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.
So what the article is saying is that hearing God's voice is not schizophrenia, but rather, common everyday self-induced hallucination.
Good to know.
It is a spiritual blessing to receive a messenger from God.
Or it could be a tumor...
Maybe it is like laughing at a bad joke on TV..Just because the show has a laugh track running....and you think Gee I gotta laugh too...That dumb joke must be funny....
Very good summation, Fred.
You shouldn't believe everything you hear. They say this article is only an "opinion piece" and is not meant to be fact. Yet, notice how gullible people like yourself has so easily accepted what they've said all because it's exactly what you want to hear. Which only proves that such articles really are deceiving and misleading people, despite their being "opinion" pieces...
Definitely is delusional. Most adults outgrow their imaginary friends and believing in the green monster in their closet, because these things, just like god, have no evidence of existing.
Weak minds cling to fictional delusions about what they wish were true, rather than exploring what is actually true.
There is no god and your all going to die, and most likely death will be exactly like the billions of years before you were born, oblivion. Now grow up and face reality, deal with it, your not going to some puffy cloud place with harp and wings.
God did all of Creation so he ould live as a Jew for less than 45 years. "everything that is made was made for me and by me" JC.
Fact: the bible has a verse set that tells the priest to add hyssop to a mixture of bird's blood and water and have another bird spray it around the room, with fungus on the walls. This is done to kill the fungus. Hssop has been proven to be an anti-fungal. Note though, that the verses are set up to be disgusting to those that don't believe, such that they can walk off saying it's all nonsense. And the bible states that God throws stumbling blocks in the way of those that don't want him there, so they'll never know he's there... or it will be very difficult for them to believe.
If someone is able to do anything through God, repeatibly, what difference would it make other than to the ones involved? People that do not believe God, would not believe the account given, and if they're being shown, why would God want to show those that don't believe him? He would rather toss a stumbling block in their path to divert them away. So you in believing what ever you believe about God, you have what you wanted, and you're happy with your choice... until such a time when God says it's time for all to know... when ever that is.
John. Use lysol and a ladder. Otherwise you are following a camping guide from 5000 years ago...
And so tell us how you rationalize all that the bible gets wrong.
This may surprise you, John, but herbal remedies were well known in ancient times, and not just by members of the christian church. In fact, there were certain times in history when your church killed those who had that knowledge, because they considered it witchcraft.
The verses you speak of are referring to Leprosy. Leprosy is not a fungus. Leprosy is a disease caused by the bacteria Myobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis.
I'm sorry, but your god was so fucking scientifically ignorant he screwed up the very first verse.
Like it said above, it's a fact, it's in the text, so is the statement that stumbling blocks are there to trip you up.
And as was also said, if someone is able through God to repeatidly do things, no one would believe it anyway other than those involved. A good example is the bible itself, the witnesses said what happened, happened, and those that read it, either believe it or don't, dependent on what ever they wanted. Did they want God to be there, or not... and that's what they get. The accounts in the bible are based on what the witnesses remembered, and those accounts were passed on, translated, and you can stumble on those issues too. But those things do not invalidate God, any more than a reporter's eye witness account from a 3rd world country would invalidate a space shuttle launch.
PW, you obviously got what you wanted when you read the bible, but last I checked, rooms don't suffer from leprosy...
She is a Scientist?
If you hear voices or see things not there, you have mental issues.
Yes, she is a very well respected scientist.
Slightly less respected after this article... :)
After this mess, not for long...
It is normal for an human to hear their own ego and if there is no voice in your head, there is something very wrong with you. See a Jungian psychologist imediatly for a brain tune up.
Have you had your own bodies Ora Photographed...that electrical field that surround every person....You can not see the bands of electric magnetic fields that are all around us..radio waves and such..that does not mean they are not real...
