|Humanist Essay for October 2014
"Prophets vs. Profits"
(This is the last in this series. "Next" will take you to the first essay.)|
[Reprinted from the HSNM October 2014 Newsletter]
It's not easy being a prophet. I can see why those guys were all so grumpy. Here you've seen the future plain as day in a dream or waking vision - you know disaster is looming, but with this fortuitous advance warning the worst can be avoided - only, no one will listen. The biblical prophets were mainly treated with derision in their own time, and their stories come down to us as tales of seeming crazy people who spoke to god or were visited by angels or otherwise saw signs and wonders. Some were vindicated when the events they foretold came to pass. However, the way the stories get spun is that God is the one who is vindicated, because He was the one whispering into the ear of the prophet.
Putting aside their legendary dreams and visions, it's quite possible the prophets were just smart people who could see a little further than the ends of their noses. They may have been observant, critical thinkers capable of working out causal relationships and willing to venture an educated guess about how to avoid a bad situation in the future or rectify an existing one. The problem with being a prophet, versus say a saint or angel or messiah, is that you are all too human and usually long-lived. So, you get to 1) be mocked and 2) suffer the dire events you had tried to prevent and, worst of all, 3) listen to everyone whine about it. "I told you so" is no consolation at all; and if your doomsaying made you the object of disdain in the past, rubbing it in that you were right may get you pilloried.
The prophets of legend were all too human and were probably humanists. Perhaps the dreams and visions, signs and wonders were only fictions designed to galvanize action using the vernacular of the day. I bet we have a lot of scientists, educators, doctors, farmers, artists and accountants who feel like modern day prophets as they watch the future unfold. We talked about the dangers of global malnutrition 40 years ago; today not only is hunger rampant around the globe but increasingly here in the U.S. as well. For decades now, experts have been telling us about the dangers of industrial pollution, nuclear waste, mega-farming, infra-structure decline, the military-industrial complex and endless war, gun violence, copyright abuse, surveillance and tracking by government and private industry, and deteriorating educational and health standards, among many other woes of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately the experts don't get a lot of media bookings. Preference is given to political pundits, who enact a dialogue (at best) or dramatic disagreement that is a lot like theater, so that even as viewer emotions are heightened, our sense of reality is diminished, and with it the idea that we should or could take action.
The tools of divination are all around us - the very test of sound science is its ability to predict using procedures that can be duplicated and relied on to yield consistent results. Apocalyptic warnings from contemporary prophets are truly distressing exactly because they are founded in verifiable facts, not "take-my-word-for-it" visions. But we have good reason to believe that solutions are also within our power - assuming we can get our heads out of the clouds, or out of the sand.
Copyright © 2014 Zelda Gatuskin