A Clinical Psychologist's Assessment of
Vern Grimsley and the war messages
November 20, 1983
It is important that you read the following disclaimers before proceed to the attached statement:
1) It was not within the purview of this paper to derive recommendations for the Urantia Brotherhood or Foundation with respect to the situation at issue.
2) It is beyond the scope of this paper to prove or disprove in a final or absolute sense, the claims dealt with herein; such matters must always be ultimately resolved within the definition of one’s personal opinion.
3) I chose not to apply a diagnostic label in this paper because I do not feel that such labels can be, in all fairness, applied at this time. Further, I would probably resist the future application of diagnostic labels since in my experience they all too often serve to shortcut thoughtful analyses. This paper is thus not intended as a “professional diagnostic judgment”, but as my personal statement of opinion based on my experiences and particular perspectives.
4) As a recipient of this paper you have my permission to show it to others of your choosing. I respect your judgment; otherwise I wouldn’t have sent you this copy. Please make sure that any other reader also reads this cover letter. I would hope that any other readers you select would be persons who are serious students of the Book, and who exhibit reasonable degrees of level-headedness and balanced personality. The issue dealt with herein is highly sensitive; it must be approached wit a sense of fairness and, hopefully, good judgment. Fairness and good judgment are rarely exhibited by those who have no prior track record of exhibiting same.
P. D. K.
This paper concerns itself with alleged messages from celestial beings as experienced by a long time, highly visible and credible UB reader, Vern Grimsley. The bases for this report were (a) lengthy inquiries with several persons who have long known Vern and have knowledge of the current events, (b) discussions and notes fro four other persons who personally flew to California to hear Vern speak directly of these messages, and (c) a personal visit with Vern on November 16th during which I was accompanied by M. H., a long time UB student fro the Denver area. I evaluated all these experiences from my perspective of being a 10-year student of the Book and in light of 16 years of professional experience as a post-Ph.D. clinical psychologist.
The reported phenomena were evaluated within two, broad frames of reference. First, to what extent could the reported experiences be explained within the context of current understanding in the field of psychology of psychic phenomena. Second, to what degree are the reported messages (their content, method and form of deliverance) congruent with what is known about the methods used in the UB revelations, and, within this second framework, the degree of congruency wit the major thrusts of the UB teachings regarding revelations.
From a psychological standpoint, the most obvious explanation of Vern’s experiences is that of auditory hallucinations. Some qualifying statements are in order before discussing further the sensitive subject of hallucinations. First, it must be understood that normal and intelligent persons can and do experience hallucinations. Dr. William S. Sadler discussed this fact in his classic work, The Mind at Mischief. (1929). He notes, on page 6, that in the study of the subconscious” . . . we observe that it manifests a creative ability that includes all the powers of thoughts, fabrication, reasoning, volition, etc.” and “The elements of the unconscious realms, therefore, include al the ideas and emotions of our every-day experience, such as fears, doubts, affections, wishes, resentments, etc., and therefore al the factors are present for the building up of fictitious fears and false images. . . “ And “In a word, we must recognize that the subconscious is intelligent; it is adaptable; it is able to reason, to indulge in constructive thinking, and to utilize all the powers of a creative imagination. . . “
Psychological research over the past 50 years has indicated that auditory hallucinations are more common than the visual or visual-auditory types. A reliable aspect of auditory hallucinations is that to the person who experiences them the voice or voices seem more real and certainly more dramatic that the normal speaking voices we use in ordinary conversation. The voices are usually perceived as being external to the recipient. Of ten they come from one side or the other, from above or below. The voices heard I auditory hallucinations usually command or instruct or console or warn, i.e., they speak in a directive, authoritative manner. They rarely discuss; they instead direct. They often speak in short sentences. The voices are strong and real; they often come unexpectedly and impose themselves on the recipient. Dr. Julian Jaynes in discussing auditory hallucinations makes the point that “Sound is a very special modality. We cannot handle it. We cannot push it away. … Sound is the least controllable of all sense modalities…” (Page 96-97).
Probably the most complex aspect of auditory hallucinations is their content can appear abstruse or even clairvoyant or indicative of precognition. In actual fact, however, when the recipient is well studied it is usually determined that he had prior access to the knowledge or experiences revealed in his messages. Auditory hallucinations (or what Dr. Sadler preferred to call the “clairaudient state”) thus represent a person talking to himself from within the realm of his own subconscious. Buried in the subconscious memory banks are out experiences, prior knowledge, wishes, fears, etc., most of which rarely operate at the daily conscious level. It is not uncommon for these voices to speak to us at a time of stress when we are grappling with a difficult problem or dilemma.
