Quaker Theology #12 Fall-Winter 2005-2006
Farmington! Farmington! A Novel (Sort of) -- 2
But the ugliest sketch is a lengthy passage about a presumably mythical but archetypal liberal meeting in Alabama. In this sink of faithless depravity, several members’ children are treated with such neglectful indifference that they end up on drugs, homeless and/or in prostitution, while their parents go through a completely hypocritical and repulsive charade of unprogrammed "worship" and business. (409ff)
This acid portrait extends further, to the meeting’s parent body, "Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting." This assembly is described as so spiritually barren that they not only get no messages from God, they are too smug to even notice. (442ff) The novel’s protagonist visits this yearly meeting, just long enough to denounce it and get tossed out.
There are other darts fired here and there, mainly in the direction of liberal Friends, but these examples will suffice to indicate what this "Christ" thinks of that sort.
[The actual local liberals have recently returned the favor: in December 2005 Farmington Friends Meeting, an unprogrammed unit of New England Yearly Meeting, which Licia had been attending, issued a minute of "disownment" disassociating themselves from her prophecy.] (12-25-2005)
Nevertheless, even the Alabama degenerates, if they can find their way to Farmington, they – even they– will be cured of both their physical and spiritual ailments, including such "illnesses" as homosexuality, as soon as they cross the town line and join the other immortals. Licia’s "Christ" may be a snarky universalist, but he is a universalist for sure.
Conservative Christians are spoofed here too, but for the most part more gently. There is a fundamentalist hellfire church in the real Farmington which calls itself the Friends of Jesus Christ, and has made use of some early Quaker writings. (Find out more about them at: www.calledtoholiness.com ) Licia has had numerous encounters with this group, and they are portrayed here (called The "Friends of God") as sincere, doctrinaire, and misguided. But they too are ultimately coaxed into the new order, some almost in spite of themselves.
At the novel’s close, Christ-God decides that the Farmington demonstration project has served its purpose, and prepares to save the rest of humanity. But he (there’s no question of gender neutrality here) mulls awhile over how to do it.
It seems that many of his evangelical followers were unhappy with Farmington, because it didn’t fit their End-times scripts, which demanded, at the very least, a "rapture," where all the "true Christians" are snatched away to heaven, while the multitude of sinners are left behind. With some exasperation, God explains to an inquiring angel that no such idea had occurred to him, nor was the word even in the Bible, but the biblical texts were so jumbled that some people extracted the idea from them anyhow, and many wouldn’t let go of it.
So in the end God indulgently throws a rapture as if it were a party, but includes everyone who happens to be around. And then Christ heads off to Farmington for ice cream.
This episode, and a few others, display signs of wit that are almost winsome. And they also make clear that despite its meanderings, the universalist theological underpinnings of this "prophecy" are clear and consistent.
So, what are we to make of this production? The book is coherent and the style reasonably fluent. Licia-Christ turns out to be right: a novel is a more interesting way of laying out her convictions than a volume weighed down with theological jargon and scriptural arcana – like, say, this one.
And for my part, if God is in fact involved in such eschatological dramaturgy, I have long preferred the universalist version portrayed here to the mainstream’s judgement-and-damnation alternative, not to mention the "rapture" variations. Besides, if all persons are meant to be saved, God could just as well start the process at one specific place, at one specific time, rather than let it fall out of the sky with thunder and lightning. Finally, Farmington, Maine, on June 6, 2006 would be as good a time and place as any, though the town does seem rather small to hold all those who would want to flock to it.
But is this prophecy convincing?
I ask if it is "convincing," rather than if it is "true," because the calendar will provide the surest test of its validity, and I don’t know the future. But if I am not convinced by this tale, and I am not, then there is the question of how to account for it.
One Friend on a Quaker email list was straightforward, calling the entire Farmington project simply a "personal delusion."(09-04-2005) Many others have challenged it on similar grounds.
But that’s only their opinion. Another option is that Licia is a fraud. I don’t believe that. So is there any way out of the binary forced choice between prophetic truth and psychotic delusion? Can a third way be found to evaluate its plausibility short of waiting for June? I think so. I suggest a reasonable estimate can be made by applying a two-way test, that of internal evidence, and then putting the text into phenomenological context.
Let’s take these in reverse order. Automatic writing and the channeling of presumably disembodied spirits, including divinities, are hardly new. On my bookshelf, for instance, there are copies of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and The Magian Gospel of Brother Yeshua. Other readers may know of A Course in Miracles. All claim to have been dictated by or directly on behalf of Jesus Christ. Many other cases of what are called "trance messages" have been observed and studied; they are typically produced by a person who feels, as does Licia, that her pen or voice is similarly taken over by some other personality or spirit.
Researchers who have studied these phenomena soon identified what they call the "ideomotor effect." This is a well-established psychophysical pattern in which mental ideas or impulses, of which a subject is consciously unaware, can impel other parts of the body to move. Numerous experiments have established the reality of this reflex; I will not attempt to rehearse them here; but a good introduction is online at:
This "ideomotor effect" does not by itself debunk or disprove claims of supernatural intervention. But it shows that what we "normally" can do by no means exhausts what we could do within the overall human realm of thought, subconscious thought, and action. That is to say, other parts of our mind than our everyday conscious personality can produce various effects, including writing, painting, speaking, and other activities, in styles beyond our usual range. This happens without supernatural intervention, but also without the subject meaning to deceive. Such mediums (or, if you will, prophets) are often entirely sincere.
Presumably a heavenly personage could employ this reflex to communicate with humans. But the ideomotor effect also has shown that many, indeed most such supposed transcendent experiences can be accounted for by earthly psychological processes. It opens the way to a careful content analysis of such productions, to assess the plausibility of special paranormal or religious claims.
(A famous and fascinating example of such a study is the case of HélPne Smith, a Swiss woman who claimed to be communicating with creatures on Mars, Uranus and the moon in her trances. She produced written specimens of the various planetary "languages" – a specimen of her "Martian" script is at:
plus paintings of various Uranian, Lunarian and other interplanetary scenes. (One of her "martian landscape" sketches can be seen online at:
Martian landscape ) In a later phase of her mediumistic career, Smith too felt she was communicating with Christ.
While personally "sincere" (that is, she was not a charlatan or consciously intending to deceive), several careful scholars showed how much of Smith’s visionary experience related to or was sparked by various non-supernatural incidents or associations. (And more recently, the missions to mars and the moon have conclusively shown that her interplanetary "landscapes" do not come from those celestial bodies.) A good introduction to Smith’s case is found online at:
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