Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Does God Speak?

25 Comments

There are a number of us who suffer from doubt and downright disbelief in the divine.  Many of us wonder just what it means for people to say God talks to them.  Some people claim God has spoken audibly to them.  Others say they are “impressed” in their soul.  Still others say it’s a feeling, like the wind.  You can’t see it but you know it’s there.  Then there are those of us who never experienced any of those things, who never experienced God speaking to them in any discernible way.

Ahab asked the question recently, “what do you believe is going on with people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray? Overactive imagination? Altered state of consciousness? Something else entirely?”

It is not my desire to belittle those who believe God has “spoken” to them.  But Ahab asked what I believe is going on with those who claim such.  Here is what I believe.  I believe it can be the product of an overactive imagination.  When we fill our minds with certain things our minds begin to play tricks on us.  I’ve known people who lied about something long enough that they actually believed the lie was the truth.  Some people believe they’ve seen angels or demons or the Virgin Mary.  Have they?  Is it all in their mind?

As I was researching some information for The Miraculous I came across a phenomenon called Stigmata.  The religious adherent believes they have received from God the wounds of Christ, though Christianity isn’t the only religion where stigmata is reported.   St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded case of stigmata and Sister Therese Neumann is said to be a confirmed case of such.  Those outside of the Catholic Church and in particular those who are skeptical of this phenomena associate such as markers of a form of hysteria or psychosis.  Each case is remarkably different.  The wounds manifest in the way that the stigmatic believes them to have occurred.  Some wounds appear in palms while others appear in wrists, some in the feet and others in the ankles.  It completely depends on the stigmatic’s idea of the crucifixion.  Simply put, it’s the power of suggestion coupled with severe stress or mental disorder.  There is strong suggestion that the wounds may be self inflicted and in some cases have proven to be such.

What do I believe is going on with people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray?  I believe it’s a combination of things, not the least of which is a strong desire for God to communicate with them along with the firm belief that he will communicate with them.  There are people who believe their deceased loved ones speak to them from the grave.  There are people who honestly believe they’ve been abducted by aliens.  Is it so difficult to believe there are people who honestly believe God speaks to them on a regular basis?  What do you believe is happening in the minds of people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray?

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25 thoughts on “Does God Speak?

  1. Interesting analysis. I agree that this is probably at work in the mind of some worshippers.I've often wondered about the role of altered states of consciousness in these experiences. Ecstatic emotional states, prolonged prayer/meditation, and other neurochemical events may create a sense of communion with something higher than oneself.

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  2. I heard something recently about a study done of people's brain activity. They measured when thinking about their views about moral issues, what thinking about the average American's views about moral issues, and when thinking about God's views thought about moral issues. When thinking about the average american's views of morality a different part of the brain was activiated than when they were thinking about their own views.When thinking about God's views of morality the same part of the brain was activated as when they were thinking about their own views!Does this confirm the generally observable fact that most people's conception of god is strikingly similar to themselves??

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  3. I think we can't underplay the significance one's worldview has on this matter. People, like my mother for example, who are grounded in the view that existence has a supernatural underpinning feel it is totally reasonable that God would audibly speak to us today just as he did to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses and others in the Bible days. The Bible God invaded people's dreams and so these folks find certain of their dreams a divine communication.Unfortunately, it we are to believe these God hearers, God is saying a lot of different things to a lot of different folks.On the other hand, those of us grounded in a rational, naturalistic worldview would tend to find this-worldly explanations for such things.It seems that more people hear voices than might be imagined. Hardly a week goes by when I don't read in the news about someone doing something strange or out of the ordinary because "God told them to." This is really quite a common thing. I on occasion hear voices. But realizing as I do that voices come only from vocal chords and finding myself alone and realizing I wasn't speaking to myself, what other conclusion can I reach but that I was imagining it?

