Today I thought I would bring up another technique of Non-Prophets.
Last time, I discussed “Arbitrage through Tautology” — Making statements that look impressive on the surface but which, when you really look at them, cannot possibly be false. While it is a shady technique and easy to see when one is aware of its existence, it is not uncommon and as I mentioned I don’t think it is used insincerely, in general, but, rather, is often the unexamined product of the Non-Prophet’s underlying insecurity in his own (non-)ordination and is simply his attempt to make sure he is covered. The statement actually communicates no real information because, deep down, the Self-Appointed Prophet (or S.A.P.) has no real information to communicate.
This time, I want to discuss another technique popular with Non-Prophets: the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. It is a means of eating one’s cake and having it, too. And it is something you will see not only in Fake Prophetdom, but you will also see it in Fake Wall Street Expertdom and other places where someone is trying to sell you on their success or credibility.
It is a technique for not only covering yourself in the event that something doesn’t turn out like you say, but also for generating some “wax fruit” (a topic in itself that I want to cover one day) to bolster your Self-Appointed Prophetic status. After all, if you claim to be a Prophet, people are going to expect results, right? They are going to expect you to say things are going to happen and then to see them happen. Consequently, you have to go out on a limb and actually make some predictions. However, you aren’t actually a real Prophet, and God is not actually telling you things like He does with real prophets. So, what’s a S.A.P. to do?
Sadly, there are lots of things you can do. And one of those things that Non-Prophets do is the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step.
First, they speculate about the future. Admittedly, speculation isn’t particularly prophetic! Anyone can do it, and, in fact, all of us in our own way speculate about the future, even if it’s just about whether our boss is going to give us a bonus this year or not given the economy. In fact, much of our “news” reporting is just that: speculation.
Case-in-point: The recent papal election. Many commentators were speculating about what sort of pope the conclave would elect, and a variety of ideas were thrown out including a number of names of potential successors to the throne of not-actually-Peter. It’s what news analysts do.
Ditto with some Non-Prophets out there. Some were throwing out names like Rip Taylor throws confetti. (A dated reference for some of you younger folks, I know. Please hand me my cane and shut up. 🙂 ) As the election neared, the speculations increased. Here’s a partial list of papal candidates thrown out by just one Self-Appointed Prophet hoping to catch the next pope in his pronouncements as the countdown closed: Taracisio Bertone, Peter Erdo, Kurt Koch, Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Marc Ouellet, Odilio Pedro Scherer, Christoph Schönborn, Peter Turkson. (You’ll notice that Jorge Bergoglio — now known as Pope Francis I — is not on that list.) And the speculated reasons for such individuals from the Non-Prophet was just as robust: The presence of the name “Peter” (based on the Malarkey prophecy hoax–misspelling intentional), the growth of the RCC in Africa, the European origins of the individual, the Italian origins of the individual, the Germanic origins of the individual, the importance of Central and South America to the RCC, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.
A LOT of personal speculation. Again, no problem. People speculate. Real Prophets generally don’t need to, but Prophets are human beings and surely they would (though whether they would make the majority of their public discussion their own personal speculations is another matter). I, myself, remember thinking, “Hmmm… I wouldn’t be surprised if they picked someone to appeal to the growing Latin American demographic.” When Bergoglio was picked, I certainly didn’t suddenly declare myself the heir to Elijah. 🙂
(An interesting aside: I actually saw a fellow’s comment on a mainstream news blog–Yahoo, I think–who said, before the pope’s election, that he hoped the new pope would name himself Francis I, due to the hopeful symbolism the name would embody. And, of course, the Jorge Bergolio did just that. That didn’t make the blog commenter a prophet. More important, I didn’t see a follow up comment where he claimed a prophet gift. It’s a rare level of pride that takes a person to such places where they are so easily willing to “appoint” themselves prophets…)
So, speculation: no problem.
BUT, where the difference comes in is when the speculation fails or succeeds — that is, when it is finally shown to be either wrong or right.
If the Non-Prophet’s speculation is wrong, then generally you won’t hear about it again. After all, real prophecies are never truly wrong and thus real Prophets should never have the need to say that something God has shown them would happen was actually wrong. Personal speculation is not a main feature of their public pronouncements, so there isn’t much to apologize about.
However, if the speculation is right, things often go very differently! Then, the speculation becomes “evidence” that the Non-Prophet has special, God-given insight! Sometimes it is stated in a subtle way, as in “If you recall, back in 2010 [or 2007 or 2011 or 2004 or whatever] I said blah, blah, blah which has now happened.” Of course, they don’t say, “And I also said blah, blah, blah which, as we all know, didn’t come true.” (Unless they can add an “at least, not yet” which is a great cover-all, also.) I say “subtle” but, really, it isn’t that subtle. Especially if they do it time and time again, which some will do. And sometimes they will also cut-and-paste a little excerpt of what they said to bolster the fact that they had “predicted’ what is now happening — with any wrong parts removed, of course.
