Making Fortunes

April 14, 2008

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Eleven-year-old Jack had his fortune told last week.  This morning on our way to the streetcar, graciously ignoring my rude interruptions, Jack recounted to me the psychic’s predictions.

“She said I was very smart –”

“No question there.”

“And I would become very successful –”

“Uh-huh, can’t see why not.”

“And I would live in a really big, white house with ginormous pillars in front –”

“You’re going to be a bank teller! That’s terrific!”

“And she saw me standing in front of a large crowd –.”

“Just before you get hanged?”

“Well, I think it sounds like I’m going to be President!”

“Except you’ve got two passports, and neither of them is American. Wouldn’t you at least prefer Rideau Hall or Buckingham Palace?”

Then I gave him a quick recap of what Victor Hugo had to say on the subject of fortune telling back in 1831, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmeralda has been raised with the gypsies because they stole her as an infant. They were able to kidnap her because her mother asked them to read her daughter’s fortune, and then left the baby alone in the house while she ran to brag to her neighbours about how great her child would become. Oops.

“And you think my mum would let the gypsies steal me?”

“Oh no, she would never be that foolish. My point was that fortune tellers will tell you what you want to hear. Victor Hugo was being very clear that fortune telling is baloney. And it’s still baloney 150 years later.”

And it’s still baloney about three thousand years after the Hebrew Scriptures warned against divination of all sorts. And as with just about every other passage in the Bible, unscrupulous advantage has been taken of this one. This “proof text” has been used down the ages to rid communities of marginalized old women whose best source of cat-food money has been to carefully examine a troubled face, and tell the listener what he most wanted to hear.

Because wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds, and better still, to know that it holds good things? Flip the tarot cards then, draw up the horoscope, tell me what my name means, find a hook for me on which I can hang my hopes! Tell me what I want to hear.

I do think that in a way, fortune telling can be helpful. It can help to clarify our desires of who we want to be. For example, my astrological sign says that I am good with languages and with numbers. I agree with the first part and dismiss the second, not because there’s any truth or untruth in either statement, but because the second part is not what I want. I want to be a story teller, not a bank teller. So my gut reactions to various occult assertions about me help me to confirm what I want. In that case, why is it such a bad thing?

I think the Bible speaks against fortune telling for the same reason that, for every claim it makes, it elsewhere makes a counterclaim. Hate your parents and siblings for the sake of the Truth; but if you say you love Truth when you don’t love your siblings, you’re a liar. Don’t let witches live; but be merciful and humble. That kind of thing. Each time I think I’ve got God securely fastened into my butterfly collection, I come back after lunch to find another empty pin. There are no “proof texts”, I think, because love is a risk. The God of Love calls us out of our security and into scary, risky places; the god of Certainty is a hollow idol.

My partner and I are standing at the edge of a canyon just now, beside a rope bridge. E.g. has seen the other side, but is afraid of heights. I don’t mind the rickety bridge, even if it is missing half of its planks, but I don’t know where it leads. We’re both afraid. We both agree, though, that we need to cross that bridge.

Okay, let’s go — you first. No, after you. No, I insist. No, I couldn’t possibly.

Maybe we could draw cards?