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  4. My wife firmly believes that god speaks to her on a regular basis. She repeatedly pulled the god card when I was a christian. I think it helps establish sense of control when someone wants their voice heard or their opinion taken seriously: 'God said, therefore you must.' I totally believe that people do hear something, however I also believe it's just in their mind.I once told my wife she may be schizophrenic. That didn't go over well.

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  5. @lostmyfaithinyou-Yikes! I imagine that was not taken to kindly by the wifey huh? Though it is true that that is the name for the condition people have when they do hear voices. :)My mom hears God all the time. There was a time in her life about 5 years ago when she thought she was hearing all kinds of prophacies from him.Big things like where Osama Bin Ladin could be found and things that might happen to the world. Even that my dad would die in 5 years. I believe that for a year or so. I was still a believer at the time and listen in awe of what she was supposedly hearing.She said if they were really from god they would come to pass and if not they were not from him. Of course none of them came true, however none of us ever talked about that. I believe she was very, very lonely at the time. She lived in a different state. She NEEDED to hear from God so she did. This is a very interesting topic to me. 🙂

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  6. I wonder if she realized the implication of her prophecies "not" being from God Theagnosticswife? I mean, if not God, supposedly satan, right? You'd think she'd stop and think about that and realize something is not quite right.I use to believe I heard from God. Now I look back on it and realize it was my own mind helping me work through my "then" reality. I didn't hear the voice of God. I heard the voice of Zoe. And I must say, the voice of Zoe ended up being the voice of common sense. Well, most of the time. *grin* The voice often was a bit of a goof-ball a time or two. *blush*

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  7. My general sense of this is that it's all "self-talk". There isn't a single, overarching message or goal to the things people think God says to them, which makes it unlikely that they're being contacted by some sort of external intelligence.That's not to say that it can't be helpful or important, just that I'd be really cautious about attaching the weight of a Divine Mandate to anything that happened to drift into my mind.

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  8. Zoe I've wondered that myself. She never said that if they weren't true who exactly they were from then. I'm assuming she's going to give that one to Satan. Possibly then she will try to forget about them because they no longer line up with what she thought was happening. I really don't know, but I would like to know what she's going to attribute that to. Maybe one day I will ask her.

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  9. @Michael, I totally agree with that statement. It is self-talk. I think it helps people work out their frustrations. It gives them a sense of peace in what might be a very tumultuous time. I talk to myself all the time and it makes me feel better. I just know that it's only myself responding back.

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  10. You begin to realize that it is yourself when you realize that you can control what you are imagining. I used to think I was seeing God in my head, but then I realized that I could manipulate this vision to do whatever. I was talking to my own imagination. I thought I could "feel" his presence. Then I realized I could control this "feeling" and bring it about at will. It was just my mind after all.

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  11. I've watched people have manic episodes and being filled with the Spirit. Sometimes it looked the same. At first I thought that bipolar disorder was a spiritual problem, like how Jesus talks about demon possession. Later I wondered if the emotional high could be induced by circumstances.

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  12. Michael — Aye. The fact that these prayerful experiences do not introduce new information is definitely an indicator that they have an internal, rather than an external, source.Prairie Nymph — I've seen people in manic phases as well, and I'm sure that the emotional highs could be experienced by some bipolar people as cosmic.

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  13. I don't think that people who claim to hear from God necessarily suffer from some kind of psychosis, but I wouldn't rule it out either. For instance, I think Ahab is onto something with the altered state of consciousness. I also think that extreme anxiety can bring it on. When a person needs to hear from God bad enough maybe they really think they are hearing from him. There have been a few times when I thought God was speaking to me, but as I ponder back over it 1)it was never audible, 2)it was usually some scripture that seemed to speak to my circumstance, 3)they were generally reasonable thoughts. I've never been impressed upon nor audibly told any prophetic tidbits. I guess it really depends on what is meant by God "speaking" to you. In the cases where people hear an audible voice I'd question whether they were under some great stress or anxiety. If you're anything like me, my mind rarely shuts down. I think thinky thoughts all the time. I reason things out with myself. I would never presume to attribute those thinky thoughts to God.

