General Question

teirem1's avatar

What criteria would you use to determine if someone has received the word/a message from God versus they are suffering from a mental disorder?

Asked by teirem1 (391 points ) March 15th, 2009

All ideologies: What criteria would you use to determine if what a person wrote or spoke was divinely inspired, perhaps even verbatim dictated by God versus a psychological illness? Can you apply this criteria to past writers, authors, prophets,etc who have claimed to know the words of God? Would you apply the same criteria across all religions and times?

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44 Answers

TitsMcGhee's avatar

I would say looking for other symptoms indicative of mental disorder, and consider how well they fit the standard in the DSM IV. I have no doubt that some past religious figures (including, but certainly not limited to, some saints) were just cases of different disorders glorified into religious fervor. If they are also exhibiting other symptoms, they would probably fit into your latter category.

MacBean's avatar

I have no answer for you. I’m just wondering “aloud” how many answers there will be before the one I expect to see pops up…

Jack79's avatar

The issue is not whether it is a genuine message versus a fake one. It is one of 3 cases:

1. The person made the whole thing up and is a phoney
2. The person is crazy, which as Tits said can be indicated by other factors. Was Jesus wearing feathers? Were the angels singing “When All the Saints Come Marching In”? Was there pizza involved?
3. The person truly believes what they experienced, and they are generally mentally stable. I’d be open to the theoretial possibility that God manisfested Himself to that individual in a way that can never be scientifically checked, but in most cases (as in UFO sightings) there is a perfectly reasonable explanation of the event, which could often just be a vivid dream or hallucination.

ninjacolin's avatar

anything stated without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
if god chose to reveal himself to a single person, then that single person is very lucky compared to everyone else because that person has evidence of god’s existence that no one else is privy too. that means god would be giving/allowing some people to have an unfair advantage in the race to believe in the right god before you die.

an omniscient god, knowing how humans rely on sufficient evidence to believe anything, would never expect others to believe on the basis of what other fallible humans merely claim (without evidence) to be true.

fireside's avatar

My view of God is more like an Ocean and the major Prophets are those individuals who ascended a mountaintop and have seen God off in the distance. They set the course and point the way towards God.

Once they are gone, humanity has to rely on lesser prophets who get glimpses of God and recognize the truth behind what the major Prophets revealed.

The criteria I would use to determine if the message was in line with God would be to look for the following virtues in their message: faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy

nebule's avatar

I think one would have to consider each case in context… would be good if someone could give us an example of this experience… i.e. someone who has had a word/message from God and provide the details so we could scrutinise different cases…

Ria777's avatar

@TitsMcGhee, I would say looking for other symptoms indicative of mental disorder, and consider how well they fit the standard in the DSM IV.

in other words, you’d look to a religious text for guidance.

Ria777's avatar

as far as the question, I don’t believe in mental disorders.

however, I do take statements supposedly made by god(s) as statements made by the person her- or himself. I evaluate the statements by whatever criteria I evaluate other statements. consistency, whether it contradicts or does not contradict my values and so on.

Qingu's avatar

Spouting off equations that solve the great unsolved problems in mathematics and physics would be a good start.

Another good start would be to correctly predict the exact time and location of a couple of supernovas.

I don’t think past prophets were necessarily suffering from “psychological illnesses.” They were probably just opportunists. People have been claiming to speak for gods long, long before the Hebrew Bible. If you read the Code of Hammurabi, it claims to have been handed down by the gods Enlil and Shamash and others. Pharaoh wasn’t just speaking for a god, he was a god. Prophecy is a very effective political and social tool.

And there are still plenty of prophets today—Aum Shinrikyo, Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, Warren Jeffs, L. Ron Hubbard. The difference between a “crazy/fake prophet” and a “real prophet” is like the difference between a “cult” and a “religion.” Completely dependent on the order of magnitude of people who fall for it.

