God’s Voice or Paranoid, Delusional, Conspiratorial Thinking?

abraham

Evangelicals are fond of saying that prayer is “me talking to God and God talking to me. ” Some Evangelicals believe that God audibly talks to them, while others believe he speaks to their hearts with an inaudible, still small voice. Some Evangelicals — particularly Calvinists — believe that God speaks to them through the words of the Bible. Regardless of how God speaks to me is described or explained, Evangelicals of every stripe believe God speaks to them.

That Evangelicals believe God speaks to them should not come as a surprise to non-Evangelicals. Evangelicals believe that the third part of the Trinity — the Holy Ghost/Spirit — lives somewhere inside their mind/body. If God lives inside people, it is not too far a stretch to assume that the indwelling Holy Spirit “talks” to Evangelicals.

Consider the lyrics of the hymn, In the Garden:

I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses,
and the voice I hear falling on my ear,
the Son of God discloses.

Refrain:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of his voice
is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing.

(Refrain)

I’d stay in the garden with him
though the night around me be falling,
but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe
his voice to me is calling.

(Refrain)

Jesus Speaks to Me, a song by contemporary Christian group FFH, perhaps states it best:

Can I talk to You a while
Can I lay my weary head
On Your shoulder again
Can I rest beneath Your smile
Will You whisper to me
As I kneel beside my bed

I’ve been walkin’ in the desert
I need to hear from You

I need Your touch, I need Your love
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
I need to hold You, oh, so close
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
Oh Jesus, speak to me

It feels like I’ve walked a thousand miles
Just to see the mountaintop
To be above the clouds
But it only takes a while
Until my feet just seem to stop
And I make my way back down

I’ve been so long in the valley
I need to hear from You

I need Your touch, I need Your love
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
I need to hold You, oh, so close
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
Oh Jesus, speak to me

Feels like I’m losing my mind
Going crazy
Feels like I’m running out of time
Come and save me
Just wipe the tears from my eyes
Say it’s alright, alright

I need Your touch, I need Your love
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
I need to hold You, oh, so close
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
Oh Jesus, speak to me, yeah
Oh Jesus, speak to me

FFH opines that they are going crazy as they desperately seek to hear the voice of God. I suspect many Evangelicals have similar sentiments. I know Polly and I did.  Sadly, Evangelicals will rarely consider that perhaps the reason they are going crazy is that the voice they are seeking to hear doesn’t exist.

Evangelicals who hear the voice of God are certain that what they are hearing is from the Christian God. Attempts to challenge such assertions are almost always rejected. I know what I know, Evangelicals say. I KNOW God speaks to me! How do they KNOW for sure God speaks to them? Why, they heard his voice! Suggesting that such an argument is circular reason will also be rejected. God’s ways are not our ways, Evangelicals say. As with most discussions with Evangelicals, attempts to appeal to reason and objectivity will be turned away with statements such as, by FAITH, I believe God speaks to me. Once Evangelicals appeal to faith, there’s not much more skeptics and rationalists can say or do. Subjective metaphysical claims are beyond the realm of reason. Facts, evidence, and science don’t matter when Evangelicals appeal to faith. As the old Evangelical canard goes, God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.

hearing gods voice

Comic by Ted Rall

Recently, a woman who calls herself Bible Believer had this to say about listening to the voice of God:

We are entering the days where things are getting more and more spiritually darker. Every Christian here feels it. We are seeing massive changes even within the last few years. We have to learn to listen to God in prayer. More and more it is important to listen to God’s warnings for protection. Some time ago, I had met a new person and on my second meeting with them where I was not in a larger group of people. I had this thought flash across my mind, “This person is wicked and an insider.”  This came out of nowhere. I did listen but I proceeded with caution but still erred on the side of not taking actions sooner. My warning about this seared person are so intense, I will leave a room or other place if I ever see them in it.

I am learning to listen to warnings like that faster and more immediately. Yes as a human being, I can err but I believe we all need to be listening when God is warning us of something. This may sound odd, but I had the thought too this person had some involvement with occultism. On the surface they are in a false church, and I met them in a community context.

I found out via public information on the internet someone closely related to this person is basically a Satanist. And I am not talking teen “Goth” or “Wicca” dabbler or a few bouts of yoga or rekki [sic] but a well into adulthood HARD CORE Satanist. Think “OTO” temple one with Silver in the name and interest in esoteric “magic”, some with names I am sure no one ever heard of but I have from my younger days. And it went even further then that. Some may say it is unfair to judge a relative on what another relative is doing. And on that they would be right. Many good Christians come out of wicked families, but this specific person on a public Facebook page, drew pictures of themselves surrounded by demons. They praised their Satanic family member to me when I first met them.

