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.
What if god touches you in a bad place?
Curious in AZ
Tell him NO! As loud as you can, And he will go away.
depends on whether it is god himself or one of his representatives. in the latter case, report him to the archdiocese
Dave what do you mean like your conscience?
You didn't say which god...personally I'm hoping for Apollo or Krishna...yum.
I thought about the condition of my soul today and I thought to myself it really is in a terrible mess. Who can I get to help clean it up and get things in order as I thought I said let me reach out to the religions and see who responds so as I called Buddha and Mohammed and confuses no one answered the only thing I could do was look at what they had written. Oh there was so much to read with so many books but no one appeared. so I asked again who can help well I heard this voice oh it was so strong and promised me great things so I asked the question who are you Satan he said. is it true that you rule hell he said yes but I can also give you the kingdoms of the world if you will serve me. Something didn’t feel right so I probed a little more and asked him what happens when I die, he said you will be with me in hell. What’s it like he said its great we get to rule over all these people and inflict all kinds of pain on them and its really hot so you always be warm. I thought and another voice answered this voice was different it was soft yet commanding assuring and seemed so loving. I said who are you, Jesus, He replied why haven’t I heard from you sooner. he said My child I was there the day you were born, I stopped you from running out in front of that car when you were 3, I was always with you watching over you. I have never stopped being with you even in the time that you went to jail. I love you and have always loved you, you were made in my image and I want to help you. I want to walk this life with you and can by my blood make you whole and forgive you of all your sins. That sounds great I said but what’s the cost? I have already paid the price and this is a gift. What’s the catch there is none, if you don’t want to like salvation you can walk away. Why would you do that, I asked, because I knew you and formed you in your mothers womb I have great plans for you that you can only achieve with me walking with you. Why didn’t I hear from anyone but you and Satan because my child they are not living. I have conquered the grave and death it has no hold on me and no one that walks with me. This is part of the gift. I asked, What happens if I get in trouble He said I will warn you and send my angles to protect you. You and the Holy
Spirit will become great friends and share some real good times together. Will you always be with me? I asked, Yes I will till the end of your life and beyond. How do I do this? Just invite me in.
You do realize your insane I hope, If not allow me to be the one to inform you.
Hey Bob! You are totally bonkers dude go seek professional help!
What makes you think that there is anything such as a soul?
Perhaps you should consider medication, voluntary commitment, or some combination of the two, Blob
Sam if I knew your address I would definitely have you committed.
Bob: Come and get me, big mouth. While you're at it, bring your holy scarecrow
When whatever god you are "listening to" tells you to sacrifice your family to prove your faith.....please don't
Seems you did not read the article well enough to understand it. Ignorance kills!
on the other hand, if it tells you to sacrifice yourself to prove your faith, have at it!
Why is it that the Virgin Mary appears to Christians but not to HIndus? Why doesn't Krishna appear to Jews, or the Buddha to Muslims? Could there be a pre-selection process there?
When I was about ten or eleven years old I woke up from a sound sleep to see Legolas infront of me in a white robe...bright light the whole nine.. I really did, and what's more behind me was ME fast asleep. That was over a decade before LOTR came out in theaters. I don't know why. Here's what I've heard.
Atheists: "It was just a dream"
Church of Satan: "It was Satan"
Random Psychic: "It was Jesus"
Church of Christ: "It was an Angel"
New Age person: "It was an ancestor and an astral projection"
Alien fan: "It was a nordic alien."
Spiritualist: "It was a ghost"
Agnostics: "I have no idea."
It was what it was.
My question to each of you is why would you let your politics (which are temporary), interfere with how you see your own demise (which is permanent). If one particular religion or spirituality isn't working out for you...okay no big deal there is a buffet of others to choose from. But whatever you choose that's you and yours. It's your big exit so don't let anybody take from you what you find right for you.
People see and hear what they want to see and hear. In the case of external religious experience I call it viewing the world through God colored glasses. If I can't explain it, label it, or disect it, it must be God.
Like the guy who's on his way to work praying to God for a sign because he hates his job and suddenly up ahead he sees a bilboard for some product or service that says "Sieze the day!" and automatically he assumes it's a message from God. *shrug* Hey, whatever gets you out of bed I guess.
Ian Fleming–"Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action and over 600 is clearly the work of an ancient Sumerian demon or some sh**"
Jesus said "I am the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE. No one comes to the Father except through me"
If you write 2 + 2 = 5, is that the truth? No
Is keeping the 5 there following Jesus? No.
Is correcting your error from 5 to the truth following Jesus? Yes.
Repentance = Error Correction = The Way of following Jesus
No one comes to the Father except through Jesus
Just listen to yourself. You have gone full ruhtard. Perhaps one too many meals composed of the blodd and flesh of your "god." Seek help.
