When God Talks Back

Monday, April 02, 2012

T. M. Luhrmann, psychological anthropologist and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University and author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, talks about her book on the science of how evangelicals experience a relationship with God in the brain, and why some connect more through prayer than others.


T. M. Luhrmann

Comments [34]

Yvonne from Park Slope

Yvonne Part 3

ADDENDUM TO PRIOR COMMENTS: Sorry to have such belated reactions but, when I remember, I am not near my computer.

Recent new items reflecting ongoing increasing awareness that placebo interventions are surprisingly effective beyond what one would expect by chance is another mind-over matter example of the power of thought.

Apr. 21 2012 11:35 PM
Arden Down from New York

What a waste of a topic yesterday! It upset me that only one caller felt free to call in. And, why would anyone call in when the Kurt Anderson stateed that he is an atheist and enlisted the book author to join him in ridiculing those who say that they hear God. I am an agnotist, but was really interested in hearing the voices of people I hoped would call it speaking of their experiences and of how they learn to hear God.

Apr. 03 2012 11:21 AM
Ed from Larchmont

What is the voice of God like? It's just as Elijah said, it's like a gentle breeze.

Apr. 03 2012 05:56 AM
Steve from Rockaway, NJ

I wonder if anyone's experienced God admonishing them or telling them they're miserable people. Why didn't he speak to the person who blew him/herself up and tell them they were doing something unspeakable? Does he ever have anything of value to impart? Does He give advice; tell the Timothy McVeigh's of the world that they're wrong? Maybe He should; this might be a better world.

Apr. 02 2012 01:24 PM
Yvonne from Park Slope

Yvonne Part 2

ADDENDUM TO PRIOR COMMENT: I forgot to say my most important thing which is that it seems to not make any difference what the vehicle is; it is the power of thought that is the thing.

Apr. 02 2012 12:52 PM
Ed from Larchmont

I'm reading 'The Unintended Reformation' by Brad Gregory, which I recommend to anyone. He suggests that after the Reformers left the Catholic Church, and decided that the problem was doctrine, they had another problem: what was the ground of truth? They decided on the Bible-only.

At the same time the modern philosophical tradition began and tried to ground truth in 'Reason alone'.

And both projects, the Bible alone, and reason alone, have pretty much failed in arriving at commonly accepted truths. Interesting that they have so much in common.

Apr. 02 2012 12:47 PM
Yvonne from Park Slope

As a NYC Catholic raised (Catholic kindergarten, Catholic elementary school and Catholic high school) ATHEIST with Buddhist leanings, I have had similar experiences while meditating which I attributed to "thought" and "insight".

I have spoken to people who work with crystals and tarot who have had similar experiences and what all seem to have in common is accessing positive, insightful thought through a vehicle - prayer, meditation, crystals, tarot - which all seem to work in the same way if approached in the in the same quiet, open and patient way ... which is not, of course, always what people do.

We can be open to receiving out own thought but, also, we can send it out in a purposeful way.

The 10 year old boy who successfully made a medically documented brain tumor disappear with an extended period of visualization aimed at destroying the tumor and who I saw interviewed on TV many years ago is an example of this. I remember reading a New York Times front page article a few years ago of an atheist medical doctor who began "praying" in his own way for his patients after a controlled study seemed to show that patients who were prayed for had better outcomes even when neither the patients nor any of the health care staff knew. I remember hearing several years back on public radio that the crime rate went down in the area around a specific group who were chanting for peace in proportion to the number of people chanting and the duration of the chanting.

The Buddhist Dhammapada opens with a first verse translated in many slightly different ways but which says "we are what we think ... all that we are arises with our thoughts ... with our thought we make the world ... our life is the creation of our mind ... preceded by mind are phenomena, led by mind, formed by mind ..."

Even Genesis begins "in the beginning was the word (thought???)!

This is fascinating stuff!!

Now if all your WNYC listeners can all together, at a pre-arranged time, think "Yvone's next lotto ticket will win" ... only kidding.

Apr. 02 2012 12:38 PM
ELLEN from Yonkers

The experience of communicating with God described in the interview is not confined to Evangelical Christians. The Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, has well developed this aspect of prayer within the Roman Catholic tradition. Ignatius describes both contemplation and meditation and guidelines for discernment in the Spiritual Exercises. Want to learn more? Ask a Jesuit!

Apr. 02 2012 12:30 PM
art525 from Park Slope

My parents never took me to church as a kid. I guess I am nominally a Christian (we went once to a Lutheran church and once to a Unitarian) but I really only know the most basic stuff about the religion. I don't have a dog in this fight but I always find it amazing that so many people can be so completely dismissive of someone else's beliefs. Richard Dawkins for example talks with such authority about how god doesn't exist. Christopher Hitchens was equally self certain. It strikes me as just as narrow minded as close minded that the worst sort of religious zealots. I think they have much in common. We don't know. We have no more basis to confidentally say these things don't exist than they do to say they do. ANd tht is the beauty of it. The unknowable. I have had the next sentence that someone is going to say pop into my head before they actually say it so I think there are some inexplicable things out there. And they should not be judged or dismissed. You don't have to embrace them just acknowledge the possiblity. ANd Kurt you were doing so well until she said something about people thinking it's nutty and your immediate agreement. Let's just keep an open mind shall we? OK I know that's a crazy idea. Silly me.

Apr. 02 2012 11:52 AM

Michael from Brooklyn from Clinton Hill -


Apr. 02 2012 11:46 AM
FranciL from NYC

Sometimes I'll look up at the sky and a gorgeous shade of blue will bring tears to my eyes. To me, that's God speaking to me.
Same thing with a piece of music that's so lovely I just believe it was inspired by God.