Now it would be helpful to look at Vern’s first experience in which he heard a voice speak to him. That which follows was detailed for me by Vern in our conversation of November 16th. About a year ago he awoke one morning with a strong feeling that he must buy a new property for the F.O.G. He developed a picture in his mind of what the new property should be like and what it should entail and encompass. He hired a realtor and began a search. Then one day the realtor showed him the property that he subsequently bought. He liked the property right away because it seemed to fit his conception of what the new home for F.O.G. should be like. But this was not an easy decision. This new home would cost F.O.G. nearly $4 million. Vern was in an understandable state of consternation as to what to do, but it is clear that he was strongly attracted to the property. Vern, in this state of consternation, wandered off by himself and, suddenly, “out of the blue” (Vern’s words) a voice above him and to his right speaks commandingly (and tells him what he wants to hear): “this is it.” The difficult decision is thus made for him, his anxiety is relieved, and the purchase is subsequently made. Many people have had similar experiences and it must be understood that the voice or voices of our subconscious are truly experienced, and are commandingly real. Vern’s experience is a textbook example of an auditory hallucination. Unfortunately, Vern chose to interpret this voice as that of the gods speaking to him and directing him. Once this interpretation was placed on this event the foundation was in place for similar experiences to follow. Indeed, given Vern’s personality tendencies it was almost a foregone conclusion that more voices would be heard subsequent to the initial voice with its attendant, misplaced interpretation.
Vern then stated that following this first event was a period of about 7 months during which he received over 100 messages pertaining to, as he puts it, “personal problems and personal concerns.” These messages were delivered at unexpected times by voices that spoke strongly, often dramatically, and in short sentences. They usually addressed Vern on personal habits, speaking techniques, dietary habits (“eat fruit everyday”), relaxation and sleep habits, and sometimes attempted to cheer him up out of periods of despondency. One such experience that Vern relates, and that he clearly puts a lot of stake in, relates to a morning a few months ago when he was dejected over the present state of the world and a voice spoke to him in a humorous way and Vern and the voice bantered wit each other in a humorous vein. The dialogue between Vern and the voice (whose contributions were short and specific) was similar to an old Bill Cosby comedy routine between Noah and God. At least two of Vern’s oldest friends are confident that Vern would have been exposed to and greatly enjoyed this old Bill Cosby routine several years ago. Another interesting feature of this experience is that it is clear that for at least a few months prior to his “World War III message” of October 6th that Vern was at least occasionally dejected over current world conditions. (Please note this for later reference.)
The interpretation that Vern puts on these 100-plus messages is that unseen friends were preparing, grooming and fine-tuning him for his leadership role in the upcoming planetary crisis. When a person begins to have repeated experiences with voices he often begins to develop what is called a delusional system by which to explain these strange occurrences. A delusion is a set of beliefs, improbable as to their validity that can serve to verify and justify hallucinatory experiences. Sometimes it is hard to say which comes first, the delusion or the hallucinations.
They are often highly egocentric in nature, hence the common term: “delusions of grandeur.” Vern’s interpretation of the above events is distressing because it smacks of the beginnings of a delusional system. Vern clearly sees himself as a special person who has been selected by the unseen powers for a very special leadership role. He seems to be increasingly interpretating more and more events within this system of beliefs. For example, this weekend (November 19th-20th) Vern speaks in Oregon. This engagement was made months ago. Vern has told at least one of his old friends that he feels the unseen powers worked to secure this engagement for him months ago since they knew that this weekend was going to be the start of World War III and they wanted him to be in one of the safest areas in case of nuclear attack, namely Oregon. Vern cautioned that he received no message to this effect but that this was a strongly felt hunch by the “human Vern”. This is characteristic of delusional thinking wherein seeming coincidences and fortuitous events are interpreted in such a way as to confirm the delusional belief system. It must also be noted that this recent statement by Vern indicating that our unseen friends knew months ago the exact weekend when bombs would fall is in contradiction to some elements of the messages of October 6th and 11th, in which Vern reported that they did not necessarily know when World War III would commence.
