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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Father Rutler: Prophecy and the Right Use of Reason

Father George W. Rutler
Prophets proclaim the truth, and they predict the future only in a derivative sense of cautioning about the consequences of denying the truth. Thus, the Church distinguishes between holy prophesying and sinful fortune-telling. There is a “psychic” near our rectory, who will tell your future for $10, but you have to ring the bell first, and I should think that if she had the powers she claims, she would not require a doorbell.
The less the Wisdom of God is heeded, the more people rely on fallible human calculations. Inevitably, the list of mistaken predictions keeps growing. We may remember being told in the 1960s that within twenty years, overpopulation would cause universal starvation. Instead, we now have crises of empty cradles and obesity: birth dearth and increased girth. As the new year begins, we can reflect on a prediction of the president of Exxon U.S.A. in 1989 that by 2020 our national oil reserves would be practically nil, while the solid fact is that those reserves are far higher than even back then.
In 1990, The Washington Post was confident that carbon dioxide emissions would have increased our planet’s average temperature about three degrees (and six degrees in the United States) by 2020. The increase has been only about one degree. If we trusted some experts, by now one billion people would be starving in the Third World due to climate toxicity, but instead the World Bank tells us that there has been a significant alleviation of dire poverty, with the assistance of developed countries and access to investment capital and prudent production. 
There still are glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, despite a warning of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2003 that by now they would have melted. In 1997, the Reuters newswire announced that by 2020 some eight million people would have died because of global warming catastrophes, while such deaths actually have reached historic lows. Taking up that theme, a New York congresswoman and former bartender predicts that the world could end in twelve years.
While to err is human and to forgive is divine, as the Catholic sensibility of Alexander Pope opined, forgiveness requires apologizing. Wrong predictions in recent decades are conspicuous for their authors’ lack of contrition. It is as if they had absorbed the bromide uttered at the end of the sentimental film “Love Story” in 1970: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” If that were so, there would be no Act of Contrition in the Holy Mass, which is the world’s most sublime manifestation of love. But we are talking here about simple humility in anticipating the future. 
Without accountability to God for the right use of reason, ideology mimics theology, disagreement is treated as heresy, neurosis fabricates its own apocalypse, and mistakes claim infallibility, with no need to say “I was wrong.” 
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler


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