Dreamer: That's the key: If you can prove something is there through experiment, you must admit it is real. But how does one prove they hear god talking versus just voices? Perhaps if we give people who hear god's voices the same medication we give to schizophrenics and god keeps talking to them, we might be on to something.... or if the voice can tell them something that they could never have known otherwise....
I have already said this today...but the FBI has a real X files of people that have given warnings before the event and were investigated after the event happened....There is proof there......
Many very bright people can make very well rationalized but ridiculous claims. This is one of them.
No one trying to use any version of the scientific method should support the authors view. Hearing a voice in your head makes the claim incapable of being peer reviewed. It appeals to the ego that an almighty super being has chosen to talk to you where it can't be verified.
Hearing a god talk to you in your head, unless it can be verified, is not a supernatural event. It's a socially acceptable psychosis.
If all the people (who believe that they hear the voice of a deity) committed suicide, the United States would be a better place.
Atheist here: Suicide jokes are a bad idea. Suicide sucks for the living not the dead. Don't go there. Thanks.
Really I would think the smell and the spread of diseases would end up killing many more....
Suicide sucks less than you might think, especially if the person was unstable and you don't have to worry about them hurting themselves or anyone else anymore.
Contrary to perception, decaying corpses aren't good vectors to transmit disease (most disease carrying bacteria need warm bodies), they just smell really bad.
You sound like another Himmler.....
It must not have affected you yet. Good luck with that. Anyways on to the christian-bashing! :)
Tell that to Bill Wilson who founded AA after a profound religious experience very similar to what is described here.
This is how God speaks today:
2 Tim 3:16:All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.
But who chooses the scripture?!
How is that God talking? You're just quoting from some dusty old book written by men thousands of years ago.
You must know how absurd you are. Those are the words of some tired old men who got together to vote on which pagan myths and old wives tales to cobble together into their new religion. There is nothing sacred or holy about the bible, and it is certainly not the word of any god.
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
I Samuel 15:3
What kind of god inspires that?
One who hates donkeys?
What im saying is God gives us instructions through the bible. a few examples Example:
The Bible, points out that the marriage arrangement is a serious matter. It also advises both husbands and wives to show love and deep respect for each other and thus prevent serious problems from developing. (Ephesians 5:22-28) As for money matters, the Bible reminds us to avoid greed and cultivate contentment. It also encourages us to desist from money-wasting bad habits, such as overdrinking, smoking, drug abuse, and gambling. (1 Timothy 6:7-10) In human relations, the Bible’s advice is: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) If you show love in all you do, you will gain the friendship and respect of others, thus lessening pressure and friction.
In preschool you learn to share. You learn to wash your hands. You learn to take naps when you are supposed to. And you don't even know how to read yet.
I amen that!
The bible has good advice, it also has bad advice and it has contradictory advice. That is proof that it was written by men who were at the time and place intelligent, there is nothing that indicates it is divine.
This is how your god speaks today –
Deuteronomy 22:28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and ràpes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives
Yet I don't see you nutters obey this one. I wonder why?
Primewonk – Deut 22:25-27 – “If, however, it is in the field that the man found the girl who was engaged, and the man grabbed hold of her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her must also die by himself,26and to the girl you must do nothing. The girl has no sin deserving of death, because just as when a man rises up against his fellowman and indeed murders him, even a soul, so it is with this case.27For it was in the field that he found her. The girl who was engaged screamed, but there was no one to rescue her.
About vers 28 your quoting, in that time it ment for the man to take up his role as a husband...if not he himself would face death! Its not the same thing you see now a days in the Islamic countrys!
For one to envision or daydream is a direct connection to one's psyche, the soul of impartation. Anyone can envision but alas, few dare to so do. As a child dares to daydream, they are instructed by teachers to abstain and get with the 'programing'! Just another brick in the programs of inst itutionalized forebodings cluttering away any and all child’s minds ever tightening the mind’s eye of its psychic connections of soulful impartations,,,, :-(
Talk to me like I am four. What?
