Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Was that God or My Subconscious?

Written by: on November 16, 2023

When you grow up in a Charismatic, Pentecostal country church you get to hear stories about miracles, angels, demons, possessions, dreams, visions, words of knowledge (knowing things about people you should not know), prophecies, etc. You even find yourself experiencing some things that you can’t explain. Some of my experiences left me forever changed. Books like Daniel Lieberman’s, Spellbound inevitably cause one to look back and wonder:

“Were some of those things we attributed to God or spirits, our subconscious?”

I wasn’t sure where Daniel Lieberman would end up regarding God, spirituality, mysticism, or the metaphysical parts of our human experience when I first picked up Spellbound. I appreciated the time he gave showcasing the wildly impressive nature of our subconscious. A large part of our brain is complex, untapped, mysterious, powerful, and unknown to an extent. However, there were times when it felt like he was saying, “all those magical, miraculous, visionary, and mystical experiences humans have been having over several millennia are AMAZING and useful for us to thrive and find meaning in our world…….buuuuuuuuut….. it’s all in our heads!”

I don’t think Daniel’s goal was to dismiss our religious experiences, I think he tries to be fairly careful with that.. He says, “Explaining something (for example, describing what happens in the brain when people engage in spiritual practices) and explaining something away are not the same thing.”[1] Unless I missed it, he does not make his personal theological or religious beliefs explicitly known so we don’t know where he stands on matters of faith or the “supernatural”.

The point of the book is for us to lean into what ancients have categorized as magical or the supernatural. He seems openminded and grateful for the right brain, but there were times when I felt he reduced most spiritual or mystical phenomenon down to primarily psychological productions if we carry out some of his implications. For example, in the section on tarot cards, he believes expert readers are “more intuitive than most” and pick up on people’s reactions which help them tell a person’s fortune or know details about the person they should not know. [2] I believe explanations like this in general about “supernatural” occurrences are ways to rightfully myth bust, but I don’t believe natural explanations are always adequate to explain our universe. Once again, not sure where Daniel stands on this subject, but I picked up on some materialistic thinking throughout his book.

Regardless, the nature and mystery of the subconscious is important psychological information for religious folks to keep in mind. Especially Charismatics. Takes one to know one.

To lay my cards on the table. I believe there is a God that is not a product of our brain, but is ultimately ineffable. I also can’t hold that all spiritual and metaphysical phenomena are perceptions and creations of a bundle of neurons in our brains, which Lieberman does not seem to hold either. However, I believe a lot of what Spellbound discusses regarding our subconscious gets thrown into the religious mix. This means that it is highly probable that throughout human history, and in our own lives, what we attribute or perceive as God, spirits, magic, etc. could have been our own supercomputer coming through. Especially since some of the feelings and characteristics Lieberman describes regarding possession, intuition, revelations, etc. sound like what I heard growing up in my faith tradition. Whether it is God or our subconscious brains, its valuable and we should listen to what is coming through.

At least for me, this book is a great way to get people thinking about the big questions like consciousness and what is really going on between our ears in several respects.

I am fascinated with the nature of consciousness. In fact, consciousness in general is a conundrum for the scientific world. It’s called “the hard problem of consciousness” since no one really knows how it works. Of course, there are neurons that are networked together, and neuroscientist can explain countless correlations, but how it really works is a mystery. Then there is the question of why are we conscious? What’s the point and probability of it all in a “mindless” universe?

Dr. Bruce Greyson, a professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences discussed his theory on the nature of consciousness by using a cell phone as an analogy. He argues that a phone has the capability and equipment to receive signals and text messages, but we know it doesn’t generate the messages on its own because its mindless. He argues that the brain acts more as an antenna that receives consciousness verses a thing that produces it. More of this theory is laid out in The Irreducible Mind by other credible researchers.[3] This might even explain or at least touch on why cultures and religions continue to “tune in to” and express similar archetypes, values, virtues, correlations, and story arch’s as we’ve seen in Joseph Campbell’s, a Hero with a Thousand Faces[4] and now Spellbound.

To circle to my Pentecostal raising and Daniel Lieberman’s book. I do think we humans throughout history were and have been getting in tune with something bigger than us, but evolutionary psychology and understanding the subconscious is a must to ground us and help us better understand how our brains work in the process of spiritual and personal discovery. Personally, I think religion and science need to talk to one another way more!


[1] Lieberman, Daniel Z. Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind, (Dallas, TX: BenBella Dooks, Inc, 2022),31.

[2] Lieberman, Spellbound, 205.

[3] Kelly, Edward F., Emily Williams Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, and Bruce Greyson. Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, (First paperback edition. Lanham Boulder New York Toronto Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2010).

[4] Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, (3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2008).

About the Author

Adam Harris

I am currently the Associate Pastor at a church called Godwhy in Hendersonville, TN near Nashville. We love questions and love people even more. Our faith community embraces God and education wholeheartedly. I graduated from Oral Roberts University for undergrad and Vanderbilt for my masters. I teach historical critical Biblical studies at my church to help our community through their questions and ultimately deepen their faith. I love research, writing, learning, and teaching. I oversee our staff and leadership development. Before being at Godwhy I worked as a regional sales coach and director for Anytime Fitness. I've been married for over 13 years to my best friend and we have two amazing boys that keep us busy.

12 responses to “Was that God or My Subconscious?”

