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It was the pastor. She asked him why he was calling. I just felt like I was supposed to call you. And he told me. In the second step, worshippers, when they recognize that God is with them, must learn to treat him like an intimate. The Vineyarders have no interest in God as a figure of majesty, or of judgment. They wear shorts and sneakers to church on Sunday. You can dance or sway in the aisles, Luhrmann says, or have doughnuts and coffee from the snack table.

Once you do sit down you can bring your coffee with you , you hear a sermon augmented by a PowerPoint presentation.

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God by T.M. Luhrmann

This casualness carries over to conversations with God. They would serve a special dinner, set a place for him at the table, chat with him.


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He guided the Vineyarders every minute of the day. Sarah told Luhrmann how, one day, after a lunch at a restaurant with fellow-parishioners, she was feeling good about herself, whereupon, as she was crossing the parking lot, a bird shat on her blouse. God, she explained to Luhrmann, was giving her a little slap on the wrist for her self-satisfaction. They may get furious with God. And, according to some evangelicals, he feels bad when this happens. He longs for us to like him. It is hard to understand how evangelicals, most of whom are regular Bible readers, could come to this conclusion about the God of Abraham and Job.

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Elaine thought that this was really neat and repeated it to our house group without a trace of irony. Another odd thing about the Vineyarders, at least as described by Luhrmann, is that they seem to perform no social service. Unlike other serious evangelical groups, which are making headway as missionaries in Africa, there appears to be very little spreading of the faith, or even just of well-being—schools, hostels, soup kitchens—on the part of the congregations Luhrmann joined.

Similarly, the book makes almost no mention of politics. The Vineyarders seem to have no theology—they never try to reconcile reason with faith, nor do they try to account for the existence of evil in a world that is, presumably, ruled by a good God. Their solution to suffering, Luhrmann says, is to ignore it. One of her interviewees was crushed by the sudden death of a friend. Her pastor brought this up in the Sunday service. It will be okay. Get to know God. She discusses their views in relation to D. For some evangelicals, she says, God is not unlike a stuffed Snoopy. I believe that Luhrmann tried with all her heart to take the Vineyarders she knew seriously, and to get us to.

She repeatedly reminds us that the majority of them are educated people. One is a medical student, one an economist, a few are lawyers. Recent Books. Where Are We Heading? The Evolution of Humans and Things. Connect Facebook. Contact Us Main Quad, Building Update: 5. View all 5 comments. Dec 31, Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it Shelves: religion. Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist, and in this book she examines the growing movement of evangelical and charismatic Christianity, and specifically how practitioners come to experience God as someone with whom they can communicate on a daily basis through prayer and visualization.

The information in this book is based upon observations made over a four year period during which the author was fully immersed in their prayer and worship activities at a very emotional and heart felt le T. The information in this book is based upon observations made over a four year period during which the author was fully immersed in their prayer and worship activities at a very emotional and heart felt level. In a NPR interview she states: " I would say that I experienced God when I was at that church. What does that mean? I don't think I know. I don't think I can put words to that.

I wouldn't call myself a Christian, but I did — through this practice of praying and thinking about the stories that were told in church. I found Chapter Seven to be particularly interesting because in it the author subjects her field observations to controlled analytical tests to determine the relationship between personality and ability to be a "prayer warrior.

However, while she was still participating with the groups she gave various psychological tests to participants of the prayer groups. Of the tests, the one she found most interesting was the Tellegen Aborption test. She used the results from that test to determine differing levels of absorption of the individuals in the group i. These results were compared with how these subjects said they experienced prayer.

It turned out that the more absorption statements they endorsed, the more likely they were to say that they experienced God "as a person" along with other extrasensory spiritual experiences. It's interesting to note that the Tellegen Absorption Scale was developed originally to determine a person's hypnotic susceptibility. It's also interesting to note that absorption is a character trait or disposition for having moments of total attention that somehow completely engage all of one's attentional resources--perceptual, imaginative, conceptual, even the way one holds and moves one's body.

From these observations about absorption scores, she developed a hypothesis for an experiment: " The test subjects were randomly assigned to one of three spiritual disciplines: centering prayer an apophatic condition ; guided imagination of the Gospels a kataphatic condition ; and an intellectual exploration of the Gospels the study condition.

The volunteers individuals were given various psychological tests before and after the 30 day test period. At the end of the test period those who had done the kataphatic practices had scores on the subjective measurers of mental imagery vividness that were significantly higher, compared to their initial scores, than those in the study group.

Those in the apophatic group also increased their scores more than the study group, but not nearly as much as the kataphatic group. She notes that apophatic meditation is a difficult skill, and thirty days is probably not enough time to develop the skill. In general the test results supported her hypothesis. On the issue of the reality of God: "None of these observations explains the ultimate cause of the voice someone hears This account of absorption training is fully compatible with both secular and supernaturalist understandings of God.

To a believer, this account of absorption speaks to the problem of why, if God is always speaking, not everyone can hear, and it suggests what the church might do to help those who struggle. To a skeptic, it explains why the believer heard a thought in the mind as if it were external. But the emphasis on skill--on the way we train our attention--should change the way both Christians and non-Christians think about what makes them different from one another.

The sensory override i.

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When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

However, the author points out there are usually many differences, and generally speaking most who experience spiritual encounters cannot be diagnosed as mentally ill. The author sites studies that indicate that seeing visions or hearing voices from no apparent source and not necessarily in any religious context is more common in the general public than is commonly thought. However, she goes on to discuss some situations she observed where mental illness and spiritualism did overlap.

One story that I found deplorable was that of a woman diagnosed as bipolar being exorcized to remove demons.

Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

The exorcism did not lead to a successful result. Chapter 9 discusses how this charismatic faith community deals with the issue of theodicy i. It would appear to an outside observer that it should be a problem for them because they emphasize that God answers prayers. They even go so far as to say that prayer requests should be specific i. Needless to say, many of these prayers do not result in delivery of the requested items. Against all logic, this cognitive dissidence results in increased faithfulness to the belief system.

The author dedicates over thirty pages of the book trying to explain why. I'll try to summarize it with these two reasons: 1 Their relationship with God is an emotional comfort, not a logical construct, and 2 If they reject God they'll be rejecting the emotionally supportive faith community, i. Chapter 10 summarizes the book by discussing the dilemma faced by these believers when talking to non-believers about their being able to have conversations with God. They know they are perceived by others as fooling themselves by talking to themselves and calling it talking to God.

When God Talks Back - Tanya Luhrmann - TEDxStanford

But they perceive this as part of the tension of living their faith, of "bridging the gap" between the world that is imagined and the world of what is real. The description of the observed and studied congregates provided by the author makes them appear completely apolitical. There is no mention of any interest on their part in secular politics. When the news media uses the term "Christian Evangelicals" the stereotype that comes to the minds of most people is that this is a group that generally identifies with politically conservative causes.

I know there are exceptions; I'm talking generalities here. If this group that was studied by the author is indeed apolitical, then they do not match this stereotypical image.