there is no proof. It's entirely subjective.

All we can do is tell our stories, tell how we believe we have seen God intervene on our behalves, what we have seen and felt.

Absent such authentic experiences, or absent one's ability to quiet one's mind and stop the constant doubting and rehashing of experience that "proves" we have been touched by God, we use scripture to satisfy the ever unsatisfied, questioning and insecure mind.

We therefore, create arguments using scripture as proof.

If you read my blog at all, you will see I quote scripture in nearly every entry.

I quote scripture as much as I can to support my ideas because there is no other way to give credence to them.

I have no way to condense the life experience I have had or blend it with new discoveries about the Quantum Field that allow me to succintly state why we should "turn the other cheek."

It would take a treatise.

I can, however, quote scripture and - dare we hope briefly? - explain why I believe it is valid in today's world.

Having said this, I believe scripture is taken too literally, and has been misused for non-spiritual, non-life enhancing ends.

But what can we expect from a species that can debate the word "is" with all seriousness as though it is a life and death matter?

Our loves of conflict, debate and analyzing things to death are fed by the contradictions that abound in the Bible.

The result is that you have millions of words written and spoken interpreting everything for the purpose of proving one's belief system and providing the comfort inherent in not having to question it.

I had to laugh at the posting by one person on Alternet who said that most Christians he knew had the same money, health and relationship problems as non-believers and he couldn't see the advantage to a belief that doesn't help you, so why not just sleep in on Sunday?

And, of course, he is correct. If your belief system doesn't help you create a better life, what good is it?

And I believe Christianity is being been altered so it helps people less while making them more determined to be "right."

But proving one is "right" should not be the point and, in fact, is impossible given what we are talking about is invisible to human senses.

But there is an old saying: you don't change horses in midstream.

And although I cannot prove it, I would not be surprised if there is a correlation between how badly ones life is going and how strongly one argues that one's religion - and God - is valid.

The problem - as I have just demonstrated admirably through my wordiness - is that we all spend too much time discussing and arguing the pro and cons of our belief systems and too little time revering each other - really learning to appreciate and admire and care about each other.

When humanity - not just Christians - understand that "what you sow, so shall you reap" is Universal law, there will be far less time spent arguing trivialities and far more time and effort spent being good to one another.

In that vein - and I hope you will forgive what you may think is impertinence in giving you advice - I would suggest you not use terms such as "B.S." and refrain from calling certain beliefs or ideas "nonsense."

They may well be. I may even agree with you. But while you may get cheers from those who agree, you will allienate those whom you are actually trying to reach.

Call someone else's beliefs "B.S." and you are just crying out to have them shout back that it's really you spouting the B.S.

Other than that, I like your blog and would encourage you to keep it up.

If your blog energizes you, you can know you are doing exactly what you need to be doing with it.

Your part of the dialogue is needed and meaningful.

But to paraphrase Mother Teresa, none of us are arguing with each other.

Our issues are all with God.

Blessings -
Clyo

8/04/2005 1:12 PM  
Blogger Jay Denari said...

Hi, Clyo,

It's impossible. There is no test, there is no proof. It's entirely subjective.

That's exactly the point the Far Right is incapable of comprehending -- if it's entirely subjective, it cannot be forced upon others. No interpretation of a religious text of any kind can supercede common sense and mutually agreed-upon methods of science as a way to understand how the universe works. The two can coexist, but when biased views of the improvable are foisted upon those who don't believe in them as the only "truth", as these folks do, it IS "nonsense."

Scripture isn't proof, it's a framework some people have been using to explain experiences that by definition cannot be proven. In some cases, it states things that are common sense; in other cases, it says things that are morally abhorrent. It is not a "good" book, nor is it an "evil" one; it is simply a repository of some of the observations, wisdom, errors, feelings, hopes, and fears of a long line of people since c. 3500 BCE.

When people like LaHaye interpret it "literally," they are losing contact with the big picture and are in fact worshiping the book itself and not paying attention to their own experiences.

8/04/2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger Clyo said...

Hi Jay,

I agree with your last post, and you hit the nail on the head about the falacies of worshipping a book.

It would be better to alleviate suffering for another - or bring joy into a life.

Just to clarify my comment, when I referred to citing the Bible as "proof," I meant it serves as proof for the nearly one billion Christians who accept it as proof of God's existence.

I would, of course, not expect it to be considered as proof by anyone who has not accepted it as having some revelatory truth.

I have also thought more in regard to whether all ideas about prophesy are nonsense. I think no one is in a position to make that determination.

We may as well say there is no intuition, there is no revelation, there is no truth in feeling, but truth exists only where we can prove it through the limits of logic.

In that humans are supremely illogical and operate on emotion far more than logic, we would have to allow a computer or some such device to decide for us what is true and what is not.

Yet, I am sure each of us have had crystal clear moments of understanding that we neither can explain nor "prove" in regard to how we now understand something that we feel is profound or true.

Insight happens. And it's not a function of analytical (breaking down into parts) logic, but a leap, a product of synthesis.

There is also a world of psychics -and their followers - who believe they receive guidance from other realms.

While they cannot prove they do, neither can anyone disprove their experience.

To invalidate a person's inner workings and experience is unhelpful.

We only do that when we are afraid of them.

I think the Left needs to cultivate fearlessness and realize we are not powerless, no matter how many balls are in the Right's court right now.

