Religious Experience Essay
Essay Topic: God
Paper type: Essay
Words: 1531, Paragraphs: 14, Pages: 7
Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website!
A religious experience is an encounter with God when you experience transcendent reality and it you cannot will it to happen. A direct religious experience refers to events where God reveals him/herself directly to the person having the experience. The experience is not chose or willed by the person; the person experiences or observes God in some way. An indirect religious experience refers to experiences, thoughts or feelings about God that are prompted by events in everyday life. For example observing the stars in the sky and having thoughts about the greatness of God the Creator.
Ineffable experiences are beyond human powers and abilities to fully describe and communicate. Religious experiences can be experienced in many forms such as visions, voices, numinous experiences, conversion experiences, or corporate religious experiences.
The inductive argument is all based upon experience. Inductive arguments suggest that if an entity is experienced, it means that it must exist. It implies that God is the sort of being that is possible to be experienced and that people can claim to have experienced God directly.
One may conclude from this that God exists.
Richard Swinburne suggested that there are two different types of religious experience: Public and Private. An ordinary experience comes under public and is an experience where a person interprets a natural event as having a religious significance (for example the beauty of nature). An extraordinary experience appears to violate normal understanding of the workings of nature (e.g. Jesus turning water into wine). There are three types of private experiences which includes experiences such as dreams, non describable experiences where God is revealed.
These experiences go beyond human powers of description. The last type includes things like looking at the world from a religious perspective. Swinburne’s principle of credulity maintains that it is a principle of rationality that in the absence of special consideration, if it seems to a person that X is present, then X probably is present because what one seems to perceive is probably so. The principle of testimony maintains that in the absence of special considerations, it is reasonable to believe that the experiences of others are probably as they report them.
There is evidence of religious experiences in the Bible, such as Saul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-3. Saul sees a big light which no one else experiences, followed by the Lord speaking to Saul where Saul talks back (other people also hear the lord). Saul then goes blind and the Lord speaks to Ananias in a vision who then restores Saul’s sight. This experience was said to change Saul’s life which makes it the account more accurate because why would he lie? However some may critique that the person who wrote it (Luke) was not present at the time of the event so may not have all the correct details. Furthermore some may say that the experience could have just been an epileptic fit, which would explain the light Saul saw. However there was no evidence that he had an illness could cause side effects like hallucinations, visions or delusions. Saul’s conversion also appears later in the bible in Acts 22 and 26 which may weaken its validity because each account has slightly different details.
William James was interested in the conversion experiences because he believed that they were the inspiration behind institutions like the church, and believed we would not have the church without them. He believed that religious experiences lead to loss of anxiety, gaining of new knowledge and a changed understanding of the world. One of James’ achievements was to identify four characteristics of religious experiences, which were particularly prominent in mystical religious experiences of God. This includes ineffable which is a direct experience of God, which goes beyond human powers of description. Another characteristic is that they are noetic, which refers to the fact that mystics receive knowledge of God that is not otherwise available. An addition characteristic is transient which means the affects are not permanent but it they are long lasting and can change a person. The final characteristic is passive which means that the person is not in control of it happening but is something, which happens to the mystic and is from God. James saw this as evidence against arguments claiming that a religious experience can be explained by saying a person willed it.
James suggested that the only possible sign that religious experiences are from God is a ‘good disposition’. So he would not ask you to do anything bad. For example, Michael Abrams believed that he heard a voice telling him to kill George Harrison in 2001, when in actual fact he was just mentally ill because he had come off his medication. The voice he heard was not from God because they encouraged him to do bad things. James believed that religious experiences only have authority for the person who experiences it, but they may have great meaning. James did not deny the reality of religious experiences, but he examined the similarities between them and other experiences such as dreams and hallucinations, or subconscious ideas.
He suggested that on their own they do not demonstrate Gods existence, they do suggest the existence of ‘something larger’. James makes it rather clear in his book ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’ that religious experience is central to religious belief. However James leaves open the possibility of God’s existence. Furthermore, many psychologists claim that religious experiences only happen to people who already have at least some religious belief. However there are some cases that have no connection to any religious tradition. James argued that religious experiences are explainable psychologically, however J.L. Mackie argued that if this is the case, they have no authority even for the person who experienced it.
Immanuel Kant rejected all claims of religious experiences. He thought that because God is not an object in space and time and we only have five senses, which limit us to only sense what is in space and time. This makes it impossible for us to experience God. The example of ‘the blind girl’ can be used to explain Kant’s suggestion. For instance, the blind women in the picture can experience her daughter’s hair because she is touching it, but she cannot experience the rainbow, which is behind her because she has no sight so it is out of her senses.
Richard Swinburne suggests two ways, which can be used to asses claims about religious experiences. The first one is the ‘principle of credulity’. This argues that other things being equal, we have good reason to believe what a person tells us is correct. On the whole we normally believe would believe a simple statement telling us that they saw a cat crossing the road, even if we had not witnessed it ourselves. ‘The principle of Credulity [states] that we ought to believe that things are as they seem to be… unless and until we have evidence that they are mistaken’ (Swinburne ‘Is there God’). He suggests reasons why we may not believe evidence, such as there may be evidence that an event was not caused by God. He gives the example of an set of identical twins – you see one twin but later discover it was actually the other twin.
Swinburne then goes on to suggest the ‘principle of testimony’, which argues that it is reasonable to believe what someone tells you. For example there would normally be no reason why you would not believe what your good friend says. However if that person is a known joker or liar, this may be a special consideration as this knowledge may undermine any instance to believe what your friend tells you. However, not everyone has religious experiences, which you mean that one could say that this may be a reason to say that experiences are caused by something else. If someone is dying of thirst they may see a hallucination of an oases but this does not mean that it is real.
If religious experiences are similar to this, they do not reveal god. Swinburne suggests that it is the already religious people who are more likely to have a religious experience just because they have a better chance of recognising a religious experience by using their beliefs. This means that attention can be drawn towards prior beliefs. Swinburne argues that, taken with other evidence of God’s existence, religious experiences make it likely that God exists. However Anthony Flew gave the example of 10 leaky buckets – they will never be as good as one non-broken one. Flew suggests that a series of weak arguments does not make a strong one.
The Vicious Circle Challenge says that religious experience depends on the prior assumptions on those involved. This implies that instead of religious experience being a basis for faith, they are more likely to be generated by existing faith commitments. So therefore they do not underwrite faith. The Conflicting Claims Challenge argues that if one religion relies on their religious experiences to prove their religion then each can religion can claim the same. It implies that each religion is equally true, as David Hume put it that it is ‘a complete triumph for the sceptic’.