Religious Experience

Problems/Questions: Is religious experience authoritative or reliable
source for knowledge of the divine? Can Religious xperience !ustif"
Religious #elief?
$here are % mains t"pes of religious experience&&&
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Numinous
$his experience leaves the believer feeling that there is something greater
than them3 which the" to be 4od& *uch a feeling is likel" to support or start a
belief in 4od&
Conversion
$his experience leaves the believing feeling 4od is calling them to do
something for him& *uch a feeling is likel" to support or start a belief in 4od&
A Miracle
5hen something breaks the laws of nature "ou will look for an explanation& If
the onl" explanation is its a miracle3 "ou will start believing in 4od&
Prayer
If the person pra"ing feels like someone is listening the" are likel" to believe
that 4od exists& -lso an answered pra"er can lead to belief in 4od&
Mystical
$his experience is simple 6 seeing is believing 6 If someone feels the" have
had a vision of 4od or something religious the" are likel" to start believing in
4od&
Near Death Experience
If someone believes the" have had a glimpse of the after life this ma" lead to
a belief in 4od as the two are often seen to go hand in hand&
!ames argues that there are several features of a conversion experience:
7& - loss of worr": the certaint" of 4od8s activit" in a person8s life and a
feeling of overwhelming harmon" and completeness&
9& Perceiving truths not known before: the m"steries of life become lucid
and clear&
:& $he world appears to go through a change: ;an appearance of
newness beautifies ever" ob<ect&8
=& cstas" of happiness: ;(o words can express the wonderful love that
was shed abroad in m" heart& I wept aloud with <o" and love&8
7
>& *aintliness: living a life of moral goodness&
1
Ibid page 255.
+"stical xperiences
- m"stical religious experience is one where the experiencer believes that
the" have achieved some kind of union with the divine& $his ?uotation from
$eresa of -vila3 one of the most famous of the Christian m"stics3 illustrates
what man" people feel when the" have a m"stical experience:
;$hus does 4od3 when he raises a soul to union with himself3 suspend
the natural action of all her faculties& *he neither sees3 hears nor
understands so long as she is united with 4od& #ut this time is alwa"s
short3 and it seems even shorter than it is& 4od establishes himself in
the interior of this soul in such a wa"3 that when she returns to herself3
it is wholl" impossible for her to doubt that she has been in 4od and
4od in her&8
9

$his ?uotation reveals some of the distinctive features of m"stical
experiences: the" are short3 the experiencer loses a sense that the" are an
individual self and the" feel dissolved in 4od3 the" lose a sense of time3 the"
are passive and the experience is not felt b" the senses: there is some kind of
;direct awareness8 at work&
5illiam !ames argued that there are four ;marks8 of m"stical religious
experience:
7& Ineffabilit": that the experiencer finds it ver" difficult to put their
experience into words& In man" accounts of m"stical experiences3 we
read the words ;I cannot express what took place&8
9& (oetic ?ualit": that when the m"stic unites with 4od3 the" become
aware of truths not previousl" known&
:& $ransienc": the experience is over ?uickl"&
=& Passivit": the experiencer has no control over the experience3 it
happens to them and the" are unable to stop it&
+"stical experiences are fascinating because the" are so wholl" different from
our ever"da" experiences and people who have had these t"pes of m"stical
experiences seem to be profoundl" changed b" them& 5hat is intriguing is
that across the range of m"stical experiences3 of those that come from
religious backgrounds or none3 people report ver" similar features of their
experiences: what is often referred to as the common core of m"stical
experiences& $his is ver" important3 as it suggests the following possibilities:
• $hat m"stical experiences are caused b" the same thing as the effects
of this cause are similar& $his indicates that either
7& +"stical experiences are similar because the" occur in the same
part of the brain3 which is common to all m"stics and therefore there
is a naturalistic explanation or@
9& +"stical experiences are similar because the" are caused b" 4od3
the ob<ectivel" existing cause of all things in the universe&
2
Quoted in James, op cit, page 409.
 .ouis P& Po<man claims that there is both a strong <ustification and a weak
<ustification to be offered that Religious experiences do provide evidence
of the existence of a supernatural entit"3 a deit"&
*trong: this argument would be so strong as to oblige all people to believe in
4od&
5eak: this <ustification provides rational support onl" for those who have had
such an experience Aor alread" accepted the world view that holds such
experiences are possibleB
Po<man argues against such a strong argument because:
7& the reports are too amorphous
9& the" reports are circularC acceptance of them depends on background
belief in 4od
:& reports are not capable of being confirmed as with perceptual
experiences &
$hus3 the" are not checkable3 not predictable
If one has no had a religious experience how can one reach a conclusion as
to whether or not such an experience exists as reported? is truthful? Is
accurate? Is sufficient grounds to conclude that there is a supernatural realm?
that there is a deit"? $hat there is a supreme being?
1ow can nonC believers accept the reports of people who claim to have
encountered the deit" or its emissaries when there are so man" alternative
explanations for those reports which would provide strong reasons to re<ect
the claim that the reports are truthful and accurate?

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