Shiloh and the Origin of Religion: Neil Diamond Sings to His Imaginary Friend

IS prayer and worship the expression of longing and inner dialogue (directed to a projected self)?

And when religion turns fundamentalist, is it because this metaphorical self is LITERALIZED?

In short, does fundamentalism mistake the metaphor for something REAL (like a bee trying to draw nectar from a flower drawn on wallpaper)?

Below is a Neil Diamond song that evokes an imaginary friend in ways that are curiously similar to a fundamentalist talking to Jesus.

The difference seems to be that Neil Diamond recognizes that his “friend” is imaginitively CONSTRUCTED—whereas the fundamentalist does not:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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17 Responses to Shiloh and the Origin of Religion: Neil Diamond Sings to His Imaginary Friend

  1. Russ says:

    When a person projects an image of themselves they tend to do so in a positive way. A building or street or park with MY name on it. You don’t name waste water treatment plant after yourself.

    However, the Bible insists that man is evil and is condemned because of his sin and rebellion against God. Rather then testifying to the goodness of man, the Bible testifies of the evil in man and man’s continuous propensity toward selfishness and greed. It testifies of a people who began well but fell into sin and have been sliding downward ever since. Into this lost world, God sent His son to save the world.

    If man were to create a religion that is an imaginary image of himself he would project himself in a positive way. He would create a religion where he sees himself progressing upwards and becoming a higher and higher life form instead of a lost people in desperate need of a Savior.

  2. santitafarella says:


    With all due respect, I think that your premise is faulty. Why would human beings make a religion free of the voice of their parents?

    If there is an infantile element to religion, then why wouldn’t the religion also contain a “superego”—the voice of a scolding parent saying “you’ve been naughty”—“you should do this and not that” etc.?

    It seems almost universal to treat God as a father—and this is highly suggestive of parental projection, is it not?

    Jesus seems to (at times) inhabit the “big brother” projection—and God the father the “father” projection.

    It sounds, in other words, like a human construction—or at least consistent with a thesis of human construction.

  3. santitafarella says:


    One more thought: If bees had religion, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect them to talk to an all powerful and all loving queen bee and imagine her heaven as hive and flower?

    It would not prove that there is no supreme queen bee in the hive of heaven, or that there is no eternal flower, but if bees arranged their lives around such a religion it would make us suspicious that it was bee-made—and did not come to them by divine revelation.

  4. Russ says:

    The Bible gives real evidence for the existence of God. The Bible promises a Messiah, details where He will be born, what He will do and how He will die. Jesus was foretold long before He was born in Bethlehem.

    Think about what I am about to say. Did you know that the Bible has MANY genealogies in it? There must be a hundred names or more. Do you know where all of those genealogies lead too? The lead directly to Jesus Christ. Here is the important part. THEY WERE ALL WRITTEN BEFORE JESUS WAS BORN. They were not invented after the fact. How many persons, even great men, who lived 2000 years ago still have their genealogies documented?

    Israel was a SMALL nation among the nations of their day. Yet, God clearly chose that nation to bring forth His Son. Only God could foretell these things in this detail.

    Consider the Nation of Israel today. They have been outside of there land for 1900 years and yet they retained their national identity against all odds. Now, as foretold in the Bible, they are once again in the land that God promised them.

    There is real evidence that God exists. If you were truly open to knowing the truth, you would not reject it outright.

  5. santitafarella says:


    I notice that you direct me to the ICR website. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to San Diego to go to weekend seminars held by Gish, Morris etc.—and to visit the creationist museum there.

    When I was about 16 years old I actually sat down with Gish over a lunch table at ICR and raised some of my doubts about creationism (as I understood it at the time). Even at a very young age, I was having real cognitive dissonance concerning what I was learning in church, and what scientists were saying about nature.

    In short, I think that you are not giving me credit for having thought my way to my current position (which is this: animals and plants have changed over time, and the earth is old).

    I didn’t arrive at my current point of view without a good deal of emotional struggle and resistance (nobody likes to admit that one’s beliefs, learned in childhood or adolescence, are probably wrong).

