By David Madison
Editor’s Note: There has been a tsunami of articles about screwed up religious beliefs and practices relating to the US Capitol insurrection. This blog post, by a Clergy Project member, and originally posted on Debunking Christianity, represents them well. For even more, click here, here and here. /Linda LaScola, Editor
What can happen when a prophet gets it wrong
The Prophet Jeremiah—not the one in the Old Testament—but the Prophet Jeremiah Johnson of North Carolina appears to have fumbled the word of God; he had predicted the reelection of Trump. Hemant Mehta, in a post on The Friendly Atheist blog, quoted Johnson’s follow-up:
“My aim in this public apology is twofold. First, I would like to repent for inaccurately prophesying that Donald Trump would win a second term as the President of the United States. I refuse to blame the saints and say, ‘It didn’t come to pass because they did not pray enough.’ Nor will I proclaim, ‘Donald Trump actually won, so I was right, but now it has been stolen from him.’ I believe the first statement seeks to alleviate the prophetic messenger from the responsibility of what he prophesied, and the second statement is filled with potential pride and an unwillingness to humble himself and admit he was wrong.
“I want to go on record: ‘I was wrong, I am deeply sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness.’ I specifically want to apologize to any believer in whom I have now caused potential doubt concerning the voice of God and His ability to speak to His people. As a human being, I missed what God was saying; however, rest assured, God Himself is NOT a liar and His written Word should always be the foundation and source of our lives as Christians.
“God Himself anointed Donald Trump in 2016 and then removed him from office in 2020 because of his own pride and arrogance. Joe Biden’s becoming the 46th President of the United States is meant to humble not only Donald Trump but all those who worshipped him more than they kept their focus on Jesus Christ.”
Hemant Mehta was not impressed:
“A better apology would have included an admission that he has no special powers, and no ability to get predictions from God, and that prophecies are just lies Christians tell themselves to feel better. Instead, his fauxpology gives him room to make more predictions in the future after taking a little break to reconnect with the Bible. What a liar.”
“…he has no special powers…” Certainly none that can be verified by those outside Johnson’s closed circle of “saints.” There is no hint whatever that he paused to evaluate his epistemology. In fact, his faulty epistemology seems firmly in place. “God Himself anointed Donald Trump in 2016…” We would like to know how he figured that out, and how he would account for a few million other Christians who are sure God did no such thing. He apologized to believers if he had “caused potential doubt concerning the voice of God and His ability to speak to His people.” “…rest assured, God Himself is NOT a liar…”
How does Johnson know that God has the ability to speak to people, and that his deity is not a liar? (Never mind, for the moment, how he knows that God exists!) These are fundamental issues, hence our constant calm request: please, theists, show us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about god(s)—objective evidence—the hardest part of which is this: all theists must agree, “Yes, that’s where to find it.” This, of course, is where theists fail to make their case: they cannot agree on whose prayers, visions, meditations, scriptures, revelations are authentic. They claim, in so many fashions, to hear the voice of God, but get so many different answers. These epistemologies don’t work.
Johnson confessed that, “As a human being, I missed what God was saying…”
Indeed, how do humans perceive what God is saying? It would seem to be a common failing among believers that they assume far too much. In another post on The Friendly Atheist, Mehta described one of the Capitol rioters, Doug Sweet of Virginia:
“He says he hesitated. He says he felt the need to go inside to share his views with Congress but wanted to consult God first. He prayed aloud: ‘Lord, is this the right thing to do? Is this what I need to do?’ He says he felt God’s hand on his back, pushing him forward. ‘I checked with the Lord,’ he says. ‘I checked with Him three times. I never heard a ‘No.’”
We can be sure that many other Christians would have heard “No,” and would not have “felt” God’s hand pushing them into the Capitol. The shallow epistemology here is “Take it to the Lord in prayer”—based on a special relationship with The Man Upstairs; God is a cosmic buddy. Mehta’s response:
“This is what happens when right-wing politics mixes with religious delusion. No one in this man’s life ever taught him God doesn’t speak to people. God doesn’t offer advice. God doesn’t respond because God doesn’t exist. Those are just voices in your head. You need a better foundation for your ethics.”
A hard-to-figure deity—about which there is so much disagreement—is no help in finding a better foundation.
In my article here last week, I wrote the following:
“If Jesus is a part of God, with whom humans can have personal relationships, it’s strange that devout Jewish and Muslim theists—who spend as much time in prayer and meditation as Christians do—haven’t ‘found Jesus.’ And this is because…well, because their imaginings about God don’t include Jesus as savior. How can some theists be so out of touch with the real God Christians know so well?”
One of the frequent trolls on this blog, a fervent devotee of the Ancient Jesus Mystery Cult, wrote in response:
“I assume by your own testimony about your life that you were once a theist. So why don’t you tell us, David, how you could have been so out of touch with the God other Christians know so well.”
