Wednesday 9 October 2019

Unreliable Prophecy

The problem with prophecy is that - when it is made public - it never seems to come true; or - even when some would interpret it as validated; prophecy never seems to do any good.

I have read many sincere, detailed prophecies made over the past fifty years or so; and they are often completely wrong - as wrong as it is possible to be.

There were, for example, from the 1970s - 1990s (and again leading up to 2012) many channelled messages about an imminent landing of aliens on earth and the consequences, and multiple predictions of an imminent planetary breakthrough to a higher 'frequency/ vibrational' level of consciousness. Didn't happen.

The only valid prophecy I have encountered has been Rudolf Steiner's of 1918 - about which I have written extensively. Perhaps significantly this was a pessimistic prophecy - about what bad things would happen if Western man continued to reject the reality of the spiritual; if we continued to assume the truth of materialism. And even in 1918 this was an extrapolation of a century-plus trend. 

But Steiner's main prophecy - of the Second Coming of Christ in c1933, was completely wrong - at many levels. Instead of Christ we got Hitler as Chancellor - although Anthroposophists actually interpret Hitler as a demonic reaction against the Second Coming. But if the 1918 prophecy is straightforwardly true, then the Second Coming prophecy is falsified by the same common sense criteria.

Another of Steiner's main prophecies was that Ahriman (Satan, the Antichrist) would be incarnated in c2000 - so I suppose that remains a possibility, although I think we might have noticed by now?

But from Steiner we can see that being A Prophet does not mean that one is correct about most things, most of the time. And if only a small percentage of  statements are accurate - and we don't know which percent until afterwards - then this really isn't much use.

There are several ways by which, it has been suggested, God could enable prophecy. But the question is why he would want to do this.

Prophecy essentially assumes divine planning to a timetable. And why would God (at least the Christian God) want to do that? And if he did, why would he want people to know about it. And if he did want people to know about it - why choose a human prophet as the mechanism - and expect the message to be accurately disseminated and understood?

There is no doubt that - through the ages - there has been a fascination with prophecies. But public, objective, social prophecy is beginning to strike me as a wrong idea at root. It may be a fascination - one I personally feel pretty strongly; but that fascination may be idle or evil rather than good.

I can certainly see the value in personal prophecy - among family, friends and the like. This can serve a function of retrospective validation - as apparently happened among Jesus's disciples when after his resurrection, they recalled some relevant prophecies. But something goes terribly wrong when these are made public, with 'general prophecy', when prophecies are made into objective statements, applicable to 'all'; when they are supposed to affect public policy.

Indeed, the most convincing stories of prophecy are when The Public disbelieve and ignore The Prophet, but a much smaller group of the prophet's family, friends, followers do believe; and these 'believers' are able to escape some prophesied disaster.

A good example is at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, when the prophet Lehi are ignored by the authorities, but he and his family escape the destruction of Jerusalem. Or in fiction when, in Watership Down, the shaman rabbit Fiver predicts the destruction of the burrow, is ognored by teh chief rabbit, but escapes with his brother and a small group of followers.   

I am certainly guilty, many times over, of worrying about what the future holds in general terms unless... or of trying to avert one or another prophecy. But surely this is a fault? Surely I ought to be discerning what I ought to do now - and (so far as possible) setting aside what might (but probably will not) happen as a consequence?

Or, if I did recieve a real prophecy, then this would surely not be about anything large scale - but about what should happen to myself or my family; something I can directly affect: where my personal decision is significant. 

Like most people, I want to be reassured that If I do X, then Y will eventuate; but we know that it is seldom possible really to know what will happen - too many factors impinge. Most importantly, all people (all Beings) have agency, and are capable of choosing. In principle, conscious behaviour cannot be known in advance - only guessed.

And therefore what we ought to do, ought not primarily to be aimed at consequences - especially when we know what it is right to do regardless of consequences. That seems the case in real prophecy - the future is not known with any great precision; but what ought to be done is clear. 

We may, if we are sincere, come to understand the reality of our situation - and this will include what we personally should do in consequence. To get back to that broadly-fulfilled 1918 prophecy of Steiner - we may reasonably infer that the bad consequences happened for broadly the reasons Steiner stated 100 years ago. But we only knew that for sure in (perhaps) the past generation or two; many decades after the prophecy was made.

And what we do not know is the consequences that would actually eventuate from here-and-now if we (from this point) did what Steiner rrecommended and remedied the defects Steiner outlined... If we (you and me, other people) regarded the spiritual realm as real, developed a more frequent and intense awareness of the spiritual realm etc.  What effect would this have?

In sum, even if we know that the prophecy was true, and what we ought to do about it  - this does not tell us what would happen if we actually went ahead and did it. If (for example) there was a general recognition that 'Steiner was right after all!' (at least, in that particular lecture of 1918).

What then: what would be the resulting consequences?

It seems we would need yet another prophecy!


dearieme said...

Didn't Bernard Levin make a pretty decent prophecy about the timing of the end of the USSR?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - No idea - never heard of it. Of course it would need some detail to count as fulfilled. And there would be the same problem that (as a pundit active for decades) Levin presumably wrote loads of articles mentioning the future - how could we have known at the time which one would be correct?

Adil said...

"There were, for example, from the 1970s - 1990s (and again leading up to 2012) many channelled messages about an imminent landing of aliens on earth and the consequences, and multiple predictions of an imminent planetary breakthrough to a higher 'frequency/ vibrational' level of consciousness. Didn't happen."

I don't think believing in aliens is spiritual at all. In fact I find it very materialistic and anthropocentric. People who reject the spiritual world are often willing to believe in aliens; our civilization even sends out signals to space in case the green goblins "might" have Facebook. Now that's superstitious!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - There was a spiritual/ religious type of UFOlogist - who regarded the aliens as angelic beings, tasked with various spritiual projects - for example:

The above group included Gene Rodenberry of Star Trek fame.

Adil said...


That's a different matter! It is the strictly physical cartoonish UFOs I have a problem with and I find people's belief in them blasphemous. But I am interested in UFO phenomena in themselves and have made sightings so thanks for the information!