Mr_M's avatar

To answer this question one really only has to substitute “UFO” for “God”. If someone said they saw a UFO, how would you distinguish a mentally ill person from one that really saw a UFO? A mentally ill person wouldn’t ONLY say they saw a UFO. They’d show other signs of the mental illness. They would show signs of mental illness when tested by a Psychiatrist. Their description of the events surrounding the UFO would be strange, if not weird. Their description would probably by inconsistent and torn apart with detailed questioning. They could change their entire story given the right medication and treatment for their disorder. The “Son of Sam” serial killer used to say his neighbor’s dog told him to kill. He now says that was “crazy” [but then, he wants to get released from prison, so you really don’t know for sure].

The person who really saw a UFO would have no other symptoms of a related mental illness. Their story would be consistent and detailed. Psychiatric medication would not cause him to change his story.

Having said that then, you COULD apply this criteria across other religions. Not much you can do about the writers of the past.

phoenyx's avatar

In Christianity, that seems to be a purpose of the Holy Spirit: to verify revelation. In other words, to verifiy revelation one needs revelation (and not be mentally ill herself/himself).

laureth's avatar

That just pushes verification back a step, though. If someone filled with the Holy Spirit verifies a revelation, how do you know they’re filled with the Holy Spirit, and not just crazy?

Qingu's avatar

@phoenyx, have you ever played The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time? The game begins with a dream prophecy—the hero sees a dark man on a horse riding away from a castle. He has a young girl who throws an ocarina from the horse.

Later in the game, this prophecy actually happens! Just like how it was described in the beginning of the game!

So clearly, the Legend of Zelda is a revelation from God. How else can you explain how a prophecy early in the game comes true later in the game? It’s just like how prophecies early in the Bible are verified by stories later in the Bible (accept the Zelda prophecy is much more specific and detailed!).

gailcalled's avatar

@Ria777: ”..as far as the question, I don’t believe in mental disorders.”

I fervently wish that neither you nor your loved ones and close family ever does develop a mental illness. Not believing in them is akin to not believing in diabetes, lupus, IBD, brain tumors, post-partum depression, migraines, epilepsy. The brain is an organ and can malfunction just like the liver, spleen, kidney and gall bladder.

asmonet's avatar

I think they’re all suffering a bit.
Except my mother, whose near death experience is the most believable I’ve ever heard. Everything she was told has come true, and it’s going on thirty years of being completely correct.

I would be extremely skeptical of any others.

ponderinarf's avatar

This is a touchy subject for me: God tends to tell more than one person what God’s plans are; if God even reveals this Plan or plans. When someone claims it is God, then cautiously accept their claim and be watchful for other “hearers” of God’s “word.” God never asks for people to commit suicide. If you start being persecuted by the “messages” you receive, then seek professional help ASAP.

Ria777's avatar

@gailcalled, I don’t want to go into this argument. (which doesn’t mean that I won’t.) notice, though, that you say that mental disorders exist and then talked about how the brain can “malfunction”. for consistency’s sake you should say the mind can malfunction. that sounds so strange, though (at least to me) that reveals the faulty reasoning here. I will leave it at that (at least for now).

MacBean's avatar

@Ria777 The faulty reasoning is yours, not Gail’s. You sound woefully mis-/under-informed about mental disorders.

ninjacolin's avatar

@ponderinarf “God never asks for people to commit suicide” – you can’t prove that.

@Ria777 you can’t make a point others can agree with until you at least make a point. so why not just explain your position, please.

phoenyx's avatar

@Qingu: I’m not sure how your response was related to mine, perhaps formalizing it further will get us on the same page.

First of all, when I say “revelation” I was using it as a catch-all term for a message of some type from God to man (present and past, verbal, written, etc. of whatever form: inspiration, dream, vision, etc.) which would include, but isn’t limited to, prophecy.

The question presupposes an ideology with these characteristics:
1. belief in God (and ideology that doesn’t have belief in God wouldn’t worry about whether or not a message is from God)
2. God communicates with people

Here is criteria a Christian might use to evaluate another person’s claim of revelation. First of all, is the revelation consistent with established revelation (e.g. the bible)? If not, it is unlikely to be revelation. If it is consistent, it still needs to be verified (through the Holy Spirit). Of course it raises (not begs, grr) the question of how established revelation is established. Again, that would also have to be through the Holy Spirit. Hence, my previous answer.