No: the burden of proof falls on theists who make so many different claims about God. Devout believers in Christ need to come up with explanations as to why devout Jews and Muslims fail to detect Jesus right there at the Divine Center. How can Jesus fail to reach them, convince them? I stepped away from theism for many good reasons, but those who are still stuck in it ought to know why devout Jews and Muslims are so out of touch with trinitarian theology. Please show us the reliable, verifiable data that Jesus is what you claim he is.
Our persistent troll is as far out of touch as Prophet Johnson. He also wrote:
“The Gospels themselves are replete with people who were theists (Jewish rabbis and priests as well as a lot of ordinary people) but who were out of touch with the real God.”
Begging the question, once again: Just what is the epistemology that reveals “the real God”? Show us the reliable, verifiable data to back that up. How does the epistemology of “Jewish rabbis and priests” fail to detect the “real” God? Should we alert the Vatican—and all the seminaries in the world—that we have found, right here on the DC Blog, someone who has been in touch with the real God?
It would seem that Jesus has far less power and influence with his fanatical followers than should be the case. It turns out that Prophet Johnson’s apology unleashed a tsunami of Christian hate; in a follow-up post to his apology, he explains what happened:
“Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry. I have been labeled a coward, sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times. We have lost ministry partners every hour and counting,”
said the leader of Jeremiah Johnson Ministries.
“I have been flabbergasted at the barrage of continued conspiracy theories being sent every minute our way and the pure hatred being unleashed. To my great heartache, I’m convinced parts of the prophetic/charismatic movement are far SICKER than I could have ever dreamed of,” he explained. “I truthfully never realized how absolutely triggered and ballistic thousands and thousands of saints get about Donald Trump. It’s terrifying! It’s full of idolatry! If I helped to prop up this ideology concerning him, I will need to repent again and stir up even more hell.”
Prophet Johnson’s haters seem to embrace the severe Jesus of Matthew 10:34-36:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
…but they disown the Jesus of Matthew 18:21-22:
“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”
It’s pathetic really: even trying to figure out what Jesus said and did is virtually impossible—people make of Jesus what they will—and Christian theology is incoherent on so many levels, beginning at the very foundation, epistemology.
I was born about fifteen years after Edwin Hubble made his stunning discovery that the Andromeda Galaxy is outside our Milky Way Galaxy; this put humanity on course to realize the vastness of the Cosmos. The orbiting space telescope named after him brought us the confirming data. Alan Dressler wrote in his 1994 book, Voyage to the Great Attractor: Exploring Intergalactic Space:
“The bowl of the Big Dipper encloses about one million galaxies.”
What an astounding discovery. When we gaze at the Big Dipper on a clear night we see what our ancestors saw, but now—thanks to science—we can appreciate our place in the scheme of things. And how much we don’t know. Here is an excerpt from Timothy Ferris’ classic work, Coming of Age in the Milky Way:
“If we possessed an atlas of our galaxy that devoted but a single page to each star system in the Milky Way (so that the sun and all its planets were crammed on one page), that atlas would run to more than ten million volumes of ten thousand pages each. It would take a library the size of Harvard’s to house the atlas, and merely to flip through it, at the rate of a page per second, would require over ten thousand years.
“Add the details of planetary cartography, potential extraterrestrial biology, the subtleties of the scientific principles involved, and the historical dimensions of change, and it becomes clear that we are never going to learn more than a tiny fraction of the story of our galaxy alone—and there are a hundred billion more galaxies. As the physician Lewis Thomas writes, ‘The greatest of all accomplishments of twentieth-century science has been the discovery of human ignorance.’
“Our ignorance, of course, has always been with us, and always will be. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.”
Yep, that’s where we are. We press on in our quest to learn more about the Cosmos, while theological speculations are of no value whatever, e.g., “God ordained Trump in 2016.”
Even when I was in seminary, long before Ferris wrote this, I had grown increasingly skeptical about theology, precisely because of our isolation in the Cosmos. Why do theologians claim to know so much? I wondered if there might be thinkers out there who have been researching and contemplating the Cosmos far, far longer than we have been—and who would be in a better position to know if there are gods. Yet, here we are in our total isolation, arriving at confident, often strident, conclusions about God.
Based on what? The confidence that God is a spirit who communicates with our species of mammals on this miniscule planet? In Christian theology that Spirit is even a part of God. But does that rescue the project? Remove it from the realm of superstition? So too there are storefront mediums who claim to communicate with spirits via séances. What’s the difference? Why take theologians any more seriously than we do quack mediums?
Well, we’re waiting for epistemology based on reliable, verifiable data, aren’t we?
**Editor’s Questions** Did God or Jesus ever talk to you? If so, what did they say and how did you know it was them?
David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith. This essay is reposted, with permission, from the Debunking Christianity Blog.
>>>>Photo Credits: by Michelangelo – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#; By Tyler Merbler – https://www.flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/50812356151/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98641393 ; By Tyler Merbler – https://www.flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/50812356151/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98641393 ; By Tyler Merbler from USA – DSC09402-2, CC