Shuck and Jive

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Channeling God

I am a skeptic by nature. I am especially skeptical of religious groups or individuals who have special access to the divine realms. Whether they be fundamentalist preachers or new age gurus, anyone whose views are predicated upon divine revelation is simply full of _______. Muhammed is said to have channeled the revelations in the Qur'an. Many believe the biblical writers "channeled" the Holy Spirit. Many spiritualist groups claim their revelation is a channeling of someone or some thing on the other side.

I have two criticisms of the whole "channeling" enterprise.

1) If what you say (or what has been said) is not good enough on its own merit--that it needs divine authorship to be true--then it is likely not worth the time it takes to read it. If you want to say something that is pretty lame, then just say, "God said it."

2) If something is quite good, then claiming divine authorship for it cheapens humanity. Give Shakespeare credit for writing well. Give the Apostle Paul credit for the things he wrote that were good and true. Give him the blame as well for his bonehead comments.

The dogma of the divine inspiration of the Bible is nothing more than channeling God. It is unbelievable and unnecessary.


  1. You also find this idea of chaneling God in New Agey circles (I am thinking of Neale Donald Walsch of the "Conversations With God" series, as well as "A Course in Miracles").

    I don't think it makes any sense to claim that God "channels" "his" words to human beings. That is another way of anthropomorphizing God. It turns God into some kind of Super-Spock who does mind melds. To me, God's infinite presence doesn't operate that way. Instead, I think God acts by calling out to all of us to achieve the best we possibly can. Maybe in that sense, all creative and inspirational acts are the result of co-creative endeavors of human beings and the God that inhabits the universe and calls out to us and offers us possibilities. Some people, like Shakespeare or some of the biblical writers, are particularly good at listening to their creative muse--and maybe that represents a combination of God's call and human listening. But in no sense can that be called "channeling" in the sense that biblical literalists and others describe it.

  2. I don't buy "channeling" as you frame it. At the same time, I am not prepared to say that God would never do such a thing. I am a Christian after all, and by definition, I believe in a pretty audacious God.

    But also, does it really cheapen humanity to say that God chooses to speak to us through us? As a pastor, from the pulpit, I am totally prepared to own my own words. At the same time, I have witnessed some pretty unpredictable responses to my preaching (and I am a poor preacher). If God is real, and if God is present where 2-3 are gathered in the name of the Lord, why would God just sit there like a bump on a log. I have always thought that the point of Christ was to demonstrate that God is active, not just watching from above.

  3. I am curious about Neale Donald Walsch. Does he claim that he actually has conversations with God or are his books simply written in that literary style? I read one of his books a long time ago and I can't remember.

    The Course in Miracles is another one of those works of which I am not sure. It was written by a couple of psychologists as I remember. I am uncertain if what they wrote was in the literary genre of mystical visions/revelations etc. or if they really thought they were reporting something from the netherworld.

    In either case, my view is that both works (as all) come from human imagination. The problem with revelations is that they are not falsifiable. They say, "You cannot prove that these revelations are not from God." Exactly. You have to take their word for it, or not.

    This leads to the second problem which is authority. If you can convince someone that you are speaking on the authority of God, you can tell them anything you want (and get them to do what you want).

    This is the biggie for the Christian church, I think. Can it survive with the acceptance that all of its treasured writings were created by human beings?

  4. Hi C,

    Welcome! Glad you are here. Probably some conversation is in order as to what we mean when we use the word, "God."

    I think we have inherited a system, to use a caricature, in which God is good and humans are depraved. Anything that is good from our endeavors must be from God and all that is bad is from us.

    I object to that system. I think in that system we project all goodness onto something else (a supernatural being) and therefore denigrate (cheapen) humanity, as if we are not capable enough or responsible enough to create good things and to continue those good things.

    I don't buy it for one second that you are a poor preacher. You shouldn't either. You are a good preacher and your parishioners are good listeners. I think what you have described is the community discerning and celebrating what is good from what is not.

  5. I admit that I don't know much about "A Course in Miracles", but I was under the impression that it was touted as representing the actual teachings of Jesus as channeled to those who wrote it. But perhaps I am wrong about that.