Now, to apply that criteria to the The Legend of Zelda. Does it claim to be revelation from God? Is it consistent with established revelation? Could a Christian get verification of it from the Holy Spirit?

Responding to @laureth:
A Christian would have to have verification from the Holy Spirit to determine the validity of another person’s claim.

laureth's avatar

@phoenyx – I get that. But how do they know it’s the Holy™ Spirit, and not a cheap imitation (like their own crazy head-voice)? Is this just one of those “You’re not Christian, you wouldn’t understand” moments?

ignorantsavage's avatar

this is a interesting question. but in the end it matters not what makes a person do something but the acts and concequenses that follow behind. if attacked by a devil makes you stop smoking then so be it. but be careful not to be to giving or too selfish. avoid consistent extremes there is a time for all things. For those are violent and to be avoided. In short you can’t tell, so don’t try. Just be “wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.”

Ria777's avatar

@ninjacollin, minds does not have a physical existence the way skin does. therefore, you cannot have a mind disease the way you can have a skin disease. minds do have a physical existence in a different way, as far as relating to process rather than to stuff. our brains and minds co-create each other in a way that more gross physical actions, like running, co-create our bodies.

mental disorders get used as a way to define certain actions as undesirable in a particular way which has a moral dimension. mental disorders mean to act in a wrong way within a right culture. I do not regard this scientifically useful or scientific at all.

for instance, our society does not consider it a mental disorder to blow up people on the basis of religious belief. why not? they come from a wrong culture, right?

another example: why not consider dyslexia a form of mental disorder? answer: dyslexia does not have a moral dimension.

therefore, the myth of mental disorder serves a very particular function within this culture.

and once again, this has nothing to do with science. it has to do with attitudes.

Ria777's avatar

@MacBean, The faulty reasoning is yours, not Gail’s. You sound woefully mis-/under-informed about mental disorders.

if I wanted to, I could talk the language of psychiatry as well as or better than you can, probably. my views come from looking at the premise, examining it and rejecting it, not because I don’t know about it. if you want to call me wrong, call me wrong. don’t call me ignorant or if you do, explain to me exactly what I have gotten wrong or don’t know.

gailcalled's avatar

One of dozens of sites that discuss the function of the brain in depression and

What Causes Depression?

“Depression is a brain disorder in which changes occur in certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Scientists are still trying to learn what causes these chemical imbalances; many experts believe a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors is involved….et al

From the “et al”:

Bipolar disorder—commonly called “manic depression”—is less common than, but just as serious as, major depressive disorder. It is associated with an even higher risk of suicide.

Bipolar disorder is a brain-based mental illness, and is separate from major depressive disorder. It involves a cycle of mood changes from severe highs (mania) to severe lows (depression), intermixed with normal periods.

gailcalled's avatar

Gail is leaving the building now in order to have her head examined.

fireside's avatar

~ Don’t you mean to have her mind examined?

gailcalled's avatar

Whatever it is, it is spinning.

MacBean's avatar

@Ria777—I was going to school for psychology before I was derailed by a severe mental disorder. So, between thousands and thousands of dollars of higher education, independent studying out of pure interest, and personal experience, I highly doubt you can hold a candle to me when it comes to this topic.

But if you have, as you claim, truly examined the subject and you’ve still come to the conclusions that you have, then you are ignorant, and willfully so, and therefore a hopeless cause, and I’m done talking to you about it because this is a hot topic for me and I’m not certain I’d be able to keep myself entirely civil.

Ria777's avatar

@gailcalled, and no doubt you would find literally hundreds of thousands of web pages that agree with that other one. I know that I present a minority view. that does not make me incorrect.

and, yes, I do believe that problems like feeling terrible or feeling nothing do originate in the brain. they originate in the mind also and they originate in what we do.

dalton's avatar

How can one possibly explain to someone who doesn’t even believe god exists that s/he is communing daily with the big guy?