Apr. 02 2012 11:46 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I'm so happy that God talks to Evangelical Christians, most of whom are staunch supporters of Israel, because I think He's been giving us Jews the silent treatment for the last few thousand years :) Did we do something bad, say to his Son or whatever? Anyhow, many Jews pray all day to God, but I have as yet to hear one say "God talked to me yesterday and told me what to do."

Apr. 02 2012 11:46 AM
bob from flushing

Someone should be doing imaging of the brains of people who claim they hear God speaking to them. I expect some common pathology will be discovered.

Apr. 02 2012 11:46 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's hard to be a Christian or a believer. But those without faith are also threatened by faith (see Joseph Ratzinger, 'Introduction to Christianity').

Apr. 02 2012 11:46 AM

Did she study psychics and mediums? Or what about people who feel a particularly strong intuition?

Apr. 02 2012 11:45 AM

I believe that what the Bible says is true (real in history). In the Bible, it says that God spoke to ... Moses, king David, Saul (turned Paul)and many many others. I believe in God, I love God, and I talk to God every day and throughout the day. However, I have never heard God talk back to me. I do not really expect Him to do so. I have faith that He hears me and that is enough for me.

Apr. 02 2012 11:45 AM

Ummmm... how does this contrast with classic cult indoctrination/behavior??


Apr. 02 2012 11:44 AM

Julian Jaynes wrote about this experience (and similar others) in his book, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind."

Apr. 02 2012 11:44 AM
William from Manhattan

Strange, interesting segment. The modern experiences your guest describes among modern evangelicals seem quite different from those reported by prophets in ancient times. The ancient prophets don't seem so happy about god talking to them - it's more a curse than a blessing. So perhaps we're talking about a variety of experiences, rather than a single form of experience.

Apr. 02 2012 11:43 AM
Michael from Brooklyn from Clinton Hill

I am curious to know how why this should not just be considered brainwashing. Growing up in Pentecostal churches, from my observation it seemed to me that people acted out what was expected from them as a result of being part of the group (peer pressure). I am now a strong non-believer seeing that I could never find sustainability in the connection to "God".

Apr. 02 2012 11:43 AM
Will from Ask Carl Jung

I have experienced a type of "God" through art or music, writing, etc.
--it has been as my connection to the Collective Unconscious, or 'The Muse'.

The Marker is, it's usually an idea that comes out of nowhere that is very distinctly different than my type of thinking.

-As if someone else put the idea there.

Also had the Duende-type experience, and the "Angel on your shoulder"-thing 1 or 2x.

Apr. 02 2012 11:42 AM
JMD from NY

I speak to god. He usually calls me collect.

Apr. 02 2012 11:42 AM
John A.

Got your back on that one. Not to say that Democrats are uncorruptible.
But agreed.

Apr. 02 2012 11:41 AM

Oh, boy!

Apr. 02 2012 11:41 AM
Nick from UWS

What makes this conversation absurd is discussing people talking to "God" as if it's a given that "God" exists in the first place. The Church teaches them which voice is "God's" and which is your own, eh? It's just unbelievable that WNYC would stoop to having this ridiculous discussion. People who hear voices telling them what they want to hear are not "talking to God", they are just disassociating. They might need medication. Why are we living among so many psychotics?

Apr. 02 2012 11:40 AM
Fleming Rutledge from Rye Brook NY

I am an evangelical and it is very distressing to hear that after four years with evangelicals your guest affirms that evangelicals believe the Bible "literally." Did she never hear anyone outside a very limited circle testify to the wide range of evangelical believers who are scholarly, questioning, probing, and engaged with the culture in sophisticated ways.
I see this presentation as a lowest-common-denominator caricature, in spite of your guest's four-year experience.

I have been complaining to Brian about this for years with no results!
The Rev. Fleming Rutledge

Apr. 02 2012 11:40 AM
Emmet Foxy from Bronxville, NY

Yes it would be wonderful to hear him - and I also believe it is an opportunity for him to address many subjects which are not understood

Apr. 02 2012 11:40 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Or, for example, Saint Joan did what she did at the direction of God.

Apr. 02 2012 11:39 AM
Alex A from Staten Island, New York

We're adults, not children. You would think that we could handle objective, scientific perspectives on the neurological phenomena of faith. It's called science, and reality isn't biased.

Apr. 02 2012 11:38 AM
Johnnjersey from NJ

Sure God speaks to me. He told me not to vote Republican since they are all twisting the teachings of Christ for their own purposes.

Apr. 02 2012 11:37 AM
John A.

When I have an inspired thought, one to be proud of, I will practice humility and give thanks outside myself for it. To use the name of God in that case seems just a formality.

Apr. 02 2012 11:37 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Her research is impressive. God does speak to us, usually in our heart. But it's often our guardian angel. For Catholics, God speaks to us through his Church, 'He who hears you, hears me', so it's not up for debate or uncertainty. But there are special cases (mystics) who do speak with God (cf God spoke to Moses in the Old Testament). It's not your imagination, but simple listening.

Apr. 02 2012 11:37 AM
John A.

Yes, I would like to hear word that Dolan has indeed been invited.

Apr. 02 2012 10:06 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Brain Lehrer advertised this series of interviews as 'being in honor or Passover and Holy Week'. So far he's interviewed Sam Harris, an enemy of God and religion, and now he's not interviewing an Evangelical Christian but a scientist who will no doubt explain religious experience as caused by physical processes (and not the other way around). And one wonders why some claim bias.

Why not invite Cardinal Dolan on the program?

Apr. 02 2012 06:13 AM

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