    I did read the first Walsch book, and my recollection is that he claimed that everything that "God" says in the book is literally God guiding the author to write the words down.

    You are completely right about the authority issue. Once you claim that a set of words are God's, you shut down any intellectual inquiry and the ability to question, ponder, and consider what is being said. You are simply supposed to obey. This is a very dangerous kind of religion. It is not religion for thinking people, but for automatons.

  6. Is there any room in your paradigm for predictive prophecy?

  7. Predictive prophecy from what medium? Bible verses, psychics, the entrails of dead squirrels?

  8. Predictive prophecy as found in the Scriptures. For instance, the OT prophets foretold a number of details about the coming of Christ. They also foretold the begining and the end of the Babylonian Captivity, along with the restoration of Jerusalem. Then there's Daniel's vision of the succession of kingdoms. (I'm trying to stay away from apocalyptic, though, because of its highly subjective and cryptic nature.)

    Also, as a follower of Jesus, is it important to you to regard the Scriptures (at least of the OT) as he did?

  9. For those interested in prophecy in the Bible, I recommend Robert Miller's article, Did Jesus Fulfill Prophecy?

    This article addresses many misconceptions fueled by fundamentalism regarding predictions of future events.

  10. The best this guy can do is just focus on Matthew's acknowledged zeal for finding messianic prophecies?

    He also makes false statements about belief in predictive prophecy postdating Hellenization. It's pretty clear from Genesis 15:13-16 that there was a primitive belief in the possibility of the Spirit revealing future events to an individual. You can argue that the events didn't happen and that it's just a clever device by a subsequent tradent - but it'd be damn hard to argue that it wasn't in place before the Greeks came (Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis puts this in the Yahwist source, and thus part antecedent to the 10th c. BC). Whether or not you believe it happened, the fact remains that it was believed to be possible. Similarly, look throughout the Joseph cycle and you'll see an expression of belief in the ability to foretell the future through a revelation from God.

    But if you belief that a Christocentric reading of messianic prophecy is useless (despite Jesus' own claims to the contrary), then we can focus on the prophecies that were fulfilled outside of Jesus' life on earth.

    Still, I'd like a plain answer to my plain question: Is their room for predictive prophecy in your paradigm of Scripture? If so, how does it affect your view of inspiration? If not, is it because you simply don't believe that it's possible at all (i.e., an a priori through which you read all evidence to the contrary)?

  11. Despite Chris's misgivings, I think folks will find the Miller article quite informative in regards to how the Gospel writers used "prophecy" in making claims about Jesus.

    Genesis 15:13-16 is nothing more than the storyteller having YHWH "predict" something that had already happened in the time of the tellers and hearers. The Joseph tale is obviously a fiction that has little more historical value than the witches predicting the fate of MacBeth.

    Prophecy and Fulfillment is fundamentalist nonsense to "prove" the divine inspiration of scripture.

    Of course, people in that time believed in the superstition of fortune telling (obviously many still do today). Jesus, and the gospel writers who spoke for him, as products of their time, likely would have as well.

    Fortune telling, demon possession, a flat earth, dying and rising gods, and many other things are part of the time that is no longer our time.

    When we read these ancient texts we need to be aware that those things were part of their world.

    The Gospel writers, among many writers, capitalized on that world-view to spin their tales.

  12. The truly great prophetic voices of the Old Testament preached against injustice. That to me is what prophecy means--in contrast to the simplistic and historically untenable position that fundamentalists propound that ancient prophecy was about making secretly encoded predictions about the distant future that would only later be understood generations later by those who happened to know how to figure it out. The idea that these prophecies were predictions about events that would take place long after the people hearing them would be dead and thus would find them of no use is particularly, uh, interesting, to say the least.

    That isn't to say that the prophets weren't engaged in short term predictions about what was happening around them. I think it was clear that they saw the geopolitical events swirling around them and offered their views on the consequences of what was taking place. Nothing cryptic about those predictions, however, and they addressed the immediate concerns of their day. Those predictions were always conditional, however, rather than examples of fortune-telling, because they were really social, political, and religious critiques of the events in their own times. The "predictions" were essentially the means by which the existing social order was critiqued.

