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A Personal God

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

Science is seldom able to say much concerning religion because one is based on faith and the other on facts. However, once in a while, science is able to make a very concise and accurate statement on religious matters. One notable example was the recent Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), conducted under the auspices of Harvard Medical School (2006), which showed there was no positive benefit from prayer for those recovering from heart attacks.

I recently came across a scientific survey which may have even more to say about religious belief than the STEP study. The study was conducted online in 1999-2000 by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

As the study designers explained,
“Our survey was conducted by Email. We placed a request on our 'help us' page, asking people to take part in a study of prayer. The survey's main purpose was explained as an assessment of "the will of God on the topic of same-sex marriage." 
Essentially, participants were asked to note whether they were personally in favor of or opposed to same-sex marriages. Then they were asked to pray about the matter, seeking god’s will. Once they felt they had received an answer (or weren’t going to), they noted whether god was in favor of or opposed to same-sex marriages. The respondents were from most of the major religious traditions including Christian, Wiccan, Jewish, and atheist.

Whenever people receive instructions from god, they will always hear only and exactly what they expect to hear, what their own minds tell them, and this surely applies to the authors of the biblical texts as well. In one sense, the responses (75 total) weren’t at all conclusive, since of the 49 people who claimed to receive an answer from God, 26 were told he approved of gay marriage and 23 were told he disapproved. But in another, and far more important and instructive sense, the study was 100% conclusive. Of those participants who prayed and got a “definite” answer from god, not one single person received an answer that conflicted with his or her own personal opinion.

Moreover, 43 of the 49 who got an answer from their prayers said they were either “very sure” (10) or “certain” (33) “that they had accurately determined the will of God” (4 and 5 on a 5-point scale). Of course, many were “certain” god approved, while many others were “certain” he did not approve.

So, while god appeared to give conflicting answers to different people, whatever a particular person thought about the issue, god agreed with him. Is this survey telling us where the communication actually comes from when someone says, “God told me,” as when G.W. Bush claimed that god told him to invade Iraq?

I submit that this survey has a message way beyond its relevance to prayer. The survey suggests very strongly that whenever people receive instructions from god, they will always hear only and exactly what they expect to hear, what their own minds tell them, and this surely applies to the authors of the biblical texts as well. This would certainly explain why it is that what those authors heard, from a timeless god, is so perfectly in tune with their own primitive times – outlandish tales of miracles and talking snakes, and the warped “morality” of slavery and animal sacrifice - and so completely out of tune with our times.

At the very least, it appears we should ignore anyone who tells us that god has spoken to him. This survey provides some solid scientific evidence that what he has heard is only the god of his own mind; his “personal god,” you might say.


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