I'm sure some adult, somewhere, managed to hang onto this innocence you speak of. Where is this person?
There is a time to daydream and a time for learning. Daydreams that teach can only be manifested upon those whose souled impartations are relevant of tutorial euphemisms. A child whose daydreams are not of life's commonalities are censored and made de-amplified and turned to being nonexistent except for the daydreamers soulful impartations. God knows all souled impartations within one's psychic endorsements.
All well and good but you didn't talk to me like I was four! :)
That was actually quite well put, lionly and interesting. I was just reading up on operant conditioning if you are interested.
Mark Twain defined "common sense" as a collection of prejudices aquired by a certain age. :-)
God told Mike Huckaby that he let a lunatic execute 20 innocent children in CT to punish America for "taking God out of schools".
Every time Huckaby opens his mouth...Jesus cries a little...
Mike Huckaby is an idiot...part of a long list of delusional Republicans. These people really scare me.
If you lie on your back while you sleep you can get a form of narcolepsy called sleep paralysis. In this experience you wake up with the feeling that someone is sitting on you, holding you down, or controlling your movement and breath. At the least you are in a panic and feel someone's presence in the room with you. While this is going on you are actually still dreaming so you can have visions and hallucinations of all kinds. You can see things in the room with you, have conversations, listen to crazy music, etc. This describes most alien encounters, ghost hauntings, and discussions with God Jesus Angels and the like. So you're not crazy, just having a nightmare. It's very very common.
That's not what this author is describing though.
@ Billy – very good post. It's also known as "Old Hag" syndrome – and many people do experience it. I do as well. No – wait – I'm just married.
It's one of the only non-crazy talking-to-god scenarios though. Unless you really believe in that sort of thing...
God told the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the funerals of dead soldiers.
America's never ending wars are a sin.
Ah, me. So many people ridicule what they don't understand. Sad really. Bet you wish that God had spoken to you at some time in your life. You cannot judge another person's religious experience. You don't know God's reasoning. If God told Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman to run for President there was a larger reason. Actually winning isn't always in a person's best interest.
"If God told Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman to run for President there was a larger reason."
stroking their massive egos?
Most of us have something that can be termed as "a little voice inside our heads". This is the voice that can tell us to do the right thing when we'd rather do something we know is wrong, or just the opposite. Some might call it a conscience. The more presumptuous among us call it god.
There is no "larger reason." This is your cognitive dissonance: how you attempt to apply reason to the illogical. People say god answers prayers but when he doesn't there is "some larger reason" but this is simply how you justify the preposterous nature of religion. Religion is chock full of these machinations to explain away why their god acts so ungodly.
In 20 years time I think science will show that hearing god speak IS a mental illness and hopefully all religions will be on the way out of our society. Someday we will make fun of those that believed in such nonsense and will for the first time start to move forward without the heavy anchor that religion is. There are no gods, and you know it!
I work with folks diagnosed with Schizophrenia every day. I can guarantee you that there is a difference between auditory and visual hallucinations that they experience and the many reports of God speaking to folks who are NOT mentally ill. Once again, it's the small minds who ridicule what they don't understand. And, there is actually scientific research that has found that under extreme stress, many folks have just such an experience. Who is to say just who are what God is? Definitely not you.
Sweeping assertions like this paint non-believers as small-minded. I agree that some believers are small-minded, but I know plenty of non-believers that are guilty as charged, totalitarian atheists for one.
Look, another follower of Dawkinsianity, the new religion where describing religion as a psychosis is the only article of faith.
Christians are funny. They like to invent other religions to hate. It must be very unpleasant to feel that much hatred.
Sometimes I see and hear things, and I am scared that no one will believe me.
If you're hearing voices, they shouldn't believe you, because you're crazy.
If I were crazy how would you feel about it?
Ambivalent, though I would encourage you to seek help.
He ran in obedience which is what he should have done. Our part is to obey what we are told when God speaks. Notice God did not say he would win.