I think our best strength - what separates us from ideologues - is our ability to compare beliefs, discuss inconsistencies and untruths, and provide facts in a non-defensive way, without needing to prove we are right.

So I think anything that edges away from that - and you know there is a lot of insulting going on now out of fear - takes us away from who we want to be and what we say we stand for.

For even facts are not absolutes. They change over time as more information is collected.

So, although something may appear to be nonsense, I think it serves us to avoid using such a term to discuss something that others take very seriously.

For instance, allow me to give an example of how labeling a belief as "nonsense" stops dialogue.

There are people who insist that global warming is nonsense.

I had a conversation with one of them who became so irate upon my bringing the subject up -I assume because subconsciously he is supremely afraid that global warming is real - that he told me I was full of B.S. He called the facts I cited from a scientific journal "nonsense."

I asked him for facts to refute what I was saying. He gave me none, but told me to do "more homework."

End of dialogue, end of relationship.

"Is not" vs. "is too" arguments accomplish nothing.

Other people insist that the idea racism still exists in the United States is "nonsense."

Some deny the Holocaust - and truly, I believe they really think it is a lie.

If you have read George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, you know that people think in frames.

Once a person accepts a certain premise - which may be embedded in childhood - then he or she can accept all sorts of "nonsense" that logically builds upon that incorrect premise.

It's a big world with a lot of minds believing very different things.

It's why we have such discord.

The Right wants to get rid of the discord by discrediting anything that doesn't fit its belief system and silencing it. It uses derogatory labels to further these ends.

How do we want to end the hostilities?

Do we want to mimic the Right to discredit it?

If so, we risk becoming what we decry: closed minded, inflexible, against diverse ideas and openly insulting.

In my opinion, labels do not help.
They divide us by dismissing people so we don't have to deal with them any further.

That is certainly what some would like to do to those in the Christian Right and especially those who believe in the Rapture.

But would they also label the myths or religious practices of American Indian tribes - such as the rain dance - "nonsense?"

If so, why?

To alienate the tribe performing it? Or because one cannot conceive of a dance having any effect on the elements?

Either position indicates a closed mind.

Why not, instead, start a dialogue? Start a discussion group. Invite people who believe in Biblical prophesy to come and explain why they believe in it; what it does for them.

In this way, one person at a time, we might forge bridges, find areas of agreement, agree to disagree on religion and reduce hostility.

We will never all see the same way or think the same way.

The world is full of myths and parables for living and stories about what to expect at death.

Can we accept that "one man's meat is another man's poison" and agree to allow room for all of it?

Clyo

8/05/2005 12:20 AM  
Blogger Jay Denari said...

Hi, Clyo,

Can we accept that "one man's meat is another man's poison" and agree to allow room for all of it?

For the most part, I agree with you. There's plenty of intellectual space within the realm of humanity for almost any concept to be held peacefully, and that does include belief in prophecy, even apocalyptic prophecy. My only objection is when people believe their way of life and their ideas are so crucial everyone must follow them.

When that happens, it goes beyond any reasonable rules of the game and starts sliding into the territory of obsession or paranoia. (Read the links and tell me we don't see a LOT of such attitudes among the apocalyptic crowd!) Sometimes obsessed people even recognize they're obsessed and their ideas are odd or not held by others, but cannot break out of it. Sometimes they really do believe it fully. Sometimes they don't believe it at all, but see it as a means to an end.

I disagree slightly, though, about your statement re: facts. The facts themselves stay the same, we just constantly amass more of them and thereby see a larger part of the whole picture, thus changing our definition of truth. Semantics, maybe, but important when a lot of people on both far right and far left insist on definitions of "truth" that are grossly at odds with the facts we already have.

As long as any belief system remains harmless, we should leave it alone. But the Xian Right, or at least its leadership, is not harmless. Their actions are clearly being fueled by an attitude that humanity has little or no future and are at least subconsciously working toward making that belief a fact. I'm not sure how to stop them legally other than pointing out their delusions, but we can do without such self-fulfilling prophecy.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that we're liberals. By espousing a very broad def. of free speech as a generally good thing, we will find ourselves in a quandary: We are protecting the rights of people who would NOT do the same to us if they get their way.

8/05/2005 1:27 AM  
Blogger Clyo said...

Hi Jay,

I agree that it is threatening "when people believe their way of life and their ideas are so crucial everyone must follow them."

They, however, have adopted this belief out of fear that if others do not think as they do, they will not be able to live the lives they choose, i.e. live in a world that makes sense to them, is friendly to their ideologies and does not violate key beliefs.

In regard to those who are looking forward to the ending of the earth and who pray and work actively for it, they are - to my mind - akin to terrorists who strap bombs to their bodies in order to take others out.

It is a selfish ideology pursued by people who, I expect, are tired of dealing with life and want to exact a great revenge on all those who consider their beliefs nonsense.

However, in all fairness, I believe that in treating religion, belief in spiritual matters and talk about God as invalid nonsense and "weirdness" the secular Left has contributed to creating this backlash and desire for revenge.

I agree with the, perhaps, trite phrase that there are no victims, only volunteers.

Everyone has his hand on a piece of the puzzle that got us to this schism, both believer and non-believer.

No hands are completely clean which is why I urge attempts at reconciliation as opposed to blame.

When in doubt, I choose to think on FDR's wise words:

There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Peace to you, Jay.

Clyo

8/05/2005 11:20 AM  
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