Editor's Note: Tanya Marie (“T.M.”) Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist and the Watkins University professor in the department of anthropology at Stanford University in Stanford, California. She is the author of "When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God."
By T.M. Luhrmann, Special to CNN
(CNN)—In the Bible, God spoke directly to Abraham. He spoke directly to Moses. He spoke directly to Job. But to your neighbor down the street?
Most people reading the ancient scriptures understand these accounts of hearing God’s voice as miracles that really did happen but no longer take place today, or maybe as folkloric flourishes to ancient stories. Even Christians who believe that miracles can be an everyday affair can hesitate when someone tells them they heard God speak audibly. There’s an old joke: When you talk to God, we call it prayer, but when God talks to you, we call it schizophrenia.
Except that usually it’s not.
Hearing a voice when alone, or seeing something no one else can see, is pretty common. At least one in 10 people will say they’ve had such an experience if you ask them bluntly. About four in 10 say they have unusual perceptual experiences between sleep and awareness if you interview them about their sleeping habits.
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And if you ask them in a way that allows them to admit they made a mistake, the rate climbs even higher. By contrast, schizophrenia, the most debilitating of all mental disorders, is pretty rare. Only about one in 100 people can be diagnosed with the disorder.
Moreover, the patterns are quite distinct. People with schizophrenia who hear voices hear them frequently. They often hear them throughout the day, sometimes like a rain of sound, or a relentless hammer. They hear not only sentences, but paragraphs: words upon words upon words. What the voices say is horrid—insults, sneers and contemptuous jibes. “Dirty. You’re dirty.” “Stupid slut.” “You should’ve gone under the bus, not into it.”
That was not what Abraham, Moses and Job experienced, even when God was at his most fierce.
For the last 10 years, I have been doing anthropological and psychological research among experientially oriented evangelicals, the sort of people who seek a personal relationship with God and who expect that God will talk back. For most of them, most of the time, God talks back in a quiet voice they hear inside their minds, or through images that come to mind during prayer. But many of them also reported sensory experiences of God. They say God touched their shoulder, or that he spoke up from the back seat and said, in a way they heard with their ears, that he loved them. Indeed, in 1999, Gallup reported that 23% of all Americans had heard a voice or seen a vision in response to prayer.
These experiences were brief: at the most, a few words or short sentences. They were rare. Those who reported them reported no more than a few of them, if that. These experiences were not distressing, although they were often disconcerting and always startling. On the contrary, these experiences often made people feel more intimate with God, and more deeply loved.
In fact, my research has found that these unusual sensory experiences are more common among those who pray in a way that uses the imagination—for example, when prayer involves talking to God in your mind. The unusual sensory experiences were not, in general, associated with mental illness (we checked).
They were more common among those who felt comfortable getting caught up in their imaginations. They were also more common among those who prayed for longer periods. Prayer involves paying attention to words and images in the mind, and giving them significance. There is something about the skilled practice of paying attention to the mind in this way that shifts—just a little bit—the way we judge what is real.
Yet even many of these Christians, who wanted so badly to have a back-and-forth relationship with God, were a little hesitant to talk about hearing God speak with their ears. For all the biblical examples of hearing God speak audibly, they doubt. Augustine reports that when he was in extremis, sobbing at the foot of that fig tree, he heard a voice say, “Take it and read.” He picked up the scripture and converted. When the Christians I know heard God speak audibly, it often flitted across their minds that they were crazy.
In his new book, "Hallucinations," the noted neurologist Oliver Sacks tells his own story about a hallucinatory experience that changed his life. He took a hearty dose of methamphetamines as a young doctor, and settled down with a 19th century book on migraines. He loved the book, with its detailed observation and its humanity. He wanted more. As he was casting around in his mind for someone who could write more that he could read, a loud internal voice told him “You silly bugger” that it was he. So he began to write. He never took drugs again.
Now, Sacks does not recommend that anyone take drugs like that. He thinks that what he did was dangerous and he thinks he was lucky to have survived.