LostInParadise's avatar

The only way that I would pay serious attention to someone who claimed to be divinely inspired is if the person made prophecies that came true. But then I would pay serious attention to anyone who consistently predicted the future, divinely inspired or not. The thing about all the divinely inspired talk I have ever heard about is that it does not say anything.

z28proximo's avatar

The most obvious way is usually the easiest to trim down a majority of the “fat” out there. (People not in line with God) Does what they say stay in line with God’s word, the Bible? If it conflicts with His word, then no, it’s not in any way or form from God at all. Once it passes that test, then you can start debating it.

bea2345's avatar

Well, there is a simple test: Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?—Matthew 7:16. If a self-styled prophet is not genuine, the fact will become obvious in time – think of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Jones, etc.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The ones who say that God has spoken to them are delusional. The ones that don’t hear God speak to them are not listening.

Ria777's avatar

@bea2345, whereas if you win a war that god tells you to fight, the winners will remember you as a great man or woman forever. given the right circumstances and in the pre-modern world, if photos hadn’t gotten taken of the mass suicide, Jim Jones would have gotten remembered as a great teacher and prophet. undeservedly, but he would have.

FutureMemory's avatar

What criteria would you use to determine if someone has received the word/a message from God versus they are suffering from a mental disorder?

and the difference between the two is…?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@bea2345 except the poor people who died before it all ‘became clear’ had to suffer for it
and in answer to the question, I don’t differentiate between ludicrous religious claims and mental illness…one is just more socially accepted than the other

bea2345's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir & @Ria777 -But you do know, or should know, the false from the real. That is why we have intelligence. Jim Jones’ ministry did not even survive his passing. I often have the unworthy thought, when I see T.D. Jakes in his expensive suits, that beggars at his back gate get short shrift. On the other hand, with all the scandals, there are countless people who are thankful for the army of anonymous and dedicated pastors of the Catholic and Protestant faiths. They run schools, hospitals and hospices; they visit the sick, feed the hungry; they give hope to the underprivileged – remember Bishop Tutu? I will never forget the sermon that the Archbishop of Canterbury, visiting South Africa, gave in the cathedral in Johannesberg during the apartheid era. The BBC broadcast it without comment. As we say here, he “did not put water in his mouth.”

Ria777's avatar

@bea2345: sure, Jim Jones’ ministry did not survive his death. but if it had, five hundred years from now, it might count as a reputable religion. MOVE, the group started by John Africa, has pretty good press despite setting out to commit suicide in the mid-‘80s’. (a number of them survived.)

the Catholic and Protestant faiths do do charitable works. at the same time, the Catholic Church has grand palaces. I want to see them sell those old art treasures and start living in huts. of course that will never happen.

bea2345's avatar

MOVE had a more exciting beginning than some and it continues to serve its constituency. So it must be fulfilling a need. On a larger scale, the basic tasks of established religion have not changed: they may be summed up in the phrase, “to justify God’s ways to men”(John Milton, Paradise Lost). I imagine it applies to all religions and sects, whether Christian or not. Once a movement becomes institutionalized, corruption sets in. The classic example is the Catholic Church, but a more modern example is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which, in very short order, became a vehicle for tyranny instead of emancipation for the proletariat. But the beliefs endure, mainly because of the unrecorded labours of the believers: led by local preachers, pastors, imams, pundits and even party officials.

These movements survive in spite of, and also because of (oddly enough), the institutions that purport to lead them.

Ria777's avatar

@bea2345: MOVE has very few members nowadays. actually they always did.

SABOTEUR's avatar

By what criteria would one possibly know whether someone else has received a message from God?

Either that person’s countenance “rings true” for you or it doesn’t.

And even if they had, how would one benefit from another’s enlightenment if their mindset is to judge, evaluate and dispute rather than listen, contemplate and apply?

How many times would Christ have to be nailed to the cross ((literally or otherwise)
for people to “get it”?

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? – Luke 6:46

And if you don’t “get it”, why bother with it at all?

SABOTEUR's avatar

@FutureMemory Pretty ironic, this…sorry for repeating your answer. As you may have realized from one of my previous posts, I rarely read other answers prior to submitting my own. I does seem, though, that we arrived at different conclusions from the same starting point. In any event, hope you aren’t very annoyed…

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