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18 May 2018

Discernment isn’t prophecy.

If it looks like the science of deduction, or carnival mentalism, ’tain’t prophecy.

Here’s a bit from “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labor? It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish which you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks, and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.”

So you saw what Holmes did there; he does it in most of his stories, and it’s kinda what he’s known for. He looked the guy over, noticed details, made deductions—and the fellow reacted as if Holmes was a mind-reader. Or a prophet.

This form of deduction is called cold reading: An analyst comes into a situation cold, with no prior knowledge of the situation or the people. (If the analyst already knows a few facts, it’d be a hot reading.) The analyst reads the clues, makes the deductions, and surprises everyone who hadn’t noticed the same clues. Detectives, like Holmes, do this all the time. So do doctors, psychologists; anyone who’s learned to notice these details.

Psychics too. If you’ve seen the TV shows Psych or The Mentalist, that’s precisely what the protagonists do. One’s pretending to be a psychic, but was trained by his dad to observe everything like a detective; the other quit pretending to be psychic in order to help detectives. (You’d think the detectives on these shows would know what’s going on better than they do, but the show writers have more fun in making ’em a little bit dumb.)

And fake prophets do it too.

“You must have the gift of prophecy!”

I do a bit of cold reading myself. No, I wasn’t trained as a detective, nor a carnival mentalist, but as a reporter. And I’ve always been observant. I do as Holmes did: I read the clues, make the deductions, mention them, and see whether I’m right. I’m not always. (Holmes wasn’t always either.) My deductions are never as specific as Holmes’s. But sometimes they’re dead on, or close enough to rattle people. If they’re pagan, they tend to respond, “You must be psychic.”

And I’ve discovered this with some amusement: When they’re cessationist Christians, they start to back away from me, or even run away, as if there’s a demon in me. Y’see, they think God turned off the miracles during the present dispensation. Which means when they see a miracle, or anything else which strikes ’em as supernatural, there can be only one origin… the only beings which dare defy God’s supposed ban on miracles. That’s right, devils. So if any Christian dares to prophesy over them, or supernaturally cure them of an illness, or any such thing, they invariably wind up blaspheming the Holy Spirit, ’cause their worldview won’t let ’em do otherwise. Sad.

But if they’re every other sort of Christian, they conclude, “You’re a prophet.”

No I’m not. I mean, I can prophesy when God gives me something to share—same as every other Christian. But in this case he told me nothing. My deductions are all me. Nothing supernatural about ’em.

Here’s why they leap to that conclusion: They’ve been taught, wrongly, that every instance of discernment has something supernatural to it. Everybody who can look something over, and come up with obscure or hidden knowledge, is functioning as a prophet to some level.

Take that idea to its logical conclusion, and you start to realize it’s pretty stupid. Because it’d include every mechanic who looks under the hood of your car and tells you what’s wrong with it. Every shopgirl who recognizes what sort of makeup would work best with your complexion. Every cook who knows how to make your dishes just a little bit better.

By that reasoning, everybody who knows a second language would have the gift of tongues. Except—and I’m not kidding; I wish I were—plenty of Christians teach precisely that. “Oh, you get A’s in your French class? You must have the gift of tongues!” (Groan.)

What on earth is going on here? Like I said, they’ve been taught wrongly. Being able to use the brain God gave you is not supernatural. It’s what we call “natural.” It only looks supernatural… when you’re not all that used to using your own brain.

We can also blame the pagans to some degree. A number of ’em happen to have a knack for discerning things—and believe they can do it because “I’m just a bit psychic.” They’re really not. But people have been telling them so. “You figured that out so fast; you must be psychic.”

Psychics wanna justify their practice—and their existence—and they’re happy to spread this idea. “I grew up with ‘the gift,’ and so that’s why I’m a fortune-teller.” They can’t help being able to guess the names of your dead relatives, then tell you these dead relatives are watching over you from heaven; they were born with this ability. Just like people who were born disabled. They figure we’ll be more sympathetic towards them, once we suspect we’re likewise afflicted with “the gift” same as they.

And well-meaning Christians have ported some of this claptrap into Christianity. We just say “prophet” instead of “psychic.” It’s still crap though.

Cold reading isn’t prophecy.

Some Christians are told the way we start prophesying, or “activate the prophetic,” is to begin with a bit of cold reading. Look a person over. Read the clues. Make some deductions. Then start “speaking into” these deductions—state what you see, and say some nice encouraging things about them.

You know how people respond to this behavior? They think you are prophesying. “How could you possibly know that about me? The Holy Spirit must’ve told you!”

And to the Christian who’s doing the cold reading, they’ll psyche themselves into thinking, “Wow, I was right? I can’t believe my guesses were actually right. I guess the Holy Spirit was guiding my mind.” They’ll believe they actually were prophesying. They’ll be amazed, and humbled that God could use them that way…

…and yeah, all of it is bogus. Sorry. Mentalism isn’t prophecy.

Actual prophecy doesn’t look like a guessing game. Doesn’t stand in front of the room, saying, “Does the letter ‘K’ or the number ‘83’ mean anything to anybody in the audience?” and fishing for someone you could cold-read into thinking God has a message for them. Doesn’t need to ask the recipient a bunch of questions to get more information. Doesn’t consist of “Barnum statements” which could apply to anyone. Isn’t vague.

Prophecy does not look like what psychics do. If you can’t tell the difference between a prophet and a psychic, that’s because there is no difference: They’re fakes. Both of ’em.

Actual prophecy is when the Holy Spirit actually tells you something you can’t possibly have deduced. Something even the best detectives, better than Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t figure out by looking someone over. Something not even a thief, who broke into your house and read your diary and emails, could know about you. Something you might not even know about yourself—but then the prophet said it, and oh my God! revelation flooded your soul and you realized it’s all true.

Or actual prophecy could be something you don’t believe whatsoever. But then it happens just as the prophet said it would.

See, there isn’t any “fine line” between what psychics do, and what prophets do. They don’t look like one another. One is clearly a guessing game. Even detectives and doctors are guessing; getting it right, but it’s still based on guesses. Whereas prophets know. They won’t always say what they know with confidence, but that doesn’t matter: Truth will still hit people like a ton of bricks.

And every Christian can prophesy. It’s not a special gift, not an exclusive club. It’s the birthright of every believer. Those with a knack for discernment aren’t more likely to become prophets. On the contrary: We’re more likely to become fake prophets. Because we’re more apt to confuse our good guesses for God’s voice. We’re a little more confident in our ability, but God wants his prophets to be humble.

So if a “prophet” acts like Sherlock Holmes, or a carnival mentalist, make sure your BS detector is switched on.