Religion as Mysticism By Scott S. Forster.

Influenced by Rudolf Otto's idea of the holy and William James' varieties of religious experience, as well as transcendentalism, Schleiermacher’s defences of religion etc...

It seems to me that Religion should and,is more based on a set of experiences and feelings rather than creed or dogma. While meanings and factual claims are derived from these experiences and emotions and are used to interpret them, I don't think it's central to religion. Mysticism, pantheism, panentheism, deism , etc. are closer to a true religion it seems than institutionalized organized dogma ones.

All religions which are institutional and organized with a set creed, seem to me to be attempts to prove a backstory or impose a theory upon a set of experiences and emotions as well as add an implied morality which is said to follow from it.

How would I describe religion then? it is a set of experiences and emotions which involve a set of beliefs and a sense of meaning about the world. Religion is not as commonly supposed a set of beliefs(though it does involve them of course) or a certain attitude to some task or subject which is consistent and profound so that you dedicate your life to it - that is devotion .Religion is closer to John Hick's concept of experiencing-as than a bundle of theories. Religion it appears can either be naturalistic or supernatural. Naturalistic religion derives it's meaning from the natural and limits the cause of the religious experience to the naturalistic only. It does not allow for a supernatural realm. Such a religion would be I think suitable for an agnostic or atheist. The current movement of religious naturalism(e.g. Ursula Goodenough) whereby meaning is found in for example evolution and the interdependent web of life is an example of how this is possible.

The supernatural branch of religion seeks to explain the experiences in a cause outside of the known natural world and finds value and meaning from this source. While I consider this branch to be unviable(since it seems to me that the term 'supernatural' lacks any possible meaning and so is subsumed under the term natural) ,it should be included in the definition because it exists in the world. Supernatural religion covers classical deism, classic theism, the Abrahamic religions etc.

What do I consider a religious experience? It goes by various names and labels and the experience may be said to be of God or from God. Maslow calls it Peak experience, Otto calls it the Numinous, it has been called Mysticism, "union with god", "oceanic feeling", transcendence, "communion with nature", mystical experience, unification, "divine presence," cosmic consciousness" etc. I exclude here however claims to have experienced specific entities.

To quell the fears of the naturalist I say : there's nothing supernatural with having an experience you find difficult if not impossible to explain or do not know the cause of. Mysticism is entirely valid as long as no factual claims are made about the ACTUAL existence of god(s) In this way, Mysticism seems to be a perfect religion for agnostics.

Mysticism may be a valid part of phenomenology with the idea that you have an experience and try to explain it as it occurred without trying to interpret it too much. I would say that the more interpretation of this experience is laid upon it(and this is especially the case in supernatural religion) then the more the central importance of what actually occurred is detracted from and the more it becomes what is conventionally considered to be religion today i.e. dogmatic, and creed laden.

All of this has an interesting implication for religious pluralism as seen from the agnostic's point of view. If as I do believe ,that we cannot know whether god(s) exist or not but we do know that many have had the above mentioned experiences in different forms, then this means we should not allow one religion to claim absolute truth. We do not know either way. All paths are potentially open-including atheism. Different religions become different labels for the difference experiences and different conceptions of gods(as philosopher of Religion John Hick has argued) We cannot claim as fact anything other than these experiences occur and we do not know there cause for sure.