"A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet" means The WORD is not the truth. It is all senses, perceptions, and associations in the environment or context which are the connections, measures, spaces, dynamics, and probabilities in mathematics that makes it true. So we could call a Rose a YaddaYaddaYadda and it would still have all the mathematics and science underneath that make it true.
So be careful that you are not following "The Word of God" from a False God. Follow "The Word of God" from a God that is True.
Who said "I am the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE. No one comes to the Father except through me"?
Not a Pastor, Priest, Rabbi, Church, or Temple over the Real Son of God who said it.
My spriti guide was Catholic when he was alive, if it was good enough for him, it's good enough for me. ;-)
Fool your god is nothing!
I am a high priest of the dread lord Yog-Sothoth and he demands blood and souls for sacrifice.
You will know the exquisite suffering of his malevolence.
God in Quran says, (holy Islamic scripture)
“They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]
“The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]
‘They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism – he never was an idol worshiper." [2:135]
“Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]
The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]
It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]
"No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]
O people, here is a parable that you must ponder carefully: the idols you set up beside God can never create a fly, even if they banded together to do so. Furthermore, if the fly steals anything from them, they cannot recover it; weak is the pursuer and the pursued. [22:73]
They do not value God as He should be valued. God is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.[22:74]
If you obey the majority of people on earth, they will divert you from the path of God. They follow only conjecture; they only guess. [Quran 6:116]
“There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Omniscient.” [2:256]
“God: there is no other god besides Him, the Living, the Eternal. Never a moment of unawareness or slumber overtakes Him. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. Who could intercede with Him, except in accordance with His will? He knows their past, and their future. No one attains any knowledge, except as He wills. His dominion encompasses the heavens and the earth, and ruling them never burdens Him. He is the Most High, the Great.” [2:255]
Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.
If you wish to know the nature of a thing, inspect its fruit. Is the fruit of Islam mostly good or bad?
@ open mind.....how common or uncommon is it for muslim people to hear voices in their heads? do muslims these days hear the voice of God? are there any proven prophets these days among muslims? just curious.....
Mohammed is dead and he was a prophet, Islam makes no claim to be able to hear their god.
blob: and jeebus is nothing but bones in the ground, if that.
Sam I would challenge you to find the grave then where they buried Him then
Various early church writers, such as Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons; circa 120 CE to ?) Justin Martyr (Christian apologist; 100 to 165), Tertullian (Christian theologian; circa 160 to 220 +) concluded that the Pagan/Christian similarities were a Satanic attempt at "diabolical mimicry." Satan was said to have use "plagiarism by anticipation." That is, the Devil made a pre-emptive strike against the gospel stories centuries before Jesus was born. The reason was to confuse the public into thinking that Jesus was merely a copy of previous god-men. The goal was to demolish the credibility of Christianity in the people's eyes.
So that's the best they could do to defend accusation of plagiarism? By saying it was a pre-emptive strike by satan?? And still not being able to say exactly who the authors of the gospels were?? LOL.
We do not have a misconception of your religion we see it for the evil it is.
Your "prophet" was no more then a illiterate pedophile warlord who plagiarized the three main religions of the area in order to control the people he conquered
you also left out some of the more tasty surah's, please quote some surah of the sword or how about the one that states a womens word is worth half of a mans word.
yeah, those graves were so well marked
Praise The Lord for I rejoice in what He has done in making a better covenant with us so we are forgiven of our sins by the blood of Jesus and we do hear Him because He lives in us. What a gift of love and to know we are never alone.
free people do not need salvation, blob. only slaves do. back on your knees, b1tch
Did not watch the whole video, does she take off her top at any point?
I heard GOD today. HIS name is Obama.
We all want a hero to give away free health care.
People often hear voices in times of great danger. The so called third man factor. A recent book byJohn G. Geiger 'The Third Man Factor, has collected many such examples from shipwrecked sailors, explorers such as arctic explorer Shackelton, and others. This book is a fascinating read. Most of these voices seem to have not claimed to be angels, god or Jesus. They were "secular". Google for this, see wikipedia for Third Man Factor to start.
You hear what you want to hear. The mind is a powerful thing and gives the impression of not being self contained. But it is.
I like what Sam Harris has to say about this.
If someone hears God they are spiritual
If someone hears God through their hairdryer they are crazy
Can someone tell me what difference the hairdryer makes?
That makes sense to me. As soon as one needs to "accessorize" to be spiritual, then they are either literally or figuratively bringing something material to their belief system that is unnecessary, and something to which they foolishly may now or eventually attribute magical properties. Obviously many differ on the scope of what may count as an accessory – a hairdryer, a cross, an entire basilica, organization, etc.
