Religious Experiences

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Religious Experiences
1 Definition; what is it?
1.1 a non-empirical occurrence, and it may be perceived as supernatural.
1.1.1 non-empirical = from experience or experiment.


1.2 It can be described as a 'mental event', which is undergone by an individual.
1.3 Religious experiences can be spontaneous or might be brought about through intense training and self-discipline.
1.3.1 People who claim to have had religious experiences usually say what has happened to them has 'drawn then into' a deeper knowledge or awareness of God. An experience is not a substitute for the divine, but a vehicle that is used to bring people closer to God. The experience that each individual has is unique.
1.4 'Genuine' religious experiences seem to be encouraging; they do not condemn the individual but help them to live a better life or help others.
2 Types of Religious Experience
2.1 Most religious experiences are said to be MYSTICAL, which means the recipient feels a sense of union with the divine.
2.2 Many religious experiences are classed as PRAYER experiences, which refers to experiences brought about by prayer and meditation.
2.3 The effects of religious experiences are often permanent and life changing. Such experiences are often classified as CONVERSION experiences.
2.4 In practically all cultures and religions, religious experience is an integral part of the individuals faith and beliefs. This can be seen in the origins of faiths for instance the interaction between Yahweh and the patriarchs of the Jewish faith, or Mohammed and Gabriel, and in the followers interaction with god in Hindu temples.
2.5 Whilst it is arguable that in the West the Protestant Reformation had a fear of the validity of religious experience in determining theology this still allows experience in the form of worship particularly communion.
2.6 In the Christian Church there has been a significant re-emergence of the importance of religious experience over the last 30 years. Specifically with the emergence of the house church movement in the 70s and the Charismatic movement that came out of this. This movement stresses the personal experience of the Holy Spirit as an essential part of a living faith.
3 Using Religious Experiences as an argument for the existence of God
3.1 People tend to believe something if they have experienced it, even if this experience is contrary to the norm.
3.2 Edwards suggests that experience of God is the best evidence we have that He exists.The evidence for such experiences is not empirical or logical, but spiritual and divine.
3.2.1 "There is not one grace of the Spirit of God, of the existence of which...Christian practice is not the most decisive evidence. The degree in which our experience is productive in practice shows the degree in which our evidence is spiritual and divine."
3.3 William James (1842-1910)
3.3.1 Famous commentator on religious experience. He wasn't a theologian but an American doctor. Most famous work: The Varieties of Religious Experience.
3.3.2 He distinguished between existential judgements and value judgements He suggested that value judgements could also be considered as spiritual judgements as they involved our personal interpretation. The distinction between existential and value/spiritual judgements is important when considering religious experience as we are essentially asking 2 questions: What happened? What does it mean?
3.3.3 He was aware that many people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were happy to dismiss alleged religious experiences as a product of a 'faulty' mind. This is a view that many people still have today. James also accepts this view, but didn't see any problem with it. He spoke of 'religion and neurosis' as perfectly compatible, and to some degree, necessary partners. He said: "In the natural sciences and industrial arts, it never occurs to anyone to refute opinions by showing up their author's neurotic constitution." (William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)) By this he's saying that we accept the work of Einstein, and other scientists without questioning their sanity! (though some may strongly dispute this) Maudsey however gives this defence: "What right have we to believe nature (which could be read in context as God), under any obligation to do her work by complete minds only? She may find an incomplete mind a more suitable instrument for a particular purpose. (Dr H.M. Maudsley in William James' Natural Causes and Supernatural Seemings (1886))
3.3.4 'The Reality of the Unseen' In a later lecture with the above title, James considers many testimonies of people who have claimed to have had religious experiences. It is the sheer certainty in these testimonies that is most compelling.

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