Backstory is here, if you need it.
I’m still deeply an atheist, but I’ve spent the last few days praying.
The first couple of days, I was speaking silently into a void, asking someone who isn’t there if they’d talk to me.
Today, I got an answer.
It went like this:
Yeah, I’m God. Stop bowing your head like that you dozy prick, even the ones who believe in me look stupid when they do that. Now go and set fire to a neighbour’s dog.
I’m not being flippant. A voice in my head said that to me. For all I know, it sounds just like God.
Fortunately, it also sounds exactly like what’s going on in my mind when I’m coming up with dialogue for a story. This is a pretty familiar sensation to me, and is a far better explanation for the above urgings toward canine arson. It’d be worrying if this experiment worked, I discovered God, and it turned out that he wanted me to become violently antisocial.
It certainly sounds like the kind of thing my brain would come up with, to make some sort of a point. But that kind of creativity is something that goes on in my head without my making any conscious effort to be creative.
So here’s what I’m wondering: Is this unconscious/subconscious/whatever kind of creativity the sort of thing people might mistake for the voice of God?
I’m not claiming to have come up with an explanation for all of religion, here, but it’s hardly controversial to suggest that at least some “religious experiences” are entirely generated within people’s minds. And, given how complex and unintuitive human consciousness is, it’s no surprise that thoughts sometimes bubble up which don’t seem to be ours, which aren’t a direct result of any conscious decision-making.
If you’re sad, desperate, lonely, and really want to be reassured, then perhaps your imagination will come up with something to say – concocted from your own memories and hopes – which has the character of a benevolent external presence to it.
For many, the idea of an “inner critic” is more familiar, a persistent voice somewhere in your head which regularly undercuts and criticises everything you do. No matter how clearly you understand that this is a manifestation of your own self-doubt, it doesn’t feel like it’s really you saying these terrible things about yourself. The words and ideas appear in your head unbidden.
Creativity is not easy for us to intuitively understand, and much of the language of inspiration is shared with spirituality. Voices in your head, of one sort or another, are a part of what it means to be conscious. It’s the kind of thing people have turned to religion to explain in the past, and it can still trip us up today.