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Religious Experiances

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Fiona Hopkins

on 27 May 2013

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Transcript of Religious Experiances

Public Experiences William James Wrote "The Varieties of Religious Experience: a study in human nature"
He is objective, takes into account personal accounts, and examines through scientific investigation if REs have common features. I Should know William James Swinburne He suggested in "Is There a God" that we should treat REs as we would any other experience, unless there is a good reason to doubt the report. Visions Visions and Voices Do Religious Experiences Prove the Existence of God? Vardy:
"Ones culture seems to condition what one sees"
"Instead of REs being a grounding of faith, they are a production of it." Philosophy Religious Experience Aims and conclusions for The Varieties of Religious Experience Visions Voices Numinous experiences Conversion Experiences Corporate Experiences Revelation through Sacred writings David Hay Critics of Swinburne Private Experiences Otto Voices RE as the souse of Religious Institutions
- Conversion of Saul (acts 9)
- Epistemological Roles James is a pragmatist, the truth of something can be determined by the affects.
He needs to see change in the long term.
"The real witness...is to be found in the disposition of the genuine child of God, the permanent patient heart, the love of self education." [Example of drunk who sees God and turns life around] "The fact that a belief has a good moral effect lends nothing to the truth of it." - Russell - Passive (not to be in control of it)
- Ineffable (indescribable with human language) - Noetic (knowledge is gained)
- Transient (not permanent) Characteristics of a veridical RE, according to James: Hay classified over 1500 accounts of RE.
He wrote Religious Experience Today. - REs can be triggered by listening to music or prayer, the beauty of nature, attending church, watching children play, or reading the bible.
- Between 1/2 and 2/3 of adults have had a RE.
- These people are often better educated and happier than most.
- A large proportion had never previously spoken out about their experience.
- Many of these people had no connection with formal or institutional religion.
- A range of ages experienced RE.
- Similar patterns were found in the UK, Australia and the USA.
- REs gave awareness that there is more to reality than the physical world.
- REs produce a change in behavior and attitude. (Including altruism, self-esteem, feelings of purpose) - Facts and figures make the report objective.
- A vast array of ages, cultures, people etc lend to its objectivity.
- Shows REs do happen independently of other influences.
- Something must happen to have a material change in the personality.
- The amount of occurrences means that RE should be taken seriously as a part of human nature.
- Shows that REs are not influenced by peer pressure.
- People who have a lot to lose (education, happiness etc) still change as a result.
- Non-religious people still have them. The conclusions of this report were: - Better educated - Hume and Vardy disagree.
- There is no concrete tie to God.
- Says nothing about the attributes of God.
- People were reluctant to come forward, so the stats may not be exact.
Evaluation of Report According to Swinburne: Experiencing a perfectly normal, non-religious object or event, e.g. the night sky.
- The night sky is not God, but God is encountered through it.
- The object or event is seen as the handiwork, an address by, a sign from, or something which points to God. Experiencing a very unusual public event, e.g. the resurrection of Jesus.
- People present can still see what is happening and experience God through it. Experiencing a private sensations that are describable with normal language, e.g. a dream of an angel.
Or a private sensation that is not describable with normal language, e.g. a mystical experience such as those of St. Teresa. Non-sensory experiences; a person is unable to refer to anything in particular that made it seem like they were experiencing God; "I just did." Conversion Corporate The Principle of Credulity:
- If something seems to be true, then it is reasonable for me to accept that it is.
- To take any other position would land us "in a skeptical bog." "Unless we take perceptual claims seriously, whatever they are about, we shall find ourselves in epistemological Queer Street" Contrary evidence would include the following:
- There is good reason to doubt the person.
- Proof that God does not exist.
- Proof that the experience was not caused by God. Vardy questions why we will take seriously claims of God, but not of UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster.
Swinburne argues that given the amount cumulative argument, it is probably that God does exist, and why shouldn't we believe what we think is happening. The Principle of Testimony:
- It is reasonable to believe what someone tells us.
- Less often are people mistaken, joking or being deliberately deceitful, and in most cases we can believe what we are being told.
- Again, to do otherwise would leave us "in a skeptical bog." Mackie:
-Argues against PoT, it is too easy for a truthful person to be mistaken, or misinterpret something.
-According to Mackie, the balance of probability always leans away from the supernatural. Gale:
- REs are not the same as ordinary experiences, unlike Swinburne says.