    One of the most entertaining expressions of the conditional and short term nature of this kind of prophecy was was the fanciful story told in the book of Jonah. Like other prophecy in its day, the "prediction" in that case wasn't really a prediction at all, but a rather a social and religious critique wrapped in a veneer of identifying the consequences of current behavior. The fact that the prediction didn't come true in that story outraged Jonah, because he, like modern-day fundamentalists, didn't really get what prophecy was about. The story of Jonah was obviously fictional, and it was meant to tell a story about what prophecy meant. Alas, the lesson here is something that gets lost in this era of people like Hal Lindsey and the "Left Behind" series. Cluelessness abounds, unfortunately, in fundamentalist circles, and religion gets dumbed down as a consequence.

  13. John,

    Am I to take it by your charges of fundie "nonsense" that you do not believe in either predictive prophecy or in typological (or any other form of) fulfillment?

    Then tell me this: Since Matthew isn't under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit while he is interpreting texts from the Old Testament to apply to Jesus, why should I care that some backwoods preacher like Amos comes along and interprets the Torah-commanded sacrifices as useless unless they find fulfillment in a change of heart? I mean - it's just his opinion - his metaphorical device, right?

    Why should Amos get a privilege that Matthew doesn't? Was Amos' understanding that righteousness before God was a matter of the heart rather than ceremonial holiness for his day and community only - as Dr. Miller so easily dismisses Matthew's interpretive stance?

  14. Seeker,

    I think you put that well.

    As for Chris,

    If believing that Amos or Matthew or anyone else channeled an extraterrestrial being and that's the only reason we might care what they have to say, well...

    If you don't care what Amos says simply by what he says then no amount of divine inspiration, predictive prophecy, typological fulfillment, or whatever other three dollar words you can throw out will matter.

  15. God channels love through, Patrica, my bunnny rabbit. Let me turn my inner tv to that God channel! How are we defining channel(ing) here? Is it a pathway for energy that we are not yet able to identify scientifically? Can the channeling of creative energy from a God/creation source be tapped into by all? When Reiki healers place their hands above a person's body and a picture is taken using the kerrrilean (sp?)effect one can see the energy webbing out from their hands to that other person. I think the channeling of energy isn't what John finds so wrong so much as the misuse of religion and God by fundamentalists ( in all religions)to serve a person's own personal agenda for power and control over others. I love that all of you continue to question, challenge, and teach one another. This blog is definitely a conduit for intellectual and spiritual growth. keep on keepin on...

  16. Hi Lora!

    Welcome! Yes, thank you for that. The main issue I am dealing with is authority (as in authority and control over others).

    I am glad you mentioned Reiki. We have a number of Reiki practitioners in our congregation. I support them and their practice. We also have services of healing and prayer on occasion. This is the community "tapping in" to the power of love and mystery.

    This is very different from the ideology of authority and control.

    One of the ways to evaluate is to look at the "fruits" of what is said and done.

    Does what is said or done either as an individual or community result in love, personal responsibililty, compassion, empowerment, freedom, and joy or does it increase blind obedience to an authority which results in disempowerment.

    In my experience as a pastor, I have found that obedience to the divine inspiration or authority of every word in the Bible (and its interpreters) leads to the latter not the former.

  17. I won't claim to know the context in which the passage from Amos was written, but it seems like Chris is missing the point. If his argument is merely stating that Amos has no more credibility than Matthew because neither are tapped into some divine source, then I have trouble seeing what we are to do with any author whatsoever. I think the point of this whole thread is to take "divine revelation" out of any set of claims and verify their credibility as they stand. As for predictive prophecy, human beings are constrained to (limited) knowledge of the past and present. Knowledge of the future is simply conjecture. It seems like any claims to knowledge of the future are going to have to rely on divine revelation and are thereby discredited in my book. On the other hand, if someone presents a case in terms such as: "Given such and such circumstances, event x will likely occur if we take the following measures," then we might be talking a little more realistically. Granted, it doesn't make for the kind of literature that inspires the masses, but such is life.