    As for the prophecies of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible, their predictive value is vastly diminished by an inconvenient fact: THE WRITERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT HAD READ THE OLD TESTAMENT.

    In other words, it would be truly astonishing if Jesus’s story appeared, say, in China two thousand years ago, where nobody had ever read the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”). If this had happened, then the match between the predictions and the subsequent Jesus story would be quite interesting.

    But that’s not how it happened. The probability that the prophecies are miraculous is reduced considerably by the fact that the writers of the New Testament were obviously influenced by reading the Old Testament.

    In other words, it is just as likely (indeed more so) that the gospel writers built their Jesus-stories around Old Testament passages—creating, as it were, self-fulfilling “prophecies.”

    As for your discussion of geneologies above, I’m sorry, but I did not follow you.

    As for your discussion of Israel, I again don’t see much real connection between the largely secular nation that Israel is today, and the nation described in the Hebrew Bible—or envisioned by the prophets. Further, the borders promised to Abraham, and the borders of contemporary Israel, are vastly different.

  6. Russ says:

    Well, you are absolutely correct. I have not given much thought to what has led you to you position. I was simply responding to a post about how Christianity is like Neil Diamond – or something like that.

    The stakes are high. If you lose, you lose it all.

  7. santitafarella says:


    Oh, you mean hell, right?

    You believe, in other words, that God tortures people—and for eternity at that.

    I’m sorry, but I just think it is improbable (in the extreme) that if there is a God, he is akin, in his gestures of cleansing, to Hitler.

    I think warning somebody that they might go to hell is a form of psychological manipulation—a way for people to frighten the vulnerable into accepting and doing things that they would not otherwise take very seriously.

    It’s probably the most pernicious idea to come out of the human imagination—and when taught to children, a form of gross abuse and cruelty.

    The great philosopher, John Stewart Mill, once said that if hell existed he would think it so profoundly unjust that he would prefer to go there in protest (rather than to spend eternity with the saved in full knowledge of the tragic damned in their vast sufferings).

    I’m with Mill on this.

    And I’m also with Thoreau, who said that he didn’t think that he and God were in an argument.

  8. kerby says:

    Your view is your view collected over your lifetime…to be exact…the only way to the Father is through Jesus Christ His son whom he sent to die for our sins that were started in Eden…Yes, there is a Hell….those who do not worship the Father our God and Praise Him will spend eternity absent from the father…so where will that be…it is our choice where to spend eternity…Remember God is all knowing and He is all knowing….We are here to PRAISE Him in all we do…..Why do you think we or you are here…..?

  9. ice gal says:

    No hell. No heaven. No big man in the sky, watching and knowing all. No savior. No saints. Just centuries of wrong information, handed down generation to generation.
    Humans, all life is here just to be.
    The future for humans, will only progress, with science and reason. Not old superstitions.

  10. Jesus Freak says:

    Your premise of most religions viewing God as some kind of father figure is flawed I believe. That is something quite unique even in the Old Testament, where it is not mentioned until Isaiah. And your bit on the “self fufiling” pophecies of the Gospel writters assumes a large conspiracy between them that is very difficult to pull off and improbable in light of the vast quantities of manuscripts available in dispareate localities. You also ignore the geneological eveidence provided…hey geneologies may not mean anything to you now (2000 years later), but they ment a lot 200 years latter, when the information could be verified…Bottom line is this…it sounds like your parents may have can opened you and stuffed you full of Jesus…you have rejected it. That happens, it is your God given choice. I do hope and pray that you would reconsider, because He is not a figure of my imagination, and he is not the scolding father, he is the loving Father that you in your heart perhaps desire.

