One of my favourite Morris West books is The Clowns of God. In it, Pope Gregory XVII claims to have had a private revelation of the end of the world – with the message that it is immanent and he has to prepare the people. The Roman Curia suspect him of being a madman, or a fanatic grasping for power. They seek to silence him before his prophecies can harm the Church.
Our commenter KA is right. Christians should – and mostly do – accept that such prophesies are possible. Yes, we need to be discerning. Yes, we need to investigate: see if the prophesy fits with scripture and tradition; if the prophet is a prayerful person who shows evidence of holiness; if the whole thing makes sense. But if we believe in God (whatever or whoever we may conceive God to be) we have to believe that people might – just might – be telling the truth when they say they’ve had a vision or heard a message.
If that’s deluded, then I’m deluded.
The thing is, I understand why atheists are bewildered by faith. Part of it is that many of the reasons atheists give for why people believe are clearly out of touch with reality. I’m not following the faith of my fathers. I’m not poorly educated. I’m not stupid. I’m antiauthoritarian and anarchic. And, in modern New Zealand, my Christian faith – and particularly my Catholic faith – doesn’t win me social acceptance and career advancement. Quite the contrary.
In a blog post called Freak for Christ, Heather King writes:
The long answer is that Catholicism is a radical search for the truth. We don’t hear nearly enough that grace costs. We don’t hear nearly enough that to follow Christ more or less means being poor. We’re not called to live in destitution but we’re clearly called to not own much more than we can use, which is really not all that much. We’re called to poverty, chastity, and obedience. And what I’ve found is that these are the most exciting, challenging states possible! They lead to a kind of freedom and a state of being awake is completely lacking in our narcotic culture…
I lost my marriage in part because I converted. I quit my job as a lawyer because I converted. I’m not sure I lost friends, but I may have lost a certain closeness with certain friends. That Catholicism is constantly misinterpreted, misunderstood, maligned, scorned, despised, spat upon I can accept. What bothers me more is the view of Catholicism as mindless eccentricity. Right after Obama was elected a friend was gushing about him and after awhile she said: “You love Obama, too, right?” I said, “Well, he seems like a nice enough guy but I’m not crazy about the fact that he supports embryonic stem cell research and I bet you anything nothing gets better for poor people and he starts a war or two and in about a year everyone turns around and starts to hate him.” And she said, “Oh well that’s just your Catholicism.” I almost crawled out of my seat. “My Catholicism!” I replied. “My Catholicism is my life, my Catholicism is the air I breathe.”…
So for me the sorrow is knowing I’m on to the most inexhaustibly absorbing path imaginable and living a culture that is more or less dead. Low-grade hopelessness, ennui. What brings you alive is sacrifice and suffering. What brings you alive is falling in love with reality…
Love, Truth, Reason, Reality, Life. I don’t believe that these are just abstract terms for biological and cultural habits; I believe these are names for God, and our ability to think in abstract terms is comes from our nature as tiny, broken, imperfect reflections of elements of His transcategorical being. Is it mindless eccentricity to believe so? Does that make me a freak; a clown?
I’m okay with that. The clown has been a subversive figure throughout history; challenging authority and the status quo. In some medieval kingdoms, the fool had the privileged role of reminding the king of his faults when he became too full of himself. Secular, capitalist, material society is certainly too full of itself. Is it possible that the merciless mockery of those taken in by Camping’s false prophecy of the endtimes is witness to a certain unease on the part of those who would rather not be reminded of their faults?