I believe God is helping to protect me from future betrayals. I hope people do not think I have lost it or gone “paranoid”. I didn’t act on a lot of warnings that came early when dealing with two major betrayals. I paid for not listening sooner. With one person, who was a deceiver, I had dreams about them for a long time. I “knew inside” but was afraid to act. The dreams told me over and over they were not what they appeared to be. Here is a place where a Christian will want to go with your gut. If all your “instincts” tell you something is wrong, the message is coming from somewhere. Listen to the small voice of the Holy Spirit! I hope with time I have grown stronger. Some will tell you everything you want to hear. Some will even pretend to be Christians. Some will pretend to even be a fellow new world order aware Christians.

Bible Believer’s hearing from God is not, in any way, unique. Every day, I peruse over one hundred Evangelical blogs and websites. Rare is the day that I don’t read articles and blog posts about God speaking to the authors. Those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement are quite familiar with phrases such as: God said, God told me, and God is leading me. IFB preachers can easily justify almost anything by speaking these magic words: God spoke to my heart and told me to do ____________. During my preaching days, I often told congregants that God told me that the church needed to do _________________. Believing I was the man of God — one chosen by God to lead the church — churches members believed God and I were on a first name basis.

Of course, God and I weren’t BFF. The “voice” I heard in my “heart” was my own. God’s will always lined up with my own wants, needs, and desires. I wish Evangelical preachers would be honest with congregants, telling them that what they want to do is premised on their wants and not the voice of God.

god in mind

If God really does speak to Evangelicals, why do Christians have conflicting ideas about what God had said? I have participated in countless church business meetings, meetings that were always “bathed” in prayer, with members seeking to hear the voice of God. The goal, of course, was to gather up a majority of yes votes so the preacher’s wants/needs/desires could be fulfilled. Most business meetings are little more than rubber-stamp approvals of whatever tickles pastors’ fancies. Every once in a while, a congregant or two will “hear” a different voice and object to the topic under discussion. What are we to make of such contrary views? Surely, if all Evangelicals have the same Holy Spirit living inside of them, shouldn’t they — as the early church did — be of one mind? Despite all the praying and seeking to hear the voice of God, church business is decided by good old fashioned American majority rules.

Most Evangelicals who have conversations with God are good people. We humans are prone to irrationality, and in the case of people hearing God’s voice, this irrationality is on a massive scale. Where this becomes a problem is when hearing God’s voice causes people to harm to themselves or other people. Countless people have been murdered by Christians who believed that God was telling them to commit homicide. The Bible recounts the story of God telling Abraham to murder his son Isaac. While God was just “testing” Abraham, is there any doubt that the father of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam would have slit his son’s throat had God not intervened? This story is preached as a great example of faith — obediently doing whatever God commands. Why then, should the stories of modern-day Abrahams be discounted or rejected out of hand?

The answer, of course, is that such behavior is a sign of mental illness. Evangelicals who believe God is speaking to them and saying that they should harm or kill other people are mentally disturbed. While I am not suggesting that every Evangelical has a screw loose, many of them do, especially those who are sucked into depths of paranoid, delusional, and conspiratorial thinking. (Perhaps, this is a chicken/egg issue. Do people become mentally ill as a result of Evangelical teachings or are people who are already mentally ill attracted to Evangelical churches?) Most of the Sounds of Fundamentalism videos I have posted are good examples of Evangelical psychological instability.

I am sure Evangelicals will gnash their teeth and wail over the claim that “hearing the voice of God” is often a sign of mental illness. I suggest that such gnashers and wailers attempt to see how this looks from the outside. In any other setting someone hearing voices would be a cause for concern. Numerous mental health problems can give rise to hearing voices in one’s head. Why should voice-hearing Evangelicals be given a pass when it comes to their mental acuity? Does the fact that someone is religious exempt them from normal standards of psychological fitness? I think not.

Nothing I have written in this post will change the minds of people who are convinced that God is their best friend, one who frequently “talks” to them. All we can do is make sure such irrational beliefs don’t harm others. Behind much of the political machinations of the Republican Party are Evangelicals who believe God is telling them to oppose abortion, same-sex marriage, and gun restrictions. God is also telling them to build a wall on our border with Mexico, stop transgenders from using wrong restrooms, and, most of all, take back America. What’s next? Arresting and incarcerating atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, along with anyone else that opposes the establishment of a Christian theocracy? Perhaps it is time to put Prozac in Bible Belt water supplies.

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7 Comments

  1. Matilda

    I’m sure lots of us have funny stories about ‘hearing god’s voice’ – like the guy who was bored at a bible conference and tried to sneak out on Wednesday lunchtime. He said the holy spirit had told him to go shopping. ‘That’s strange’ said the conference speaker, ‘doesn’t the holy spirit know it’s half-day closing for all the local shops on Wednesday afternoons?’

    Reply
  2. Melody

    God didn’t speak to me that often but when he did I really needed it. It was usually about me getting really worked up about something and finally after more or less a panic attack, God’s voice would calm me down. Funnily enough I can still do that and don’t call it God anymore. But at the time, it was a sign that God cared about me and loved me. And I needed that: some sort of (semi)tangible sign that God cared because life was hard sometimes.