    Oh, John Stewart Mill is dead, and unless you have talked to him recently his whole protest is pointless because he can’t prove he carried it out…Now, there is this one one Jewish fellow I know well who did come back from the dead 😉

    Respectfully submitted

    Jesus Freak

  11. uaman83 says:

    I think it is funny that most of the basis for spiritual recognition goes back to the Bible of the belief in Jesus and if the evidence is not found in “the Good Book”, it is not supported, period. Let us not forget what the actual purpose for prayer and adopting a form of religion, it is to have a spiritual connection to something greater than ourselve to ward off the negative aspects of human character. All religions believe, in one form or another, in the existence of the spirit and the belief that God (in whatever form that he/she/it may take) may guide us beyond human interests. Religion is just a step by step belief system to have that spiritual “revelation”. No matter what the supporting arguments, whether miracles by a man or prophetical statements (no matter how jumbled in interpretation they might be), they intend to support rather than to hinder.

    If man is fallible, which even the most intuitive scientist can attest to, because all scientific data has the ability to be disproved no matter how significant at the time. We need something at step ahead of the curve. The problem is not identifying whether or not the receiver of the prayer a “father” figure or a “brother” figure, it is whether or not the validity of the receiver is above the conception the person has of themselves. It just takes humility, which unfortunately is not a characteristic that man possesses, but aquires.

  12. KC says:

    Since Shiloh is actually a name for God – it does tend to make one wonder just who Neil Diamond’s imaginary friend truly was.

  13. santitafarella says:


    Do you mean to suggest that Neil Diamond’s imaginary friend, because he called him “Shiloh” and not, say, Fred Flintstone, was maybe real? God playing a trick on Neal? Neal entertaining an angel unaware?


  14. justaguy says:

    Shiloh is a Hebrew word that has been translated in different ways. A few include: “His gift” “Oh! May it be.” and “He whose it is” . It was used in Genesis and is sometimes interpreted as another name for the Messiah. In the Christian context, this would be another name for Jesus. However, Neil Diamond is Jewish(although his current wife is Christian). Still, the calling of the ‘imaginary friend’ could be taken as saying a prayer or some such. I think this makes sense considering the grief he expresses at lost love. It reminds me of a line from Yehuda Amichai’s “Love Gifts”:

    You enabled me to live for a few months
    without needing a religion

    I’m not saying that either was influenced by the other, but that many people who have lost a loved one in one way or another will often turn to religion for comfort. Neil Diamond has spoken from time to time of his spirituality being an influence on his music. I think it’s somewhat hard to accept a sane grown man asking for an actual imaginary friend to return. Perhaps the song is asking for a return to the spiritual comfort he had when he was a child, rather than the imaginary friend itself.

  15. Maria Helena says:

    opinions given above helped me understand not only the Diamond`s sont `shilo`, but also understand the religion, bible, hebrews destine. At times I ask myself what could have happened to the world, if there`s no religion at all. Would the humanity be happier?. what about the guilty complex criated by religions that try to destroy possibilities. If there`s a God, he wants us to be happy,so that we can contribute to one another to show his beauty, goodness. If God is love, forgiveness, movement, I don`t believe he wants us in eternal suffering. It worth having a religion that contributes to our high self steem.

  16. GARY BENESH says:

    Hitler over 7 million murdered; Stalin 20 million; Mao 80 million; autogenocide in Cambodia; Rwanda 800,000 in 60 days; DR Congo 2.5 million (a century earlier under Imperialism and King Leopold of Belgium 10 million were killed)., Armenian genocide; Darfur genocide; American lynchings and Indian annihilation; WW I and II with atomic bombs; Dresden bombing; concentration camps and gulags; sex trafficing and the list goes on.This in the late 9th and 20th century. Are we really so good innately?

  17. donnabr says:

    Santi Tafarelli, from what I understand he was singing about a childhood imaginary friend who comforted him when he needed it most. I think it’s very sweet. As for the religious point, the word Shiloh, or Shiloh, means a gathering place for the Israeli people to wait. Based on his family background that would make perfect sense as well.
    From a Christian viewpoint, the two never merged into any type of metaphor in my opinion. There is nothing imaginary about the Son of God. I woukd not shove my beliefs down your throat as I don’t even know what you believe.
    The thing about the songs our beloved Neil Diamond wrote is that they almost always make us think or lead us to really contemplate things. I love that in a singer/songwriter!
    There are many wonderful songwriters out there but I’ve not seen or heard any of them on his level, maybe a few that mayyyyyybe come a little close..

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