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  14. @lostmyfaithinyou,I'm sure that went over like a lead balloon with the wife. Most of the time telling someone who might have a mental disorder that you think they have a mental disorder is dangerous territory.

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  15. Its better just to call it ignorance instead of psychosis

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  16. I'm sure that stubborness is the only psychosis you would be dealing with. And that is not psychosis per sey.

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  17. I usually don't post a third reply but I must clarify. A lot of people are just clumzy thinkers and don't fully understand how their brain works. But that I don't mean illogical. The mind is a car. Not everyone has all the needed skills to properly understand what is happening when the car starts moving. While some people will properly understand what the car is doing others will misunderstand and not stear properly. One person rightly sees that it is their own thoughts, another sees it as a message from God because they are misunderstanding the brain. One person may see something while half awake and think it is paranormal. Another will see the same thing and realize it was just a dream. Some people just understand their own brain better than others . . its not psychosis just clumzyness.

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  18. Hi,The bit about stigmata reminded me of a book I read a while ago about the phenomenon. Can't remember the title (might have just been "Stigmata") or author but there was a case where a guy had these stigmata marks- they just appeared one day, apparently- but he was basically annoyed by them. He was not a religious person.

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  19. IsToo – if you could find a reference for that, I'd be very curious about it.

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  20. @ IsToo,I'd be very interested in that as well. The whole stigmata phenomenon has my curiosity peaked. If you can dig up the book title or the author I'd be grateful.

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  21. _Fingerprints of God_ by Barbara Bradley Hagerty http://ebookee.org/Barbara-Bradley-Hagerty-Fingerprints-of-God-The-Search-for-the-Science-of-Spirituality_1118803.htmlis a really good read exploring these types of questions too. I loved the brain scan studies.

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  22. "What do you believe is happening in the minds of people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray?"I would guess that all experiences of god — and there are many kinds of experiences that have been ascribed as experiences of god — are neurologically based. I think Newberg and D'Aquili's tMRI research confirms that.The question doesn't stop there, though. It only begins with positing that such experiences are based in our neurology. For one thing, it would seem there's a need to distinguish between the various kinds of experiences of god. That's because the different kinds of experiences seem to originate in different areas of the brain. Hence, we would need more than one explanatory model to account for them.Interesting question you've asked. And a good blog.

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  23. Thanks for the link, PN.@mike,I agree with you. That's why I didn't classify all people who have heard messages from God as psychotic. Stress and anxiety are big contributors to short circuits in the brain.@Paul Sunstone,I completely agree. No matter what the experience is ascribed to I see it as essentially all in the person's head. Does that make them crazy? Not necessarily. There are all sorts of explanations for "hearing God". Because we don't know where the voice came from, we attribute it to God. More God of the gaps.Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you like it.

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  24. So far as I know, D'Ma, there are currently two lines of scientific research into this issue.The first is through evolutionary psychology and related fields. Scott Atran's, In Gods We Trust is the best book for my money in that area. As the name, "evolutionary psychology" suggests, Atran looks at how our species might have evolved notions of deity. His work is very influential.The second line of research is through neuroscience and related fields. Again, the best book for my money in that area is Andrew Newberg's and Eugene D'Aquili's, Why God Won't Go Away". That's where you get into the brain science of both religious and mystical experiences. And, like Atran, Newberg and D'Aquili have a remarkable influence on the debate.I tend to blog about this stuff quite a bit — perhaps too much.At any rate, I've been reading your wonderful blog and I've decided it's near to excellent except for one thing — it's lacking a link to it in my blogroll. So I'm going to put up that link now. That should solve the problem I think.

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  25. At any rate, I've been reading your wonderful blog and I've decided it's near to excellent except for one thing — it's lacking a link to it in my blogroll.First of all thanks for the endorsement! Secondly I've linked to you in mine as well.

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