    This is precisely what I like and dislike most about not believing anymore: on the one hand I can miss a strong being that cares about me and has the controls, otherwise I’m just lost in a vast universe. The flip side on the other hand is that I sometimes realize that all these things that God did for me….that was ME all along. Me, myself: God didn’t finish my studies, I did! God didn’t give me courage for whatever, I did etc. etc. It’s is very empowering to say the least 😀

    Reply
  3. Daniel

    One time, just out of curiosity, I thought “hey, I’m going to try to make myself go crazy” to test my belief that “god talk was all in the brain.” It was the weirdest thing. It seemed like I was starting to go crazy and what I did took only about 20 seconds (I pretended in my mind that I was in fact crazy), so I stopped, but for about 5 seconds, I couldn’t stop the feeling that I was actually crazy. I started to panic because I couldn’t bring myself out of it, and there was sort of an inaudible snapping “sound” and I instantly went back to feeling normal. Of course, maybe I’m crazy because it was a crazy thing to do, LOL.

    It was so scary, that I’m afraid to try it again if I might not snap out of it.

    It is true, but if you don’t believe me, assume it is true. If it actually happened like I say it did, what would be some possible theories of why it happened?

    By the way, this is also the way I “rebut” (for myself) the Book of Mormon test for its truth. Instead of having a sincere heart, I tried thinking of the nastiest things a person would do while trying to get the “feelings of the spirit” that I had when I was a Mormon (the Spirit is supposed to be the one “answering” the test). The feelings of the spirit weren’t audible or specific thoughts coming to me when I was a Mormon, but it was an actual feeling like being very happy or how I feel when I see my wife and think how much I love and appreciate her. It was weird.

    A few days before I said to myself, “I might as well admit it, the Mormon church is not true,” I tried to actually duplicate the feelings of the spirit by thinking of all kinds of nasty, evil, and dastardly things, and at the same time I could, at will, make myself feel those same “feelings of the spirit.” To me, that proved to my personal satisfaction that the feelings of the spirit are all in the mind. Of all of the experiences in the Mormon church, those feelings were what I had the most difficulty overcoming, until I tried my own “test” for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

    Reply
    1. Melody

      I did this kind of testing too. In the last days of my faith, or perhaps the first of my unbelief, I prayed for outrageously big things to happen. Because Jesus promises huge things, and before I hadn’t really prayed like that. I had ‘gone easy’ on him you might say. Only praying for things that were likely enough to happen, only praying for things that chance and luck could achieve anyway.

      But now I really wanted to know if he existed and if God was there after all. I wanted actual proof and so I prayed for impossible things to happen, like wars to stop and things like that, and even though I knew it wouldn’t happen, I still followed the news closely that day, half hoping that it would. It didn’t which I had anticipated but which still hurt. The ordinary christian responses didn’t help anymore (such as God’s plans are higher than ours, or who are you to command God etc) I just knew that it wasn’t true and that I had believed in a God that wasn’t there for all my life untill that moment.

      Reply
  4. Karen the rock whisperer

    Never heard the voice of God. It wasn’t for lack of chatting him up, either. I was a prayerful kid. I felt I had to remind God daily to take care of all the people close to me, and beg his forgiveness for tiny sins I might have committed (like thinking unkind thoughts about people, or telling white lies). (Now I consider it a much greater sin for an adult to have asked me, “does this dress make me look fat?” There is only one right answer, regardless of the truth.)

    I don’t recall asking for much guidance in my life, though. I was raised in a pretty authoritarian household, and there were lots of rules to provide guidance. I attended Catholic schools, and there were more rules there. I quickly figured out the rules, and felt horribly guilty for breaking any of them (at least, until I got to be a teenager and began to think anti-authoritarian thoughts).

    And yet, and yet… life got very dark for awhile as an adult, as I suffered from clinical depression and chronic asthma, and my marriage got difficult. God never helped. Never guided me toward the health services that would help me deal with both mental and physical illness. It wasn’t for lack of asking. I had to figure it all out myself, with family members as naysayers. As i recovered, it seemed obvious that if any kind of reasonable deity had been there, he/she/it would have helped. Ergo, Marcus Aurelius is right:

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

    Reply
  5. Oldbroad1

    Love that last paragraph, Karen and glad you are in a better place now.

    I can honestly say I never heard god speak to me, even tho I prayed hard. What I find interesting is that I still “pray” to god when trying to find answers to questions I have; that act seems to order and focus my thoughts away from strong emotions, that can screw my judgment and subsequent actions. I try hard, anyway………

    One of the funniest things I have heard from southern fried evangelicals is “God laid it on my heart to _________________” Jeebus, lady (always a female says this), WTH did god lay there? An egg? A turd?

    Reply
  6. Lynn123

    Christians are told that God speaks to them–so it then happens. It’s the power of suggestion. It’s the pressure to conform to the group.

    Reply

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