- For example, if we dream about monsters under the bed, we do not take that dream seriously. Davis:
- We wouldn't take the report of a crime seriously without first putting it in a court of law.
- REs are not so trivial that we can just take them at face value. Martin:
- An atheist might experience the world as Godless, Swinburne would also have to believe such experiences. Russell:
"There are abundant recorded cases of people who believe they have heard Satan speaking to them... I don't see that from what mystics tel us you can get any argument for God is not equally an argument for Satan." If we experience innocent suffering, do we take it at face value that God is malevolent? Swinburne does not capture what a RE feels like. Otto coined the tern "numinous".
This is a distinct and recognizable experience which has certain features that set it apart from other experiences. A key feature is the feeling of being "a creature, abased and overwhelmed by its own nothingness" in the face of God. The feeling is external, not internal.
The power of God is felt outside and around them, not from within. Mysterium - conveys the otherness of God, a being which we cannot comprehend and who is alien to us.
Tremendum - the overwhelming terror of encountering God.
Fascinas - the wonder and rapture that believers feel during the REs that they are drawn to God at the same the of being in awe of Him. He uses the phrase Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinas; a terrifying and compelling mystery. The presence of these 3 emotions make people who have experienced them change their lives. To change ones beliefs. Conversion usually takes a basic pattern:
1) the person is dissatisfied with current system of ideas.
2) The person searches for some intellectual or emotional basis to make a decision.
3) A point of crisis, of intense emotion, (the presence of God, a sense of sinfulness, voices or lights).
4) A sense of peace, joy, and loss of worry.
5) A long term change of direction. Conversion of Saul (Acts):
Saul was initially a Jew, and an opponent of Christianity, often persecuting them.
Saul "began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison." - Acts
On the road to Domascus, a bright light from heaven surrounded him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice;
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"Who are you Lord?"
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
The men traveling with Saul heard the voices, but did not see anyone.
Saul was led to Domascus, for he couldn't see once he'd gotten up, and went on to be imprisoned and martyred for being a Christian. Should we take Saul's conversion seriously? James says yes, given the dramatic and sudden change in behavior. However, there may be a physiological explanation too.
There have been assumptions that Saul was epilectic. (Sometimes reffed to as St. Paul's disease)
Psychologists may say that Saul had the experience he described, but would not attribute it to God.
The report in Acts is consistent with an epilectic seizure - a light from the sky, falling to the ground, unable to see for days, not eating or drinking.
Saul also hints at it himself -
"I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan's messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud." - Corinthians All human behavior happens within a social context, it is difficult to separate internal influences from external social causes.
Transformations in priorities do happen as we go through life, and a "conversion" might just be a very sudden, psychological, natural change. Several people having a RE at once. Biblical Example: Pentecost
- When Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
- Suddenly, the sound of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house.
- They saw tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
- The Holy Spirit filled them and they began to speak in tongues.
- After this, Peter addressed the crowd.
- They were accused of being drunk, although it was 9 in the morning.
- About 3000 people were converted. Modern Example: The Toronto Blessing
- At the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church, on January 20th, 1994, pastor Clark gave his testimony of how he would get drunk off the Spirit and laugh uncontrollably.
- In response, the congregation began laughing growling, dancing, shaking, barking, and some were paralyzed.
- These behaviors were attributed to the Holy Spirit entering peoples bodies. Why people are Skeptical:
- These people were inclined to behave this was because of their evangelical form of faith.
- The atmosphere had been built up (Hysteria and self-delusion)
- Could be the work of demons holding the believers to ridicule.
- Did not conform to the Pentecostal experience. (incomprehensible)
- Nothing was reviled or gained theologically.
- God has better things to do, e.g. starving children.
- If that was God, he is not a God worthy of belief. Strengths of Corporate Experiences:
- Can have more evidential fores than solitary ones.
- The more something is seen or experienced, the more weight it has.
- This could mean it is more likely to be veridical.
- Points to an experience being more objective than subjective. Muhammad's Vision:
- The Prophet Muhammad has a vision of the Angel Gabriel whilst reflecting in a cave.
- The Angel gave him messages to recite and proclaim to the people of Mekkah.
- This vision gave him a purpose and a calling. St. Teresa's Vision:
- She described an "inner vision".
- "I saw Christ at my side- or to put it better, I was conscious of Him, for neither with the eyes or the body or of the soul did i see anything."
