God Spoke to Me: Why is this Good?

Going through Google, I have identified the following unique cases from the first five pages of results returned:

“God told me to kill” -
1999, 2000 2003 2004 2004 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2009

On the other hand, “Satan told me to kill” -
2001 2007 2008 2008 2008 2008 2009

12 - 7 with God in the lead, and I’ll note that Satanic Cults in Russia sounds pretty likely to be made up, so I’d really put it at 12 - 6.

But so in either case you’ll notice that schizophrenia is a word that pops up fairly regularly in these articles. Schizophrenia has an epidemiology of about 0.55%.

We also know that at least 99% of people do not naturally feel any sort of naturally occurring “spiritual oneness”. People who are raised in religion or out of religion, 99% of the time, go with the flow of the culture that they were brought up in. So, say 1% of people actually feel that they feel something spiritual. But so what percentage of people have such a minor case of schizophrenia that it doesn’t really affect their day to day life (i.e. would go entirely undiagnosed) beyond feelings of being touched or the vague sense of being talked to? I would say that it’s a given that there is going to be a sliding scale of levels of schizophrenia and you would generally expect that only a minority would have the most extreme kind, a larger percent medium strength, an even larger percent low strength, and so on. The idea that 1% of everyone has a level of schizophrenia too mild to diagnose by today’s standard when 0.55% are diagnosed strikes me as being fairly possible.

And of course it’s shown that schizophrenia can manifest itself as the word of God, Satan, Buddha and others.

And then of course there’s the God Helmet, the God Gene (which improperly regulates body chemistry such as dopamine), and then of course sometimes people just want to believe stuff and use attribute any vague feeling they had to some cosmic force.

In a world like this, how is one to separate between these and true religious experiences? I think everybody would agree that the murderers linked to above were simply insane, but how can you trust your own experience knowing that your own brain could just as easily have been as wacked out as that? Why, in a world where it can be shown that hearing the voice of God can perfectly equate to smashing your own child’s head in with a rock, would anyone trust their personal experience over what can be demonstrated rationally to impartial observers?

Because they’ve been taught to do so. If I were to hear a voice claiming to be God, assuming I was otherwise rational my reaction would be to go to a doctor; not to obey it. On the other hand, someone raised to think that it’s reasonable for Mary to appear as a salt stain on a wall is quite likely to take such a voice at face value. We have a widespread culture of credulity when it comes to religion; people are trained to be gullible.

Epilepsy can also cause religious delusions, that is a possible cause of the religious experiences of Moses and Mohammed. Both were epileptic.

As far as ‘why it is good’, it is cultural. We are a culture that values (a particular branch of a particular branch of a particular branch of) religion for better or worse. Plus a good deal of the time when ‘god speaks to people’ he is basically just telling to act in a more right wing authoritarian fashion. ie, god is telling people who are prejudiced and afraid to be even more prejudiced and afraid. Also keep in mind that some of the core tenets of western Christianity are themselves pretty easy to falsify. Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of Adam and Eve. However evolution has proven there was no creationism, and no Adam and Eve. So the entire faith is based on something extremely easy to falsify (the concept of original sin, since creationism is a myth). I remember Sam Harris had some interesting comparisons to make on the issue of ‘god talked to me’.

Why doesn’t Ahura Mazda tell anyone to kill?

Broad brush you’re waving there, fella. We’ve talked about in in other threads, and a lot of believers would assume themselves mentally ill before they believed that it was actually God speaking to them; most of us don’t expect God to drop by for a chat these days.

I don’t think “we’ve” established that as a fact.

See Notes on Abraham Maslow – especially the comments on Peak Experiences.

Which is why I specifically referred to the sort of believer who thinks images of Mary show up in salt stains. The sort of believer who thinks miracles happen, and in a silly way too. It’s not a broad brush at all.

I find the god helmet fascinating … did you notice that on the god helmet wiki page there is a link to a site that shows you how to make your own god helmet?

Anybody get the urge to make one to play with?

When I hear someone say “God spoke to me” I always assume they mean they had an epiphany or some kind of emotional catharsis, leading to a revelation.

I never even entertain the possibility that what they really mean is that they heard some non-corporeal entity talking to them.

I think that’s what most people mean when they say God ‘spoke’ to them.

Funniest use of the phrase “of course” I’ve ever seen. The Wikipedia page, in a rare instance of Wikipedia being right, mentions that the “god gene” has been debunked. (Were you hoping that no one would bother reading the page?) As for the god helmet, it’s been put to the test and, heck, let’s just quote the abstract:

So yet another cherished atheist myth bites the dust.

Yeah, you can get pretty impressive results when you make numbers up, can’t you?

I would trust my own experience because I have no choice. I am a unique conscious being with five senses that are, metaphorically, windows through which information about the outside world can enter my consciousness. I either must be willing to trust some of the information that comes through those windows or else be a total metaphysical skeptic and solopsist.