What interests me, however, is that he allowed himself to trust the voice because the voice was good. There’s a distinction between voices associated with psychiatric illness (often bad) and those (often good) that are found in the so-called normal population. There’s another distinction between those who choose to listen to a voice, if the advice it gives is good, and those who do not. When people like Sacks hear a voice that gives them good advice, the experience can transform them.
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This is important, because often, when voices are discussed in the media or around the kitchen table, the voices are treated unequivocally as symptoms of madness. And of course, voice-hearing is associated with psychiatric illness.
But not all the time. In fact, not most of the time.
About a third of the people I interviewed carefully at the church where I did research reported an unusual sensory experience they associated with God. While they found these experiences startling, they also found them deeply reassuring.
Science cannot tell us whether God generated the voice that Abraham or Augustine heard. But it can tell us that many of these events are normal, part of the fabric of human perception. History tells us that those experiences enable people to choose paths they should choose, but for various reasons they hesitate to choose.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat at his kitchen table, in the winter of 1956, terrified by the fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery bus boycott, he said he heard the voice of Jesus promising, “I will be with you.” He went forward.
Voices may form part of human suffering. They also may inspire human greatness.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of TM Luhrmann.
hear my voice: for those of you who havent heard Gods' voice, and are so sure every who does is crazy, you may just be 'Deaf' And 'Dumb'.
Jesus said If you do not believe in me..believe in what I do...Funny Modern Christians seem to forget the teachings of Jesus as they wage wars...
In Florida they have a law called "The Baker Act". We must, by law, commit someone for 48 hours to a mental ward, when they hear the voice of god. Yet George W based the Iraq war on his mental illness of hearing god's voice. Xtianity is rife with hypocricy. I hope you don't own a gun!
Seems to me that a "god" that allows millions of innocent babies to die of starvation every year is the supremely "deaf and dumb"; THAT or really just a total psycho who gets off to seeing innocent beings suffering.
It seemed to be a requirement for every GOP Candidate to stated God told them to run for the President of the United States this last time around...Michelle Bachmann and the others all said that..outright or implied it...
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Mathew 10:34
@Dreamer – yep, and once again, their god lied to them. They were out to win the "delusional" vote. It's worked in the past, but doesn't seem to be so effective today.
Yes it seems Jesus was really born in the spring when the lambs gave birth around April, that is when the Shepeherds guarded their flocks..under the Ram Sign and he offered up his 12 disciples and all following Christians as Lambs to the Wolfs....Knowing they would be attacked by others....
Stellar logic you have there. Your delusion clearly knows no bounds.
Christian7, in case you don't realize it, your zeal is a huge turn-off. Hard to see whether you're trying to repulse people with your "god" or trying to draw people towards. . . .but if you are trying to make your "god" as unappealing and utterly repulsive as possible then you are succeeding.
DeeCee1000, I am by not trying to show the loving side of God on this day commenting here exactly as you describe. You have already heard that side. God is your judge and is just. You need to FEAR what God will do. No sin whatsoever goes unpunished. That is justice. Jesus has offered to take your punishment out of love, but there is a single requirement. You must accept him as your savior. It is very easy to do so there is no excuse for not doing it. Yet you do not even lift your baby finger. In hell there is not even a single drop of water. Think about that next time you drink a glass of water for it might be the last water you ever see FOREVER!
In am in no way attempting to gain the approval of men by commenting on this website. FEAR GOD.
I don't think god would be as big of an azzhole as all that, and if he is the sort to allow people to suffer eternally, then fvck him.
@Christian7 – since when is eternal punishment justice for a finite crime? I hope I'm never accused of a crime, and you're my juror! You need to reevaluate your sense of what justice truly is.
Edweird69, I am in no way your juror at your trial. I am simply telling you what the Bible says.
Moby Schtick, You have no way to do anything to harm God. God is being generous and merciful in offering forgiveness now, but the offer expires at the time of death. You can avoid the punishment. Yet for some reason you have chosen to take it. Bad choice.
Christian7, are you by any chance related to Fred Phelps? You make "god" seem like a hateful ego-maniac who gets off to seeing creatures suffering.
