Well, gang, it’s the beginning of a new year–which obviously means that all the Christian charlatans are coming out of the woodwork with their new crop of false prophecies! But wait, they haven’t even looked at their 2016 prophecies yet to see how accurate they were! Fine, fine–we’ll do that for them today, and I’ll even show you why Christians of a certain type really get into prophecy.
“That Prophet Shall Die.”
The Bible has some extremely strong things to say about false prophets, which is to say people who cast magic spells that don’t work and predict stuff that never comes to pass. Note the second link, which specifies the exact penalty that a false prophet should suffer!
Casting spells in the name of God/Jesus, if the spells actually work, and predicting stuff that does actually come to pass is apparently quite all right. It’s the competition, not the concept of spellcasting and prognostication, that is the real problem. Indeed, it’s not hard to find Christian groups denouncing psychics like astrologist-to-the-stars Jeanne Dixon, who for years wrote an annual prophecy column for the year ahead. Christians are very fond of pointing to how wrong her prophecies tended to be by using many of the same Bible quotes I’ve mentioned here (and sneering at prophets from other religions, whose predictions are taken for granted as being false)–though they tend to leave out the death penalty requirement. But those same groups adore prophecies made within their own religious framework!
In my church, people practiced both forms of tongues-talking: the personal kind, which sounds very much like the baby-babble of an uneducated adult monoglot American fundagelical with a major affection for (what they imagine to be) Judaism, which didn’t need any sort of interpretation, and the church-wide kind, which sounded much the same but required interpretation by a third party because it was thought to be a direct bit of communication from “God.”
Inevitably, few of these communications were much more than “y’all hold the fort because oh wow things are gonna get sooooo bad and dire, but you’ll totally prevail if you stick with Team Jesus!” Very disappointing stuff really. It didn’t take me long to notice that prophecies were either extremely generalized and simplistic rah-rah messages, or about specific future events that didn’t actually happen.
(I do want to mention that there’s nothing monolithic in Christianity. Some churches do one form of speaking in tongues but not the other, or neither. Many consider tongues-talking to be demonic, and many believe that all that weird shit was just a one-off to kick-start the Great Commission. It’s a total mare’s nest of a squabble.)
Sometimes a “word from the Lord” would happen between church members too. You’d be hanging out after the altar call, and someone would come up to you saying they had “a word from the Lord” for you personally from Jesus himself (oh that Jesus! So coy!). It would turn out to be nothing that a decent cold reader wouldn’t be able to guess easily. These incidents were also totally fascinating to us regardless, even though these super-personal messages almost always ran along the exact same lines as the church-wide prophecies: generic predictions and advice, admonitions, and the like. I also know people who got personally devastated when they expected a “word from the Lord” during an especially rowdy revival or service but didn’t get one. So yeah, in fundagelical circles, this stuff happens often and is expected. It’s part of church mythology and folklore: right as you were in full despair, you got a word from the Lord and it was perfectly what you needed right then!
The really weird part though is that nobody ever seems interested in keeping track of any of the prophecies given.
It falls to us heathens and skeptics to do that.
Piercing the Veil.
We were totally into prophecies for several reasons.
First and foremost, they seemed like evidence of the supernatural–and of our religion’s validity in particular.
Much like demonic possession and faith healing, prophecy seemed like it couldn’t happen at all without the supernatural existing. We very deliberately created the environment that supported these utterances, then were astonished that utterances were made. But we didn’t connect our preparations at all with what happened. We all thought it was our god’s spirit moving among us. How else to explain that “oogly-boogly” feeling that prickled across our chests and raised the hair along our napes when it was happening? The awed, hushed silence that seemed to sweep the auditorium right before one came to us?
When I even suggested studying speaking in tongues generally when I was still convinced it was totally real, I got hand-waved away and shushed. Nobody was in the least interested in finding out what was happening. It was a miracle, and thus it was totally exempt from any critical examination.
Second, it made us feel like things were under control and we were safe.
Fundagelicals are not confident people. In fact, I’d say that, as a group, they can be best characterized as “scared shitless much of the time.” To be fundagelical is to be afraid. The people who get fervent in that religion are anger-prone and greedy predators or fearful victims, or even both by turns. They need to feel safe and protected–and very certain of what they believe.
When I was Christian, I can tell you that prophecy made us feel like a real live god was watching over us. When someone gave “a word from the Lord” to the group in church or in prayer meetings, we felt like our god was looking in on us through the ceiling, his eyes trained directly on us, his hands held protectively above us to keep us from all harm. The prophecies themselves didn’t really matter. That they came from “God” did. That’s why nobody cared about verifying them.
Third, it made us feel like we had something that nobody else had.
One of the less-savory traits found in fundagelicalism is smugness. Most non-believers have tangled with a toxic Christian who acted like his shit didn’t stink because he had the inside line to Jesus and we didn’t. My end of the religion was absolutely full of these sorts of people. While pretending to be humble (UM-bull, in the pronunciation of our area), Christians can manage the kind of lofty contempt that normally one would have to go see an 80s movie to encounter. And getting prophecies from Jesus, when nobody else gets those inside words, can feel a lot like getting special privileges from the big boss.