When I first heard of these messages several persons commented that they must be true because (a) Vern was told by Christy that he was a reservist and (b) it was generally understood that the mantle of leadership had been passed to Christy from Dr. Sadler and then by Christy to Vern. These impressions were checked with Jim Mills and Martin Myers whom I felt would have good knowledge of any such statements by Christy. Both gentlemen had difficulty with the above two statements and could only report that Christy may have conjectured about Vern being a reservist. On November 16th I asked Vern to comment on this matter. He replied that “it was true that in the early 1970’s Christy told me I was in the reserve corps.” He then elaborated on the event: he and Christy were talking about issues pertaining to the possible publicization of the UB. Christy commented that Vern would now “when the time has come to publicize the Book” Why? How? Christy replied, “Because you are in the reserve corps of destiny.” Vern then stated, in answer to my question, that Christy never again made the statement to him but did mention the matter to some other people. He was then asked how Christy could have known of his status. He responded, “I don’t know, but I think she got the message the same way I got my messages.” I have since talked to several persons who knew Christy well and none of them can recall Christy every saying that she received auditory messages on any topic, at least not subsequent to 1955 when the last UB revelatory message came through that finalized instructions on publication of the Book. It seems reasonable to infer that Christy’s statement to Vern was conjecture on her part. It is clear, however, from the way Vern recounts this story – his intensity as he discusses this event – that it had a profound impact on him. The “mantle of leadership” idea appears to have no basis in an actual event, and thus falls in to the category of conjecture by some people.
We talked at length with Vern about the “World War III messages of October 6th and 111th. The content of these messages has been made available to many UB students via first hand discussions with Vern and subsequent second hand discussions among others. There was no new information presented in our meeting with Vern of November 16th. A striking aspect of these messages is that they contain no information that could not have been readily available to Vern’s subconscious memory banks. Many intelligent, well read persons of today could have come up with comparable content if asked, let’s say for fun, to write a “doomsday scenario” for a play or movie. Nevertheless, Vern stated several times during the evening that the messages caught him unawares; twice he stated, “even I was asleep” as to the threat of nuclear war. This seemed odd in light of his other depictions of earlier despondence over the state of the world (see earlier reference). Similarly odd were Vern’s comments as to how the “don’t publicize” and “don’t split up the book” messages confused him and caught him unawares. It is clear that for several years Vern has been concerned and involved with promotional issues pertaining t the UB. He reported, at one time in the evening, that in his early years of broadcasting some people put pressure on him to use radio to promote the Book more aggressively. He resisted these pleas. Vern generally has taken a conservative posture on promotional issues; a position that is congruent with the messages he received on these matters. Some other examples could be given but the upshot of the matter is that no clear evidence could be discerned that the content of any of the messages incorporated information that would not or could not have been available to Vern’s subconscious (please note Dr. Sadler’s earlier statements about the subconscious).
Before changing emphasis to a second perspective on these events I feel it important to comment briefly on observations of the few other F.O.G. members we saw and interacted with during our brief visit. At various times different F.O.G. members interjected comments in defense of Vern and, in particular, criticized what they felt to be unfair criticisms of Vern that they had heard about. All of the F.O.G. members we saw seemed to be busily involved with various preparations. All seemed to be very supportive of Vern. I saw not an inkling of anyone raising questions as to the validity of the messages. There seemed to be ready acceptance not only of the content of the messages but of Vern’s interpretations of these and related experiences. A leader is poorly served when those around him do not raise hard questions as to the wisdom of the leader’s insights and pronouncements. I fear that the group dynamics in effect at F.O.G. are not conducive to a questioning attitude or trenchant analyses of the ongoing events.
At this point I wish to take a brief look at how these messages compare and contrast with what is known about the UB revelations. We know, for example, that the BU revelations were one in an inordinately careful, meticulous manner. Dr. Sadler began studying the person who was utilized in the revelations in 1911, about 22-23 years before the fifth epochal revelation was more formally delivered. By 1929 Dr. Sadler had made about 250 carefully controlled observations of the “transmitter person,” but he was still not 100% convinced of the validity of these phenomena. He conducted many and various tests to try to determine the validity of these experiences. As I understand these matters, the actual revelations did not begin until Dr. Sadler was convinced of the validity of these phenomena. It is also my understanding that (a) more than one person was always present during the formal revelatory messages, (b) that a group of persons discussed the messages and in some ways intellectually interacted with the celestial senders, (c) that the senders always clearly identified themselves, their positions and by whose authority they acted, (d) that the methods used by the senders were not congruent with our understanding of auditory hallucinations; indeed, Dr. Sadler was emphatic on this point in his paper of January, 1959 (“Some Criticisms of the Urantia Book”) when he stated “The technique of the reception of the Urantia Book in English in no way parallels or impinges upon any of the above phenomena of the marginal consciousness” (sec. 10, P. 13), (e) that the content was complex and contained many elements of thought that could not have been contained in the transmitter’s (or anyone else’s subconscious, (f) that explicit instructions were given that the transmitter was never to be identified, and (g) that the UB revelation itself contains warnings against the human tendency to overreact to one person in an adulatory way if that person is perceived as having special knowledge or access to the gods. The above points are all characteristics of the UB revelations, and they all seem to be at variance with the experiences reported by Vern. It seems improbably that our unseen friends would so radically depart from their prior, proven methods of communication and engage in a process that they know would cause schism, confusion, possible exaltation of one person, and that would so closely approximate what we already know about auditory hallucinations. One might argue that radical means had to be used because of the extreme urgency of the situation. But would it not have been an easy matter for the senders to request that some other human beings be present to hear a message of such profound importance so that it could be verified and cross-referenced? It seems improbable that our celestial supervisors would be so incapable of at least approximating their former methods, especially considering the importance of the message and their profound understanding of how human beings react (and overreact) to extraordinary events.