DeeCee1000, Why would you conclude that God is hateful when He was willing to take your punishment that you rightfully deserved? I am not misrepresenting God as hateful, you are not thinking logically.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
That line is exactly what I have been saying. What does perish mean? Why give so much for nothing? What is the alternative? It is simple, accept Jesus or get what you deserve. You are so bad, that you deserve hell. It is not God that is hateful and evil; you are hateful and evil. You are guilty!!!!!!!!!!! You do not deserve to go to heaven in a sinful state. No sin enters heaven. Wash yourself in the righteousness of Jesus Christ or your actions will result in justice for you. You, not God, are so bad that you deserve hell. It is not what you think that counts. God decides. You thinking He is wrong does not mean you are judged by your low standards. He is not hateful and mean because you decide He is wrong. You are wrong, and He is right..
In its broad meaning, revelation is divine guidance or inspiration; it is the communication of truth and knowledge from God to His children on earth, suited to their language and understanding. It simply means to uncover something not yet known. That religion depends on revelation is nothing new.
The Bible illustrates different types of revelation, ranging from dramatic visions to gentle feelings — fromthe “burning bush” to the “still, small voice.” Mormons generally believe that divine guidance comes quietly, taking the form of impressions, thoughts and feelings carried by the Spirit of God.
Most often, revelation unfolds as an ongoing, prayerful dialogue with God: A problem arises, its dimensions are studied out, a question is asked, and with sufficient faith, God leads us to answers, either partial or full. Though ultimately a spiritual experience, revelation also requires careful thought. God does not simply hand down information. He expects us to figure things out through prayerful searching and sound thinking.
Church leaders are blessed with revelation in their capacity as Church leaders, just as individuals are enlightened in the context of their own lives. Revelation permeates the entire Church — bottom, top and in between.
Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of guidance given by Church leaders. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.
For a deeper understanding of the Latter-day Saint principle of revelation, read "Divine Revelation in Modern Times".
In the video below, Church apostle Jeffrey R. Holland addresses the Church's belief in continuing revelation.
The above is not my own words, but is taken from: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/revelation
Hmm and the founder of the church of Latter day saints said the Garden of Eden was in Missouri......
Maybe some one was eating special mushrooms at the time...
... and without this so-called "revelations" there would be no other "evidence" for the existence of any supernatural, magical sky-god. Seriously, if that's all you have tofall back on, then you have nothing. Remember: "That which is stated without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
I get revelations daily, after I take a hit from my bong.
And the Oracle at Delphi was probably sniffing gas......whoa....They feel a little lite headed and start having visions....
"dreamer96", the oracles were informed about everything much in the same way you and I read the news nowadays; that is how they would make their decisions.
Gee you mean they played Politics with their Religion....Somethings never change huh...
Dreamer, the priests in Greek temples (and the Romans as well) were known for deception. They would go to great lengths in constructing statues that could weep and perform other "miracles", some could even produce milk from the bosom in order to deceive their cults. Some things never change.
Yes a lot of detailed engineering was built into those temples...like starting a fire in a shrine outside the front door would power the front doors with steam to open..or the magnetic flying metal horse drawn chariot...Has anything really changed...
So when "God" told Abraham to kill his own son, THAT wasn't crazy?
God also told him not to kill his son at the last minute. That part always seems to be omitted. The spot where God told him to kill his son is the exact location of where Jesus was crucified. The son of God was killed there.
Abraham would be imprisoned nowadays in a country such as this. Anyone who believes "God" is telling them to kill their own child or anyone else's should be medicated and locked away.
DeeCee1000, Locked away? I would rather man lock me away than God. When God locks you away, it is called hell.
@Christion7 – there are more accounts in the bible of your god being a murderer, than the devil himself. And you want to spend eternity with a murderer. Think about that.
Christian7, everything you've written so far makes me believe you are a cold-blooded psycho suffering from delusions.
DeeCee1000, I have not yet intentionally insulted you. Yet you have insulted me at least twice already. Make note of it.