As for why I believe in the reality of the religious experience, your original post is a good enough reason. Your entire case against the reality of religious experiences rests on a small helping of anecdotal evidence and an even smaller helping of junk science that was debunked years ago. In other words, there’s no respectable evidence in favor of religious experiences being linked to insanity. Further, evidence shows that people who are intrinsically religious (i.e. practice religion focused on personal experience) are in better mental health than others. From McNamara’s Where God and Science Meet:

I have always wondered why people listen to voices. If “god” told me to kill someone, I would tell the voice to fuck off

It’s because in such cases something is also wrong with their judgement, not just with their perceptions. There are many people who hear voices and see things that aren’t there, but who simply ignore them ( or look at them as “free entertainment” to quote one guy ). Such people seldom bring up the fact because they don’t want other people to think them crazy.

Just look at the effects hallucinogens can have, with people treating hallucinations as real even though they know exactly where they come from. That’s because the drug is not just making them see things, but making them believe things; just like someone with a voice that compels them to do something.

Or, because they have convinced themselves that the drug is letting them access higher consciousness or some such, so they refuse to use what judgement they have; just like someone who hears a voice and assumes it must be God.

Which if true, still doesn’t mean that religious experiences are what they are interpreted to be. Experiences happen, no doubt. But if you want to claim that god or whatever was involved then you’re going to need more evidence than ‘Well we’re not insane’.

In sentence 1, the goalpost is at “I would trust my own experience because I have no choice.” In sentence 3, the goalpost is at “[I must] be willing to trust some of the information that comes through those windows”. Emphasis mine.

We all agree that you have to trust some of your experiences. However, we also all agree that when we watch a magic show, we don’t have to believe it’s really happening as it appears. We all agree that not all dreams we have while sleeping are portals to actual alternate realities. We all agree about this.

Except when you’re talking about your religious-type experiences. Then the goalpost is at sentence 1, and you have no choice but to believe the dreams and trust that the magic is real.

The problem is that it just keeps talking and talking and talking until you follow through.

Given how God treated Job, Abraham and Isaac, the children who mocked Elisha, Lot’s whole family, the entire Egyptian nation, and pretty much any and all women and non-Israelites, I think it is safe to say that if God were going to talk to someone, it would likely be of killing and rapine. Seems to be one of his main themes, actually.


I think they make pills for this.

The voice tells me not to take the pills. If I do, I might discover that I only exist in my own dream and wake up.


I think they make large friendly men in white coats carrying hug-yourself jackets for this.

When I hear it, I tighten my grip on my wallet and quicken my pace.

The children of atheists grow up to be atheists. That would indicate that if religious experiences are fairly common, it’s not naturally so. Either people are trained to be able to experience their family’s deities of choice, or they’re trained to interpret certain feelings as being religious where someone who hadn’t had that training would simply go, “Oh yeah, that good feeling is because I was thinking about my loved ones.”

Without any reason to find the former plausible or the latter implausible, it seems best to presume the latter.

And look at, for instance, New Agers. You can bet that the people who died at that sweat lodge were “feeling the toxins leave their body” right up to the point they died. Our entire ability to perceive our world, our body, and what we’re seeing around us is all just interpretations made by our brain. Most of us let our brain do its own thing, but you can train yourself to be able to slow your own heart or to ignore pain, you can see notes as colors in the air; there’s no limit to what a person can perceive as real given the right circumstances. Eventually we’ll be able to project images and sensations directly into our nervous system via outside, mechanical sources. There’s no reason to think that we can’t already do that to ourselves via conscious or subconscious choice to at least some extent, especially if we are told as children–when we have the strength of imagination to see ourselves in fantasy scenarios–to accept that irrational experiences are just as real as anything else and so carry it on to our adult selves.

It’s not a hidden secret that the brain can envision wacky stuff as reality. What that actual percentage is isn’t terribly relevant. If it’s higher, does that really argue for accepting the reality of it? Or does it simply show how easy it is for our wires to get messed up?

Take for example glossolalia, as part of a person’s religious experience they spout gibberish. This gibberish just happens to be a random mix of the most prevalent sounds in that person’s native language, with the occasional foreign word thrown in. I saw a hypnotist once, and he told the people who came up on stage to talk in the language of Martians. One guy who knew some French ended up throwing a few words of French into his babble of gibberish. People who have been hypnotized will sometimes report having actually sensed and seen the things that they were told to experience. That people can self-hypnotize is also true.

There’s any amount of evidence that we are the slaves of a susceptible brain. Without any further evidence than the perceptions of people who were 99% of the time trained to a belief, what sort of practical significance should this hold given that everything else we know about religion just crumbles through the cracks. Archaeological evidence shows that the Christian god started out as a minor storm god in a pantheon of deities like the Roman, Viking, or Greek mythologies. You can trace his ascendancy and the rewriting of history to show him as being the one and only. Sikhs who practice yoga report themselves to be able to hover, but admit that an outsider wouldn’t be able to see it unless the viewer “believed”. We’re currently in the process of watching Scientology go from something clearly crafted by a science fiction writer to being believed as reality, and for people to report mystical experiences when “audited”.

There’s really no lack of evidence that we’re seeing anything more than people doing wacky stuff based on popular fictions. And knowing that, and knowing the sorts of things that people use their religion to enable themselves to do, what would possibly cause a person to hear the voice of God and start cheering rather than go, “Oh shit.”?

Well, I saw what you did there. :wink: