Sunday — July 30, 2017
In every age, religious people and religious institutions need prophets. A prophet is not primarily someone who predicts what will happen tomorrow, but a courageous observer who says what’s going wrong today.
In our contemporary world, we certainly need our prophets: in traditional religion and in the American civil religion I touched on last week….
The prophet observes (phase one) what is really going on in society, with a kind of clear and objective vision: avoiding the fantasies and falsifications of narrow-vision special interest people and groups: even if they have high positions in the cathedral across town or the presidential house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
In phase two, the prophet moves into critical thinking: asking whether or not religious believers and spokespersons are truly living according to the faith experience that should be the source and sustainer of the particular religious tradition. A big caveat here of course is that it is much easier to critique someone else’s religious behavior than one’s own. I can, for instance, easily critique the immoral behavior of Islamic terrorists and clearly point out how they are behaving contrary to what is taught in the Quran.
Phase two requires clear thinking based on correct information. It doesn’t happen over night and certainly not in a fit of emotional frenzy or frustration (like the actions of the peeved gun-owner, who takes the law into his or her own hands and shoots to kill).
The problem with phase two is that one can become highly skilled at passing judgment without ever accomplishing anything. It is so easy to be a critic and to get abundant “likes” on Facebook, or to chuckle and applaud the latest Borowitz Report. But then?
Phase three takes conviction and stamina, what we call real guts. Without phase three however our talk (to paraphrase William Shakespeare) can easily become a lot of sound and furry but signify nothing.
In phase three, people take action. In many ways people today need to take action.
When Christian religious leaders, for instance, create qualitative classes of people, they are acting on their own narrow prejudices not the Gospel of Christ. The Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Illinois has instructed priests in his diocese to deny communion, the last rites, and funerals to people in same-sex marriages; nor can they be buried in a Catholic cemetery. If one is going the make qualitative classes of Catholics and sanction them, even after death, I would ask the bishop what about all those “good Catholics” who are wife-beaters, child-molesters, cruel employers, political monsters, and financial crooks? What about ecclesiastical bureaucrats who bamboozle people with pious nonsense?
I don’t care to get into a political debate right now, but one can ask how genuinely American a political leader is who rejects the U.S. foundational teachings of the Declaration of Independence that all people are created equal. I question as well the Christianity of a political leader who promotes and wallows in narcissism, greed, pride, wrath, and lust as though they were the primary Christian virtues.
Healthy Christianity promotes and strengthens a basic sense of inter-personal relatedness, trust, and responsibility. Healthy Christianity promotes and honors human dignity. It empowers people without overpowering them. It promotes charity — not fear — as the key Christian virtue. All actions that denigrate people because of their religious, ethnic or racial origins, gender, and sexual orientation are not just humanly demeaning. They are contrary to the Gospel of Christ.
Observe, judge, and ACT: these are the keys to effective prophetic behavior. Can we not become more prophetic religious people? How can we encourage people to move from critical speaking to effective and constructive action? Can we not turn our churches into prophetic training centers? Who are today’s prophets? How can we promote and sustain them? As we read in Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:29) “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.”
….And a very final thought. This from Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
Kind regards — Jack