In light of all the above I must conclude that it is highly doubtful that the messages received by Vern are valid revelations. I personally do not believe them to be so, although there were times I the first few days after I first heard the news that I was inclined to think they might be valid. The state of today’s world in combination with the high visibility of the source are powerful factors that lend an aura of prima facie validity to the messages. But a careful analysis raises far more questions and doubts than answers. We are limited in such evaluations by human frailty and human logic, but we can apply such techniques as the “law of parsimony.” This law on inquiry recommends that simpler, more basic explanations of phenomena be utilized in place of more fanciful explanations that require considerable leaps of assumption beyond the known facts. There are many analogues to this law found in the UB. Most relevant are those admonitions in the Book that warn us against interpreting extraordinary experiences as divinely inspired insights and revelations when they can be just as readily explained as the workings of our own minds (page 1,000, 1,099, 1,100, 1,207, etc.).
There is another nagging factor in all this that should be commented on. It is often typical of prophetic pronouncements that an “escape clause” is built into the warning. The part of Vern’s messages that an emergency son may be sent to intervene has an escape clause ring to it. If the bombs fail to materialize then the non-event will have to be explained. Vern’s subconscious could resolve this dilemma by reflecting back that an emergency son has arrived and is taking care of matters. I also noted that Vern was very sensitive whenever the matter of timing was brought up: “who knows when it will start? It could be tomorrow, or 2 months, or years.” An escape clause may take any number of forms when the time comes. Such a process would not be at the conscious level but would be resolved at the subconscious level. Please refer to the initial quotes by Dr. Sadler as to the intelligence and suppleness of the subconscious mind.
The conductance of this report has not been a pleasant job. We are all well aware of the fine work and many achievements of Vern. Hopefully a way can be found so that Vern’s contributions to the fifth epochal revelation may continue. In the meantime, however, our first priority is the protection, maintenance and enhancement of the revelation. Over the past several days I have heard several people make statements to the effect that “I do not know if Vern’s claims are valid but we can thank him for waking us up to the realities of nuclear war and today’s world.” At the risk of sounding harsh I would suggest that such comments represent false sentiment and an evasion of the critical, central question at issue. Namely, the Urantia “movement” now has a highly visible person who is claiming to be receiving important messages directly from celestial beings. Now either he is or he isn’t. We recognize that these experiences are real to Vern and that he totally believes in them. But each student t of the UB should address this central question and derive the best answer he can. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ response to 20th century intellectuals who, when confronted with the issue of the possible divinity of Jesus Christ, often respond with statements such as “I don’t know about his supposed divinity, but we have to acknowledge that he was a great teacher for mankind.” Lewis retorted (what follows is paraphrased) that such statements evade the central issue: namely, Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God; either he was what he claimed to be or he was a deluded crank, a fraud. I feel there is much in the present situation from which we may and should learn, but as UB students we will not learn from this situation unless we deal with it head on.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with in this situation is the question of how good people, fine people, intelligent and knowledgeable, can undergo such experiences. I will close with a relevant quote from Dr. Sadler (The Mind at Mischief, Page 20): “It is a fact good-hearted people can honestly deceive themselves. There exists a definite mechanism which can be used by one part of our mind (the subconscious) to deceive and mislead the other half of our intelligence (the Conscious mind).”
P. D. K.
P.S. At the end of our evening with Vern I told him that I thought he had been having auditory hallucinations and that there was nothing that I could see in his experiences that could not be explained within the current psychological understanding of psychic phenomena. I also expressed to him my perception of unhealthy group dynamics operative at F.O.G. I asked him if he could re-evaluate his experiences in light of the alternative explanation I was presenting him. He replied that he had already addressed these issues in response to an earlier letter from Meredith Sprunger, that he had prayed extensively on the matter, and that he was “absolutely convinced” of the validity of his experiences. On this note our evening with Vern ended.