Oh sorry, I guess my reply is appropriate to the poster and Brian, but I was actually replying to Brian.
Love to read Sam Harris, great comment about the hairdryer. I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to use it in the next couple days. For some reason the religious seek me out....
People who hear things usually hear things they'd rather not.
I would call them crazy but that's just me. Should they be examined by a psychiatrist, maybe? Just a thought...
“There are arguments for atheism, and they do not depend, and never did depend, upon science. They are arguable enough, as far as they go, upon a general survey of life; only it happens to be a superficial survey of life.” – ILN, 1-3-31
“I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification.” – Babies and Distributism, The Well and the Shallows
“Even in an empire of atheists the dead man is always sacred.” – The Meaning of Dreams, Lunacy and Letters
“Somehow one can never manage to be an atheist.” – The Ball and the Cross
“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” – Where All Roads Lead
“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
If there were no fairies there would be no non-believers in fairies.
if there were no bigfoot, there would be no non believers in bigfoot
the bible states that god does not talk to people anymore, that only the devil whispers in your ear.
The bible also states that donkeys and snakes talk
The bible also states rules for your slaves you are allowed to own
I hope no one can denie this fact, a body is divided into 3-parts. Flesh of which you can see. We must feed the body keep it exercised and healthy, if not the body will deteroriate and eventually die..sooner. We have the mind of which we need to feed knowledge. What goes into a man also come out of a man. Healthy information that builds a person to the point that he can rely on what he knows instead depending on someone else. The third is spirit. What is in the center of the body that connects the mind and the body, Morals. Nothing disturbs me more, then the government executing morals. There job is to govern. Freedom of religion is that the government does not get involved. Not that one certain religion should get punished for exercising there beliefs. For example the 10 commandments are written on court house steps. What part of the 10 commandments are against all religions. Thou shall love your God with all your heart? or thou Shall have no other gods before me, ( I will worship my car or stuff – Example)? Honor your parents, not to lie or steal or murder, adultery? What is so bad that they must be removed except that we are catering to the atheist who does not believe in God. So why are they so upset? I don't see anyone getting upset over the tooth fairy. In case you do not remember its freedom of religion that means the freedom not to believe in anything. As far as hearing an audible voice?? Um mm....
I do not beleive that we do...since Christ was crusified. I beleive there is something in the center of your being connected to the mind that knows truth. But can only found if you feed the soul. Otherwise its something else. Sycho-analists cannot disect what God is saying to a person unless it goes against morals then there is something definintly wrong.
There is no such thing as 'the spirit'. The mind, body and everything that follows is all natural. Any 'spirit' perceived is the product of your brain which is the product of evolution.
The third part "spirit" does not actually exist. Like "love" or "hate", it is only the name for an intangible feeling and not an object that truly exists.
sandy: you sure seem to have an issue confusing opinion for fact.
and it is spelled d-e-n-y
I deny this "fact"
As others have said there is no spirit
And remember the onus of proof is with the believer
If you're "hearing" a god, then you're hearing your own thoughts.
Isn't it strange that schizophrenics hear "god" speaking to them to do evil things, but normal people just think it's god speaking to them. They're both wrong of course.
Joh 10:27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
Ben Kenobi: That no moon thats a space station
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;"
The shepherd takes good care of his sheep for a couple of reasons:
- Profit from their wool at shearing time and from their flesh and skins at slaughter
- A yummy dinner
The guy who thought up that analogy was just silly...
Written by those who had improper relations with sheep
How common does Jesus have to be before we feel accepted by Him? Maybe the author is asking a sin question because he has never known his sins have been truly forgiven. It is sin that never lets us forget where we came from who we truly are, and who our Father truly is. Without this marvelous revelation in our lives we knowing we can never attain the things of God on our own try to pull things down to a level that is attainable. This is sin that causes this blindness and reasoning. It was not sin and sickness that made Jesus feel for us and know what we go through it was the love and compassion that He has for us. When you walk through a slum it is not the sickness that gives you the compassion for the people it is the human desperation. We see the filth and needs and we are moved to act. We know life doesn't have to be like this because we come from a greater perspective. My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge. Jesus had a decision if He would be obedient to the Father and if He would give up His life and If He would not call many thousands of angles to do battle for Him. These all His decisions and just as surely as He was faithful in the three tempta.tions so He is faithful in these decisions. He had a job a mission and if we truly believe in what the Gospel of John said In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. Then how could that which was created have power over the creator. Like I said, sin and pride is the problem here, knowing that we truly have the forgiveness of our sins by the power and blood of Jesus all working through His love to bring us up to Him, not bring Him down to us.
I don't see how this is relevant to the article, Bob.
I find my self humming the song "too much time on my hands" while reading this post.
Your starting to sound like a broken record.
Can you come up with something new?
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