The Voice Of God


Some people hear the voice of god
Whenever thunder booms—
(They might have missed a science class,
One cautiously presumes.)
A summer storm impresses them,
And leaves them filled with wonder—
They hear the mighty voice of god…
I only hear the thunder.

Some people hear the voice of god
In mighty crashing waves
The action of the wind and tide
Is how a god behaves;
The voice they hear is measure of
The strength of their devotion—
They hear the mighty voice of god…
I only hear the ocean.

Some people hear the voice of god
As words inside their heads
It’s not that they’re psychotic, or
They need some better meds
They hear a voice, which they believe
The god of all creation—
They hear the mighty voice of god…
I hear imagination.

Over on CNN’s Belief Blog, a story on… well, the title says it all: What does God sound like?

Certainly God knows I’m an auditory learner, so if he wants my attention he has to talk to me. When God speaks to me, he sounds a lot like Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” In other words, he’s engaging, often very funny, and almost always an absolute joy to be around. Even when God’s mad with me (more often that I care to admit), he’s fairly good-natured about it.

The author goes on to suggest that, for some people, God might sound like Spock (“the defining voice of God”), James Earl Jones, Jeff Bridges, Yoda, or others.

Theologians who study this sort of thing say that our image of God is formed by our relationships with our fathers. That image is formed in part by how our fathers speak to us. If they bark orders at us all the time, we might hear God as a crank. But if our fathers speak to us in instructive, encouraging tones, we may hear God as our best coach. My father died when I was young, so I don’t remember his voice, but I’ve listened to Garrison Keillor pretty regularly for 25 years.

Ah, see, there’s your problem–you’re asking the wrong people. You are asking theologists to answer a psychological question.

It’s perfectly normal to be able to hear a voice with no voice present, just as it is perfectly normal to be able to close your eyes and picture a scene or a face. Many of the same bits of the brain are at work when you do so, as are working when you actually hearing or seeing something that is present. It’s a bit like running in place, but with nerves instead of muscles; similar action, different context.

If you’ve been taught all your life that this voice is your conscience, you will find constant evidence that a conscience exists; if you are taught it is your imagination, or your guardian angel, or god, you will interpret this voice differently. If you practice hearing this voice, you will get better at it (I doubt it would feel like practice, but that’s what it is).

The comments at CNN.com are predictable, and a bit sad. There is no reason whatsoever to suspect that the author is psychotic, which all too many non-believing commenters have suggested. In the context of her belief system, this is perfectly normal. And there is nothing abnormal about the phenomenon itself. It requires neither god nor psychosis, just the normal human equipment and a particular learning history.

Comments

  1. Matty says

    Do people use the term conscience to refer to being able to ‘hear’ a voice in your head? I thought it referred to the urge to stick to some set of ethical principles.

  2. machintelligence says

    It’s perfectly normal to be able to hear a voice with no voice present, just as it is perfectly normal to be able to close your eyes and picture a scene or a face.

    Except that I can’t. I am apparently one of the 3% or so of the population that are “mind dark”. When I close my eyes and try to visualize something in my “minds’s eye” all I see is dark. Until very recently I thought everyone was like this and they were speaking metaphorically about visualization. Francis Galton first described this in 1880, and believed the inability was more common among scientists and mathematicians. Some folks are at the other end of the spectrum — ask them to visualize a tiger and they can count the stripes.
    I can, however, hear things in my “mind’s ear”. I can do music and words, but the “speaker” always sounds like me. People are more variable than one might think.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Funny – from what little I’ve read about the people who work with Mr. Keillor, they seem to consider him neither omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent.

  4. Die Anyway says

    I don’t think that I hear any other voice than my own when thoughts come into my head. I’ve never quite understood people who “heard” god speak to them. How do you tell the difference between god speaking and just thinking your own thoughts? How much of your thinking does god control? 10%? 50%? 100%!! If god is in charge of all of your thinking then you are nothing more than a puppet. There is no YOU. I don’t see how the god believers rationalize all this stuff.

  5. carpenterman says

    To quote some good t-shirts:
    “You’re just jealous because the voices talk to me.”
    “Nine out of ten of the voices in my head say *don’t* shoot.”
    “I can’t come to work today, the voices told me to stay home and clean my guns.”
    Seriously, it just appalls me how what would be cosidered a symptom of a serious mental illness in any other circumstance somehow magically turns into a positive, life affirming experience just be throwing the word “God” into the mix. Buddy, we *all* hear voices in our head, it’s called “thinking”. But when you start hearing voices you don’t recognize, or when you start losing arguments with them, you need a doctor. Or you might wind up with a media-promoted nickname; like “Son of Sam”.
    Just sayin’.

  6. says

    Often, when I read a really good book which is written in the first person, I hear a voice narrating it in my head. Sometimes this is even the voice of an identifiable actor, chosen by my subconscious somehow to associate with the author.

    For instance, when I read Mystery Man by Bateman, I heard the voice of Ardal O’Hanlon (not James Nesbitt, because he’s not Murphy; and not Dylan Moran, because the character was more inept than downright obnoxious).

    When I read the Warlord Chronicles books by Bernard Cornwell, I heard the voice of Sean Bean (as in Sharpe, you see) even though the protagonist probably would have had a Welsh accent and looked nothing like Bean.

    Obiter Dictum (see how much classier that is than “BTW”): If admitting to hearing voices makes me mentally ill, then the foregoing is entirely made up :)

  7. Thorne says

    Sometimes this is even the voice of an identifiable actor, chosen by my subconscious somehow to associate with the author.

    I once purchased an audio book of Asimov’s stories, read by the good doctor himself. BIG mistake! If you’ve ever heard him speak, you may understand why, to me, his voice is rather insipid and even annoying. I now have difficulty reading any of his works, especially his non-fiction, without hearing that almost-whiny lisp!

    Stick to the voices in your head and stay away from the authors!

  8. Steerpike says

    Talking out loud to yourself is perfectly normal. We won’t worry unless you starting arguing with yourself, using different voices…

    In my head, the voice of my conscience, urging me to stay true to my principles, is almost always that of my mother. She has always had a very strong moral sense, and no patience with hypocrisy. On the other hand, when I’m trying to solve a technical problem, I hear my father’s voice. He has a very sensible, analytical mind, and determining the answer to a tricky puzzle sounds like my Dad talking it through with me. (His is also the best voice for hearing a dirty joke).

  9. Randomfactor says

    I am apparently one of the 3% or so of the population that are “mind dark”.

    Never heard that term before. I’m in the 3 percent, although I dream in vivid “reality” I can no longer do it the instant I wake up.

    But I can do the voices-in-the-head thing. Or so they tell me.

  10. Crudely Wrott says

    All the voices in my head have no sound. Just the mental sensations of vowels and fricatives and diphthongs and such.

    While reading, my imagination can supply tone, timbre, perhaps regional accent. Voices recalled in memory have such imprints of those who spoke them but there really is no audible content. Like remembering a song I haven’t heard for a long time, I remember but do not hear. That’s why I quit selling my album collection for rent money.

    Ears are for hearing, brains are for deciphering.

  11. grumpyoldfart says

    J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock (Kenneth Williams) used to hear the voices:

    “Go down the pictures, they said — and make a nuisance of yourself.”

  12. Subtract Hominem says

    May I set this to music? I’m thinking baritone soloist backed by a string quartet.

  13. Subtract Hominem says

    Thank you, O tentacled one! I will try my utmost to do your words justice.

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