Sometimes they become even more blatant and reference their speculation as “evidence” of special divine insight in a completely-not-subtle-in-any-way fashion, as in including it in a list of their “Successful Predictions” that are somehow supposed to convince others of their Personal Prophetic and Predictive Powers.
For instance, a S.A.P. might claim, “Before the election of Pope Francis, I predicted that the growing Latin American demographic would very possibly lead to a Latin American cardinal being elected!” The “very possibly” aside (another technique to be discussed another time), the statement would then be simultaneously true and misleading–and the devil loves that sort of tool! It would be true, because the Non-Prophet actually did make a statement about that possibility. But it would be misleading because that statement was made amidst many other speculative statements which turned out to be false.
Then, the super-weasely part: Should someone call the Non-Prophet on the now-false statements, he can always say, “Well, that was personal speculation! Can’t a guy speculate?”
Of course a guy can speculate. But if he wants his false speculations ignored and not considered evidence against his supposed “prophetic” gift, then he can’t turn around and have his other speculations count as evidence for his supposed “prophetic” gift.
That’s why I call it the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. If it turns out wrong, even if he is called on it, the Non-Prophet steps in the “Well, it was only speculation” direction. If it turns out right, then he steps in the “Well, see, I told you that would (might) happen!” direction. Eat cake, and have cake. A great deal!
[Aside: You see the same thing in some advertisements and books by stock investment “geniuses” — they report some amazing investment gains (300%! 450%! 1,293%!) for some stocks they invested in using their “strategy.” But they don’t mention the ones that bombed. And if called on it, “Well, hey, it’s the stock market — you can’t win all the time! What do you expect?” (Which is why they are selling books instead of sitting on their vast stock market-based wealth…)]
Here’s another example I’ve seen in the wild (paraphrased in my own words): “The Bible says that your women will rule over you, so I would not be surprised at all if Mrs. Hillary Clinton runs for office and becomes President of the United States. She’s already fulfilled that prophecy in other ways, as a senator and as Secretary of State, but don’t be surprised if she runs for the office of Chief Executive, as well. I’ve often said she might do this.”
This actually illustrates multiple Non-Prophet techniques, but let’s focus on the one at hand: The Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. If Mrs. Clinton were not to run for office or to run and not win and choose to stop seeking the office and another Mr. Male-type-person were elected, our Non-Prophet can always say, “Well, that was simply my speculation. She’s fulfilled prophecy in other ways–I was simply speculating on how far she might go.” Yet, if Mrs. Clinton were to win, you can guarantee that the Non-Prophet would say at the earliest opportunity, “You’ll note that back in [whatever year], I wrote about Mrs. Clinton running and winning the Presidency.” The Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. Ignore what I said if it ends up wrong, but be sure to notice what I said if it ends up right.
However, God didn’t intend for those claiming to be Prophets to both eat their cake and have it, too. If having some successful speculations is supposed to be evidence of possession of the divinely given gift of prophecy and the actual office of Prophet, then having failed speculations should be evidence against the gift and the office.
The gift of prophecy–in the sense of receiving information directly from God and not through Scripture–is a lot more than insight and decent (or indecent) speculation. Otherwise, most of the Self-Appointed Prophets out there actually have less claim to a divine title than many secular, carnal news-watchers or investors. Unless Warren Buffett’s “title” as the Oracle of Omaha is actually a divine office, then a hit-and-miss approach to speculating about the future is hardly evidence of anything but “Hey, I can read the Bible and watch the news” status.
In reality, anyone who watches the news can generate a list of speculations. It takes no special skill. And anyone can then make a smaller list of those speculations that turned out great. But if such a list is supposed to mean that the speculator is a Prophet, then we are surrounded by prophets — they write for our newspapers and talk on our 24-hour news channels. If we must disregard all of their mistaken pronouncements as “only speculations” but must look at their successful pronouncements as “evidence of inspiration” then we’ve got more “Prophets” in our midst than at any time in history — and there ain’t much special about it.
Don’t let anyone get away with that. Actually pronouncing a real-life, committed, specific prophecy — versus throwing out a speculation — is meant to be risky business. A real prophecy is meant to be held up to strong standards and to say something about the one giving the prophecy (and, thus, if there is One behind him or her). Don’t let someone do the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step on you, dancing around the implications of Deuteronomy 18:22 and other scriptures. Stick with the Texas Two-Step. It’s a much more pleasant dance, and, well, you know: “Texas.” 🙂
EDIT: Just hit me that I should probably add links to these for previous items. The last one was “Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology.“