God told me to smoke a joint.
so you are less likely to grab a gun ...unlike those who drink...
you my friend are correct. I hate guns and booze. Didn't need the fear of a deities wrath to come to that conclusion.
I did not make alcohol.
I did, however, make cannabis for you to use and enjoy in many ways.
Am I good, or what? :-)
My take on this article: Tanya Marie Luhrmann writes well, was able to show the tip of the proverbial ice berg without touching the ice....I think she is just as afraid of being called crazy as everyone else. ReRunJudi Van Emmerik
Gallop reports 23% of Americans are Fn nuts.
Well, that explains everything.
God spoke to me the other day and told me I should be ruler of the world.
"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." – Susan B. Anthony
I'm lost for words to even respond to this loonacy!
People need to get their heads out of the sand!
If you were actually Charles Darwin, you'd know how to spell, "lunacy".
Whats the weirdo preaching from the sidewalk doing writing CNN articles.
Watch the movie Network....Fox liked the ratings for Glenn Beck till he completely stepped over the sanity cliff into parts unknown....
Why do Atheists bother to read articles like this and comment on them? Why waste your time?
CNN put it on the front page.
We're not allowed in any other forums. We're a minority, and this is our only outlet. You don't think we can ridicule from work, churches, the white house, schools, etc. do you? Only Xtians are allowed to state their delusion in most other forums.
Have you ever noticed how eager religious fanatics are to inflict their views on others?
"It is necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." – Pope Boniface VII
“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter." – Adolf Hitler
taking an interest in the enemies of reason – who work overtime to secularize their delusional religious ideology is hardly a waste of time.
remaining ever-vigilant is said to be a virtue.
does it bother you that people consistently point out the glaring ugly truths about the imaginary, ignorant nature of religiosity?
deal with it!
cha cha cha
I think we are just blown away by the loonacy!
These articles are pure garbage of the mind and someone needs to stand up and point out how utterly off the wall they really are.
Personally, I'm tired of seeing them posted and find it offensive to intelligence.
because this lunacy must be challenged and defeated for the human race to progress. Deity worship is a crutch that we must cast aside. Reality must prevail.
Because they are utterly infatuated in the non-existence of this god. Plus they believe they have doctorates in psychology and anthropology. Put two and two together and you end up with a typical teenager trolling these sites.
And what "IF" you're all wrong? "Humor me for a moment, please".
What if God IS true? What if He showed his face today? Then what? I'm simply curious of your response.
@OneMan – I wish he would show his face. I'd love to tell him what a total preek he truly is. Thank him for all the unanswered prayers, the starving/dead babies, the murderered kindergardeners. I would also tell him I'd rather suffer the fires of hades than to spend eternity with his lying azzz. Does that answer your question?
Atheists, who live by science, won't believe the science behind this article. Here it is, by a scientist.
Well, you either get it or you don't.
which science is that?
the part where ms.luhrmann clearly states: "In fact, my research has found that these unusual sensory experiences are more common among those who pray in a way that uses the imagination..." ???
she'd have more credibility had she mentioned confirmation bias... or had she studied some different cultural groups....
still yet.. there isn't anything here which theists can take to heart and use to validate their delusional beliefs.
did you even read the article?
She is not a scientist. she's a looney/ Psychology is not a science, as everybody knows.
Atheists have one thing in common, they are pessimistic and negative whenever anyone brings up an idea that doesn't directly correlate with their lack of belief in anything, or their direct belief in nothing. I have an older son that is an Atheist and is argument city because he is always right and everyone else wrong. He believes the universe started from a speck of dust. Everyone is more than willing to respect his belief but we literally have to force him to respect ours-whatever they may be (basically tell him to shut up in a very nice way).
There's no science here. Assuming you are a believer, then you should keep science out of your justifications of religion. You would lose every argument that is truly based on science. That's why it's called faith.
“You cannot prove the nonexistence of God; you just have to take it on faith.” – Woody Allen
Don't insult true science by combining religion in the same breath!
Yes, she's scientifically cataloged that people hallucinate at times, in particular when in the state of hypnosis called prayer. Yawn.
