Magazine article The Christian Century

Taking Chances

Magazine article The Christian Century

Taking Chances

Article excerpt

NEXT TIME someone sings the praises of long-range weather forecasting, just say "Impossible!" because it is. My favorite illustration: the flapping of a butterfly wing in a Peruvian canyon may start a sequence that results in a tornado in Kansas. If that is the case with something as scientifically calculable as weather, it is even less possible to predict anything worthwhile about human behavior. The morning after an event, of course, we can retrace steps and show how we had foreseen its inevitability. Find me someone who foresaw the Second Vatican Council or the breakup of Eastern European regimes in 1989. Those events seem foreseeable---in retrospect.

We have only seven or eight years, depending on which side of the when-does-a-millennium-end debate you find yourself, to speculate about the Second Coming-The safest prognostication is that the most heated debate will pit the people who are wrong, and who celebrate the millennium turning on New Year's Day 9,000, against those who are right and stuffy and insufferable, and who insist on 2001.

The only other thing I know is that all predictions since around the year 60, whence come our earliest Christian documents, until 1993 have been wrong. But the inevitability of their errancy will not cut into the book sales.

That the soothsayers and fortune-tellers and crystal ball gazers are almost always wrong--if you make a billion predictions, you are likely to get one or two right--has not depressed their trade either. But it is easy to dismiss them, unless theirs is your religion. …

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