February 10, 2009
As an ex Christian, allow me to explain the concept of hearing “The voice of God”.
We often hear people say “God warned me and I did not listen” or “God told me she was a good person” or even “God told me to stay away from that place”. There are countless examples of people claiming to “hear” God speak. However, upon investigation one might ask them the simple question: “What does God’s voice sound like?” resulting in a puzzled look from the person claiming to hear God speak. For all the non-believers out there, allow me to try and provide some more insight. Christians do not “hear” the voice of God, they feel it. Sure, some may claim to hear an audible voice, but, as any good pastor will tell you, this is a bonus and not the expectation. Of course, there are many people in mental institutions who claim to hear audible voices and so the fact remains that hearing an audible voice does not mean it came from any god. For most Christians though, God speaks with a “feeling”. There is a saying: “The soft still voice of the Holy Spirit that screams at you”. You most often hear Christians say things like “I feel God is saying…”
As a former Christian, I still “hear” the “Voice of God”. I have however discovered its real name. It is called gut feel. There is no difference. Sure, some people would claim there is a difference, but one needs to consider their motives, their beliefs and their investment in the belief that they are privileged enough to hear God speak. My gut feel and my previous experience of “The Voice Of God (TM)” is the same thing, just different names. People sometimes experience a gut feel, about a person, a place, a situation, an idea and many other things. In the same way Christians live with the belief that God speaks to them by a “feeling”, about persons, places, situations ideas and many other things. This “voice in the back of your head” is also often called the subconscious.
Considering this situation one needs to look at the implications of this. Atheists experience “gut feel”, but they are not ruled by it. It may act as an initial assumption until the situation can be assessed in greater detail. Do not judge a book by its cover, but if the cover is horrendous, the gut feel might just tell you that a horrendous book may be expected. Yet, this is not always so. Many times we judge an initial situation, realise our error and change our perceptions about it. This is a good thing. The problem arises when a gut feel is idolised as the Voice of the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth (TM). Disobeying the Voice of God is a sin. It is therefore a sin to question a gut feel. In all fairness, Christians will tell you that you need to judge the “Voice of God” that you hear against the Bible, just to make sure. The claim is that the “Voice of God” will never violate Biblical principles. Should the voice you hear/feel violate some part of the Bible, it is automatically assumed that it is an evil spirit tempting the person or just the person making stuff up. In plain words, if you hear “God’s Voice”, and it sounds in line with the teachings of the Bible, then it is the Voice of God (TM). If the voice is not in accordance with the Bible, it is an evil, lying spirit and should be rebuked, then ignored.
Major mayhem sometimes breaks out when Christians hear the Voice of God differently. “God told me he will live” vs. “God told me his time is up”. On a large scale new denominations can form because of the conflict regarding God’s plan and what people hear/feel it is. This is an even bigger problem with fuzzy areas in Biblical doctrine, because some people “hear” God say A, and another bunch is convinced God says B. It is an unfortunate fact that the Side A people will often tell the Side B people that they are deceived by a lying spirit, and vice versa. Take baptism for instance. Millions of Christians are sure God says they should baptise children while millions more feel God is saying it should only be adults. When God told George Bush to invade Iraq, one no longer has to wonder about the source. Let’s face it. Millions of other Christians were convinced he was wrong and heard God in a different way, altogether.
Is this perhaps one of religion’s most dangerous sides? In a world where people worship their gut feel as God, a God that commands all obedience, the danger of enforcing one’s gut feel on other people is enormous. Christians often walk up to people because “God told me to minister to that person”. This is annoying and not dangerous, but when people think God commanded them to invade other countries, it really does become a major problem. Why? Because people die. Soldiers die, woman die, children die and many that does not die suffers in horrible ways. The crusades were full of people that “heard” God tell them to go on a crusade and kill unbelievers. In fact, obeying the gut feel, or, the Voice of God, is encouraged as part of the “personal” relationship with God. This is ironic, because it might just be a “personal” relationship with your gut feel, coupled with your desires and some indoctrination. Reasoning with emotion is a futile enterprise and a gut feel may very well be an emotional response. Thus, what some people think they “hear” God say can be a very real threat to other people and as history has taught us, it has been the cause of much suffering and carnage.
If you think you “feel” or hear god speak to you then I would encourage you not to blindly follow the “voice”. For one, you do not possess magical powers that allow you special communication with god that other people do not have. Please don’t ever forget this.
I should also point out that many preachers exploit the gut feel concept. Preaching on how God wants you to give money to the church or ministry and then asking you to listen to the voice of god, listen if it tells you to make a contribution. Now, people generally want to do good things and if they are convinced that giving god some of their money is a good thing and a desire of god, then they will act on it. The gut feel to give is an emotional response to the pleas/threats of the pastor/priest. If people can be convinced that the emotional response, the “gut feel” is the voice of God then they will act the way the sermon preacher manipulated them.