God didn't say anything at all. He ran because he had the thought in his head to do so, and it helps win over dullards by attaching god to the story.
Then if you hear the voice of God then most of the people in this World who worship God are crazy including the political figures. Many of our past presindents believe in God. Look the amount of people in churches who worship God. The countries who believe in God. You are saying that all these people are crazy. All these doctors making money, who sit down to listen to believers, you don't know what they are writing or thinking, they are writing all these prescriptions, planing their vacations while people talk. Save your money, take your problems to God, and plan a nice vacation, spend your money.
Yes, Ann – they are all crazy. By definition, religious belief is delusional and irrational.
Those anti science religious groups..driving around in their computer controlled SUV...burning gas that is millions of years old....talking on their cell phones and using all the latest technology....Whoa...Even the Amish have cell phones these days...and you can find them in the deep Amazon Jungles....
Amish? In the Amazon? It's more likely than you think!
Sorry you missed it I was talking about the spread of cell phones around the world....it is easier to build the cell towers then run land lines...so cell phones have really taken off in the third world....They can even power the towers with solar panels and batteries so no need to run power lines either....amazing changes are taking place...a jungle tribe that has cell phones....
Ann, 46% of adults think your god created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. So yes, many of you nutters ARE crazy.
Religion yeah, I don't believe in any religion. No one knows if God do exist is true. I am happy with my life, but I see so much trouble in most of the people I talk to. Most of them don't have a relationship with God. I don't force people to believe in God or to go to church. Is not my job. The majority of the people I know have money, well paying jobs, but there is always a dark side in them. Most of them have psychological problems or are taking meds. because they don't know how to handle stress or have anger problems, etc. etc. etc.
In 100 years the Bible will be replaced by a collection of music from the 1960's...and some later too....rock on....Peace Dude..
I am totally sane and I have had out of the body experiences in Heavenly places. I have seen both Jesus and the Father. I have seen many spirits good and evil. I spoke with God in my subconscious, God is real and if you totally sell out for him and Follow him with all your heart you will find him. God planned it this way to see who has the guts to stand by what they believe and admit they seen or heard from someone who isn't visible to the naked eye.
Was Yahweh having intercourse with Jesus when you saw them?
Get thee to a leechery, post haste! The purity of your bodily essence has become contaminated.
Oh, and you're nuts.
It sounds like you had an emotional experience and named it god. Good for you.
It's disgusting how christians are labled discriminatory/haters. The bible warns about the deception of the the evil one. Deception is truly the greatest tool.
Little do the unbelievers know that they are the ones being controlled by a evil spirit. I know who controls you and I will not allow that imp to cause me to fall out of Love. In God there is Love and Peace, when you receive him into your hearts, and continue to stay in his Will you will not give place for a evil spirit to pull your strings.
I agree with you. There IS a God. The one true God that this nation is supposed to be based on.
I have heard him speak myself, so I know he exists. And I am NOT crazy. I have been tested.
I am faithful enough to believe, I do not need scientific proof to believe in something.
Whether I can see it or not. I cannot see the air I breathe, but I believe it is there,
even though I cannot measure it either, because I can breathe it.
God bless you, and God bless America.
God told Michelle Bachman to run for President.
And she sitting on the House Intelligence Committee and have you ever see her husband Dance??...Whoa and he runs a group to teach Gays to become Straight???? Whoa Where is Monty Python when you need them...
She ran in obedience which is what she should have done. Our part is to obey what we are told when God speaks. Notice God did not say she would win.
Or perhaps she decided to run for president and said god told her to do it in order to win votes from those christians who were foolish enough to believe her claim.
god says she misses you... kill yourself and go visit full time
Education is the only thing that is important.
God told Rick Perry to run for President.
Rick Perry spoke up like a real Christian for young illegals kids going to school, and was criticized by the GOP good Christians....
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