  1. Esther Edwards says:

    Hi, Adam,
    First of all, thank you for voicing the tensions that exist in trying to make sense of the supernatural and yet also delve into the science that can give greater clarity to how we are wired and created.
    I love your closing line…”Personally, I think religion and science need to talk to one another way more!”

    In Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, John Mark Comer writes in the foreward: “Centuries of separation and suspicion between spirituality and psychology have left us with a generation of churches who know how to teach the Bible but not how to live it. And the farming out of soul expertise to professionals who don’t even believe in the soul’s Creator has left us with a culture devoid of the necessary resources to see Christ formed in each person according to the Creator’s loving design.”

    • Adam Harris says:

      Good quote, I’ve heard a lot of people quote Dallas Willard lately. I have not read much of his stuff. I’ll have to check him out.

      My theology has ample room to hear what science and any other field has to say or discovers. Keeping them separate or viewing them as a threat to one another does us no good as long, as both sides keep an open mind. Thanks for the response!

  2. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I too have always wrestled with questions about what it means to experience God or feel that God has spoken to me and how to separate that from my own mind or feelings. I think we all have. Your cell phone analogy is really helpful. Our minds are programmed with all this complexity which allows us to experience God, but they in and of themselves are “godless”. I’m not sure if that’s exactly where you were going in your post, but you’ve helped me see the spiritual-subconscious connection in a new light. Thanks!

    • Adam Harris says:

      Thanks for the response! The brain, consciousness, unconsciousness, etc. are complex topics that fascinate me. If you really want to go down a rabbit hole, check out Donald Hoffman from MIT. He has done a TED talk and several interviews about the nature of consciousness. Very fascinating stuff.

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Adam,

    I was compelled to look at Freud and Jung

    From Freud. Examples Of The Id, Ego, And Superego Topic…Skipping a workout:
    The id: I want to skip my workout because I feel lazy and just want to relax.
    The superego: I shouldn’t skip the workout because it’s essential for my health and discipline.
    The ego: I can do a shorter workout today and make up for it with a longer session tomorrow.

    The proverbial image of the Angel on one soldier with the Devil on the other comes to mind. For further development and more pictures, See – Freud’s Theory Of Personality: Id, Ego, And Superego, By Saul Mcleod, PhD, Updated on November 9, 2023, Reviewed byOlivia Guy-Evans, MSc, http://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html

    I picked the work out one because, well it is YOU! the workout king.

    One class member wrote, “Again, I wonder if religion is a way for us to not completely deny our dark side but also to not completely give into it? Is this how we become our true self?”

    While I appreciate the sentiment. My old Catholic background kicks in…The Spiritual Battle. I grew up on the Exorcist movies (I should not have been allowed to watch it – poor parenting dad!)

    Today, I could watch the magic/vampire/horror movies, etc…on Netflix, but I think I would feel soiled.

    I get the same feeling with parts of Liebermans book.

    Travis Vaughn puts transcendence into perspective when he writes, “As Christians, we have an ALLY similar (and dissimilar) to how Lieberman refers to the unconscious. Where Paul says he does the things he doesn’t want to do, WHO does he turn to? “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.” Our ALLY is the transcendent God. Travis ends… “Having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, we walk with God’s Spirit to produce the fruit (see Galatians 5:22) we can’t in our own power. God is our ally – God is helping us! This is how we connect with transcendence.”

    Thanks Travis…


    • Adam Harris says:

      Thanks for the response Russell, I did like that Lieberman said virtues are trainable which is why meditation is so important. I’ve met very kind Christ-like Buddhists and also met some rude and kinda mean “spirit filled” Christians. Why is that? None of us are perfect and I’ve had my days, but the different between the two people could be our brain chemistry due to spiritual practices and mindfulness exercises that Daniel talks about. Just thinking out loud!

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        Hi Adam,

        Have a great Thanksgiving. Jenny and I talked this morning and she gave me some resources on the Christian version on meditation and other skills that help us approach the unconscious. She did say that not ALL people benefit from meditation. It opens them up to some darker stuff from their past.


  4. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Adam,
    I enjoyed your post and agree that science and religion should talk more. Coming from a charismatic and Pentecostal background, do you find resistance to addressing emotions, counseling, or psychology from others with a similar backgrounds? I know I have seen resistance and have to do a lot of listening and then explaining if they are open to it.

    • Adam Harris says:

      I am finding the church in general is putting more emphasis and value on emotional health. Our community recently did a mental health seminar with a panel of pastors and leaders who told their stories. It was a great way to take away its stigma and bring awareness. Very encouraging!

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I think you are right when you say “To circle to my Pentecostal raising and Daniel Lieberman’s book. I do think we humans throughout history were and have been getting in tune with something bigger than us, but evolutionary psychology and understanding the subconscious is a must to ground us and help us better understand how our brains work in the process of spiritual and personal discovery. Personally, I think religion and science need to talk to one another way more!” I always struggle with the thought that are humanity and how we are created is throw away, and sinful. Mysticism is beautiful.

  6. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Adam! I like to read your post.

    I like your statement concerning science and religion having to talk to one another.

    If I may ask you a question, what if, in one condition, science is completely opposite to religion in its explanation?

  7. Adam,
    Great post and contrasting it to your own personally story to help bring readers in and create a map for us to follow. Great job!

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