“I came into this project wanting to understand the question: How are rational, sensible, educated people able to sustain faith in an invisible being in an environment of skepticism?”
Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist spent about four years studying the rituals of evangelicals and came to the conclusion that prayer teaches them to hear the voice of God, presumably the Christian version of the supreme being. Luhrmann went on to write a book about it – When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.
The obvious but crass reaction of many cynics and non-believers would be to retort that those who hear voices in their head are crazy or schizophrenic. Indeed in an essay on this story in The Week, one commenter observed “When you talk to your deity, you’re religious. When it talks to you, you’re a crazy sumbitch.”
Luhrmann on the other hand contends there’s more going on with evangelicals than we care to acknowledge. She believes they hear voices which they conclude is that of God for good reasons; the presumption yet again is that there is only one such being. However, while she went to great lengths to observe the evangelical behaviour and explain HOW these adherents come to believe that they’re talking to God, she does not attempt to explain WHY it happens. To be fair, as an anthropologist, perhaps it’s beyond her level of understanding; rationalizing an observation was all she was left with.
I would therefore like to indulge Luhrmann and other believers for a bit. Let’s suspend all credulity, and accept that a God does indeed talk to evangelicals, or anyone else for that matter, who from her observations at least, satisfy the following criteria:
- God only talks to those who believe and accept without question that a God exists,
- Adherents willingly want to “have a relationship” with said God, and
- Adherents are both willing and able to participate in a ritual such as prayer, which presumably makes it possible for them to “open a communication channel” with said God.
Having satisfied the criteria, what does an adherent talk to God about, and exactly what does God reveal? According to Luhrmann:
Members told her about having coffee with God, seeing angel wings, and getting God’s advice on everything from job choice to what shampoo to buy.
Nothing of major significance or importance it seems; nothing world-changing. But that’s quite revealing actually. It seems that ordinary people talk to God about mundane things; things that don’t contribute a whole deal to the future of the planet, indeed the world.
If a supernatural entity does exist, and is talking to people, it would imply that other things we’re normally skeptical about, should also be possible. [Lest you’ve forgotten, we’ve suspended credulity].
Wouldn’t the secrets to solve both our constantly increasing energy requirements and global warming, be the most fundamentally essential revelation to mankind? Wouldn’t the solution of these issues lead to resolving poverty and other social problems? Off course there may be more pressing needs of which I am not thinking about right now.
So, in a world with a God, without doubt perpetual motion should also be possible. And a substance should exist which when diluted in water, be able to cure all diseases and render homeopathy all-powerful, right? So why hasn’t God revealed how to build that perpetual-motion machine and create the wonder homeopathic cure?
Either God doesn’t know, or the people he’s revealed such important information to, are keeping mum. Or, we need the people who can make the greatest impact to saving the world, such as scientists, to learn how to talk to God. Because they’re indubitably wasting valuable resources and money carrying out useless experiments in underground particle colliders and outer space.
Clearly then, the wrong people are talking to God. The planet’s going to hell in a handbasket at a dizzying pace. Surely those capable of talking to God should be asking Him how to sort out the mess we’re in. You have to question why we’re being made to suffer if divine information can make a difference to the way the world is unraveling.
But nada! Does God talk to us just so that we can feed his vanity? Is God then just “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully,” as Dawkins so eloquently pointed out in The God Delusion?
Isn’t it a much simpler and more reasonable explanation that any conversation with a God is one-way traffic…
Another great article, Lenny!
Thanks Rebecca, appreciated.