The other day, in my article on (among other things) Japan’s problems, I mentioned Helen Caldicott, who is an anti-nuclear activist, and I said that I guessed that — instead of making political points, she’d be angry and then weep. Since that time, I’ve been keeping an eye on the news about her via Google and it has been much as I suspected. Caldicott has been pretty much silent. On Friday night, I guess, she will hold some sort of internet Press Conference, but that will be nearly a week after the whole thing started to get messy.
Oddly, though, people in Australia — at least in the media — portray her as a “hysteric” who’s “only a physician” and talk about how much damage she’s done to the Australian economy by keeping nuclear power out of Australia. In short, she’s — by those people’s estimation — a “wack job”. I looked up her bio on line to make sure I had the right Helen Caldicott because the one I remembered was strong, but not strident, intelligent and articulate, an organizer and physician who taught at Harvard and who created Physicians For Social Responsibility — one of the two groups that we used for reference back in my really radical hippie days. The other one was the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even then, I wanted to get my facts straight and let cooler heads prevail.
Anyway, my Helen Caldicott is the same person as their (the people in the Australian press) Helen Caldicott. This got me thinking about the difference between “prophets” and “wack jobs” . By “prophets”, I mean people who speak God’s (sometimes) political word, rather than a people who can see the future in dreams. Often times, they are the same. They can see the future coming by reading the politics of the time and the things various people in power do, but they get their information from God as well.
According to people like scholar Abraham Heschel, Prophets in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible, Torah) were often literally crazy. They listened directly to God and spoke what they heard or saw. They did things like naming their child “Not-My-Child” and speaking of “whores” when describing their country. Needless to say, they weren’t always the most popular of people — well respected, often, but not well loved. In short, they were often “wack jobs” by modern standards, magic men\shamans in their own time.
So what’s the difference between “prophets” and “wack jobs”? Prophets hear and see, but aren’t particularly happy with their speaking parts. The whole “speaking truth to power” things is not particularly fun, even if it feels right. Saying to a king, queen, or other royal that God said they’re not doing things right has got to be fairly nerve-wracking. And yet, that’s what they do. It may, in fact, be why they’re crazy. They are stuck between a God who is bigger and more powerful than them and a royal person who is also bigger and more powerful than them. And they are sensitive enough to notice things are wrong all over the place.
Actual “wack jobs”, it seems to me, though, like to speak, but they don’t like to listen. They are people who scream with no reason. They say see the future, but they’re wrong. They act like they are God, not like they know God. “Wack jobs” say “Shut Up!” and “Don’t Bother Me!” Prophets just speak, whether people hear them or not. Noah, far from being a “wack job”, was a prophet. He didn’t make a big fuss, he made an ark. He knew what was happening, and started acting on what he knew, regardless of what others said. He looked crazy but, in fact, he was the sanest and smartest among the bunch.
Prophets speak because they are bothered by those “little people” that nobody else notices. “Wack jobs” are above all that.
So, given all of this is Caldicott a “wack job” or a prophet? I’m not sure yet that she’s a prophet, but she’s got all the makings of one. That whole Nobel Peace Prize thing (something she was involved in won in 1985), either for herself or her organization puts her in the Prophet-That-Looks-Like-A-Radical-Wack-Job category. Her silence and lack of sensationalism — even about something she knows much about — for this past week also puts her in the Prophet category. Her being a pediatrician speaks about her love for those who can’t speak for themselves. Time will tell if she’s a prophet or not when body counts and ecological scales are taken into account. But, despite what you may have read, she’s not a “wack job”. And sadly, as radical as she sounds to some people, she may also be right.