It seems like a lot of fundagelicals get into the religion simply to get a leg up over everyone else–to get an advantage that nobody else gets. What’s the use of having that advantage if one doesn’t preen and gloat about it?
Last, prophecy emboldened many of us to do stuff we wouldn’t normally do–because we thought a god was telling us to do it. Or to behave ourselves if we weren’t already, out of fear that Daddy was looking our way.
That’s probably why church leaders love prophecy. In a way, it sets up its own fulfillment by prodding and encouraging Christians to do what their elders want them to do. Like if you knew for sure that you wouldn’t die until the year 2050, no matter what you did or what risks you took, can you even imagine the things you’d do, the wild measures that normally you’d be far too self-preserving to take? In the same way, if you knew for sure that some venture or other was guaranteed to be a runaway success, wouldn’t you rush out to start working on it? That’s what a well-constructed prophecy is really meant to do. It’s meant to get Christians thinking along the correct lines.
As we look to the prophecies below, consider how many of them involve hot-button culture-war topics and how many fit into the “do more of this and harder” admonishments that we’ve been seeing out of fundagelical leaders for a couple of years now in response to their astronomical losses in membership.
So How’d the Prophet of “The Lord” Do in 2016?
Charisma News is fond of publishing prophecies every year–just like Jeanne Dixon once did! They’re oh so very TRUE CHRISTIANS™, so obviously they wouldn’t ever give false predictions. Right?
Charisma has a real live prophet, James Goll, who writes all sorts of stuff for the site regarding prophecy so you know he’s totally the real deal. Like most people who get into this stuff, his official bio page lists not a single bit of formal training in theology or anything that might make him better able to issue prophecies. He isn’t even a pastor, as far as I can see, and he uses the honorific “Doctor” without telling us what he’s a doctor of or where he got the title from. But none of that has stopped him from writing many books on the subject and giving classes, no kidding, CLASSES and seminars in how to be a proper prophet.
Here’s what he said would totally happen in 2016.
1. A “West coast rumble.”
Mr. Goll claims he had “multiple confirming dreams” about a “flash point” that would “begin in San Diego, California—then step down into Tijuana, Mexico, and then break out moving up and down the entire West Coast.” It would be a “fresh fire” with miracles “nightly happening.”
Verdict: Sorry, no. False prophecy. Maybe that rumble he detected was just a bad burrito.
2. “Apostolic motion is gaining momentum.”
Seasoned, older church leaders will step down and give the reins of power to younger leaders to continue onward.
Verdict: Not a prophecy. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that most of the big-name Christian leaders are getting quite old.
3. A “fresh emphasis on open heavens.”
There’ll be a lot more media presentations coming out of fundagelicalism. He knows this because he had a LOT of dreams about it.
Verdict: Not a prophecy. Self-serving, self-congratulatory nonsense.
He couldn’t just look at all the movies his tribe is flocking to over the last couple of years and know that hucksters are cranking them out like gangbusters in response to overwhelming demand, I suppose.
4. Thanks to communion, “the power of healing will break forth.”
He thinks communion–the taking of bread and
grape juice wine in a form of ritual cannibalism or remembrance, depending on denomination–is “one of the highest and most overlooked weapons of spiritual warfare.” Yes. Spiritual warfare. That means thinking super-duper-hard at someone and wishing extra-dextra-lots that something will happen. We’re going to have to look at this ridiculous notion later on in more detail, but for now, we’ll just say that Mr. Goll thinks that a bunch of miraculous healings and other miracles will totally bust loose.
Verdict: Haha, no. False prophecy. There still has not been a single verified, credible demonstration made of a single miracle, much less any kind of miraculous healing outbreak.
5. “A new men’s movement is taking shape.”
Lots of men will convert and Christian men will become more manly and dominant so Christians can totally finally defeat sex trafficking and child slavery.
Verdict: Not a prophecy. Christian leaders are still whining about how churches have very few men in them and blaming the increasing feminization of the church for chasing off all the menfolk. Single women are despairing of finding husbands in the skewed populations of their churches.
A men’s movement in fundagelicalism is indeed continuing to take shape, but it doesn’t take supernatural divination to predict something of that nature–and it’s not really new.
As you can see, I’m not terribly impressed with Mr. Goll’s accuracy rate. Of the two predictions that I can actually reasonably count as such–a tidal wave of conversions and miracle healings–neither happened in 2016. The other three are something I’d expect any fool with an internet connection to be able to predict or notice.
We’ll be looking at 2017’s prophecies next, and seeing how they tie into the culture wars. It’s grim going, I’m afraid; I suspect that the Republican victory in the election has done a lot to embolden fundagelicals. But it’s worth looking at to get an idea of what we’re up against. I’ll see you then!
PS: KITTEN PICTURES.