- Some people refer to these as intellectual visions.
- Believers who have these visions argue that they are too profound to be confused with imagination. Agustine's Experience:
- Agustine heard the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house.
- The voice kept repeating "Take it and read it, take it and read it" (referring to the Bible)
- He looked to see whether it was just a game being played by children, and concluded that it "could only be a Divine command to open the book of scripture."
- In this case, the voice may well have been the voice of a child, bit Agustine interprets this as a means of God communicating with him.
- REs may not always be a supernatural events.
- It is the interpretation that holds the meaning for us. See also the conversion of Saul. Evaluation The issue with voices is that we cannot tell if t is the voice of God.
Many schizophrenics have killed people because they have "heard the voice of God" (e.g. the Yorkshire Ripper.) Teresa considers this issue and suggests a criteria be used:
1) Does the experience fit with the Christian Church or is it against it?
2) Does the experience leave the person feeling at peace with the world and God, rather than distressed. Some have argued that this is not a good test as the fact that it fits with Church teachings does not prove that the voice is from God.
Some have observed that visions and voices are often linked to physical factors such as fasting (People seeing mirages in the desert.) Schleiermacher:
REs are self-authenticating.
Doctrines such as the Creed attempted to understand REs.
This goes against Teresa, who thought that REs should be thought of withing the framework of existing doctrine.
For Schleiermacher, REs should have priority and statements of belief should be formulated to fit them. In order to prove something, one must have irrefutable evidence. This means moving from what appears to be, to what actually is the case. Rejections for RE There is no God to experience:
- If you had been told by a friend that they had seen a flying pig, you would be suspicious.
- Your experience of the world makes this idea impossible.
- The same applies with God, and natural disasters, disease, and evil makes it impossible for them to subscribe to the idea of a good God. Counter: There is no proof that God does not exist, so his presence is still an open question until we prove otherwise. Sense experience is unreliable:
- We could easily be deceived by sense experience and therefore it is unwise to claim something based on it.
- For example, the sun appears to go around the earth, a stick in water looks as if it bends.
- Plato's Cave. Counter: Davies argues that even if sense experience is sometimes mistaken, often it isn't. If I see a train coming towards me, I know that I will probably get run over. The Vicious Circle Challenge:
- People see what they are expecting to see.
- For example, a Catholic is likely to see the Virgin Mary, whereas a Hindu may see the Goddess Kali.
- REs are "a product of faith rather than a grounding of faith" - Vardy
- "If RE constitutes an authentic window onto the Real, why does that reality look so different when seen through different windows?" Counter: Just because some people give different accounts does not mean that they are wrong, just that some people may be better attuned to seeing the spiritual, whilst some are "spiritually short sighted". Conflicting Claims:
- People claim that REs underpin particular religions.
- They are given an epistemological role.
- For example Paul on the road to Domascus.
- However, other religions, such as Islam, have events such as the Angel and Mohammed.
- All religions cannot be right, leading to "a triumph for the sceptic" - Hume The problem of recognition:
- Those claiming to have experienced God do not address the problem of recognition.
- For example, before you recognize a tiger you must be able to recognize its features and distinguish them from say, a dog.
- So how then, do people distinguish Gods features from those of the Devil? The experiences are not empirically tested:
- Take the statement "I was robbed last night"
- It is synthetic, it may or may not be true.
- You can provide evidence for the truth of the statement i.e. you saw the robber take your TV.
- Take the statement "I experienced God last night"
- There is no way of checking by seeing or not seeing.
Direct experiences can have psychological explanations:
- Feuerbach asserts that God is a creation of human imagination.
- In order to feel secure, we project into heaven an ideal picture of ourselves.
- "God is man written in large letters"
- direct experiences of God then, are just projections of ourselves.
- "In the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for hos object the infinity of his own consciousness. Counter: It may be that God uses our psyche in order to encourage in us a true picture of Himself. Our projection then is Him giving a picture of Himself that we can trust. It is logically impossible to experience God:
- Kant rejected all claims of RE.
- God is not an object in space and time.
- Since humans humans only have 5 senses, we cannot experience something that isn't spatio-temporal.
- Kant does not reject the existence of God, just our experience of Him. Counter: Whilst God is so much more than human, we can still experience Him if he chooses to show Himself to us.
Alston argued that we have more than 5 senses, just as dogs have senses that we are not yet aware of.
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