Science is ever changing. What we see today as science fact is yesterday's science "we were wrong". Example of this is at one time science was convinced our world was flat.
Why people continually base things only on science is baffling when 90% of the time it ends up being wrong.
"Why people continually base things only on science is baffling when 90% of the time it ends up being wrong."
Clearly you are a delusional believer. Science is not wrong 90% of the time, and if you'd pull your face out of your excuse book for awhile to actually educate yourself, you would understand that.
Now delusions are being defended? No wonder we have a mental health problem in our world.
And the rate of Autism in the USA's children has increased by 1,000 times since before 1990....
I think the b"Belief Blog" should be changed to "Mental Asylum Blog".
Persecuting others for not believing in your religion is SUCH a classy thing to do. Just take a look at how classy Fred Phelps is! lol
How does this pass for journalism? It most certainly is not scientific. Science does’t employ speculative wishful thinking combined with dubious anecdotal evidence from a biased sample group. A sample group that explicitly gathers to amplify and reenforce their shared belief system. A sample group where you rise in social status by doing things like speaking in tongues or reporting to hear the voice of God in your head. Those that conform and amplify this predictable mass-hysteria are considered righteous and good, while those too honest or too sane to participate are marginalized and deemed less righteous and less worthy. Golly gee Professor, if only there were a more plausible way to explain and reliably predict such mass-hysteria and unreliable anecdotal evidence.
People near death were placed inside a MRI...as they died the MRI picked up a surge in electrical activity...was that the soul leaving the body??
|Psychological anthropologist" is about as soft science as sciences get.
This is journalism, the reporter has only stated the facts, she has relayed the information regarding all of those people who hear voices, she has not stated that she shares their belief.
That being said, it is a sad state of affairs that so many people are delusional, high on drugs, or both, to the point that they hear voices. I'd be willing to be that they're the same creationist idiots who also reject well-established scientific principles.
Was that their soul leaving their body????????? No, of course not. It was Scotty beaming them aboard the StarShip Enterprise.
don in albuquerque
Ah I mess some of the Original Star Trek shows about 5 were pretty good....and the Glass Menagerie two part....But I have noticed that as Karl Rove grows older he looks more and more like those aliens...scary...
What about people who hear Allah telling them to make a bomb of themselves? They're nuts though right?
Time for Armageddon! Everyone form a square so we can do the Armageddon Square Dance of Death!
Come on! Everyone!
Non-Christians are really smart for choosing hell over paradise. I am really impressed with any brain that can have such good judgement as that. NOT!
I'm still waiting for someone that died to come back and tell me how wonderful it is in heaven.
Christians and their god are all about peace and love... Until they start with the threats of hell and punishment.
I'm impressed that Xtians believe in invisible sky people. You do realize you think there's something wrong with me, because I don't believe there's an invisible person writing down all of my thoughts and actions? You are truly delusional. A sucker for an old con game.
I'm truly impressed by delusional people who believe they have a brain.
"And several serial killers have heard voices"
Must have been God too.
If you don't get sarcasm you won't get this.
If the neighbors dog starts to tell your to go out and kill people ...ask for some help please....That does not sound like Jesus to me..
Son of Sam talked and received instruction from a German Shepard. My poodle told me to stop eating chic-filet.
I sacrificed a goat in my living room a few minutes ago. Anybody else?
No, it's "sack of rice" not "sacrifice". When's the last time you cleaned the wax out of your ears?
He asked for my first born but I tricked him...i gave him my second, didn't like him anyways.
To GOD–I cleaned them out the last time I talked to you, and you said vote for Romeny. This is just toooooo much fun.
God told me this article is a bunch of bullshift!
Horse Shift is the best for Roses...
What? Better share whatever it is you've been smokin, because I haven't been talking to anyone since before I lost my body to 18-dimensional erosion. Now hearing the song "Dust in the Wind" makes me want to go super-storm on everyone's ass.
I don't wonder as much about why some people go to hell when they die anymore. I have read too many comments like yours to know why God would not think you are savable.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.