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Visions and voices - Religious Experience

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Isobel Jones

on 6 April 2013

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Transcript of Visions and voices - Religious Experience

How do we know they happen? Religious experiences have been recorded throughout history. From the old testament to modern day visions and voices have featured prominently in many peoples religious experiences. The historical argument states that the experience of key individuals are so great and impressive that they must be true. The cumulative argument says so many people have religious experiences that they cannot all be making it up, God must cause these. n

St Teresa of Avila offered 2 tests to determine whether an experience was genuine:

Does it fit in with Christian teaching?

Does the individual leave the individual feeling at peace?

However, some thinkers have raised the issue of how we might prove the experience is from God. Some Schizophrenics say that the voices telling them to kill people was from God. Also, experiences such as visions and voices are often linked to physical factors e.g. fasting. Putting the body at a weakened state could lead a person to have a visual or auditory experience that they believe to be from God. What impact do they have? William James studied the impact of a wide range of religious experiences and found a common factor in many of them. He noted a loss of anxiety, gaining of new knowledge and a changed understanding of the world as impacts of religious experiences.

The impact of a religious experience may lead to conversion and a greater understanding of faith. Religious conversion is the process that leads to the adoption of a religious attitude or way of life. What are they? We live in a world of sights and sounds, we observe and hear things around us. Visions and voices are sensory perceptions of God or a religious figure. Religious experiences of visions and voices are often describes in terms of ordinary perceptions, however, the sights and sounds are not usually shared by others. Are there different types? - Visions: Imaginative Visions
A person is imaginatively aware of a figure they cannot see. The experience is beyond control of the person. Refers to visions that occur in dreams.
E.g. Joseph being told in a dream to not be afraid of marrying Mary. (Matthew 1:19 – 24).

Intellectual Visions
The person becomes aware, not of a figure, but an abstraction or concept, such as the essence or soul or grace of God. It may be accompanied by a similar imaginative experience such as persistent light, or a call towards religious life. More of an experience rather than something being observed.
E.g. St Teresa of Avila “Saw Christ at my side – or to but it better I was conscious of him, for neither with the eyes of the body or the soul did I see anything” She could not see the form of Jesus but she was aware that he was there.

Corporal Visions
Where knowledge is communicated through a form or image of a physical person.
E.g. St Bernadette seeing the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Are there different types? - Voices: Disembodied voice
A voice that does not show a from speaking (who the voice is coming from).
E.g. St Paul on the road to Damascus.

Revelation (Noetic)
A voice that communicates a revelation from God which reveals God and his wishes.
E.g. God and Moses on Mount Sinai where God Spoke the 10 commandments. (Exodus 20)

Passes on Gods authority.
E.g. At Jesus’ baptism where God says “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) Examples of visions Biblical – Ezekiel 8:1-5
“I looked and saw something that looked like a human. From the waist down it looked like fire, from the waist up it looked like bright glowing metal. It stretched out the shape of a hand and caught me by the hair on my head. The spirit lifted me up between the earth and they sky. He took me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner courtyard of the temple. In the courtyard was the idol that caused God to be jealous, I saw the glory of the god of Israel there, as I had seen on the plain”

Modern- The Apparitions at Lourdes in 1858 by Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
Bernadette saw 18 apparitions of "a Lady". The apparition did not identify herself until the 16th vision, although the townspeople who believed she was telling the truth assumed she saw the Virgin Mary. Bernadette never claimed it to be Mary, calling what she saw simply "Aquerò“. The lady called herself the “immaculate conception”. Visions and Voices Examples of voices Biblical - Acts 9: 4 – 7 (St Paul on the road to Damascus.)
Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”Saul said, “Who are you LORD” The voice answered “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”

(Kind of) Modern - Joan of Arc
Claimed to hear the voices of Saints who were the force that guided her and was resolved to obey these messages as she believed they were sent directly from God. She first began hearing voices when she was thirteen.
What would different philosophers say? William James Richard Swinburne Richard Dawkins Swinburne would respond using his criteria of two types of religious experience.
Imaginative and corporal visions fit with his private, describable in ordinary language religious experiences as what the people saw in their dreams and visions can be communicated to others.

Intellectual visions fit with his criteria of private non-
describable experiences as they are often difficult to put into words.

Authoritative, Noetic and disembodied voices fit with Swinburnes public extraordinary experiences as hearing the voice of God seem to violate existing laws.

Swinburne would also believe in visions and voices due the the fact he claims it is reasonable to believe that God would want to interact with his creation, so we should expect religious experiences to happen. He also thinks we should trust the people who claim to have seen visions and heard voices based on his principles of credulity and testimony. These people had a religious experience based on their senses and we have no reason to doubt them and they have no reason to doubt their own senses. James would agree that visions and voices are legitimate religious experiences as they all fit at least one of his criteria. Each type of vision and voice is transient and passive, with many types being ineffable, noetic, and mystical.
Another reason James would accept visions and voices as religious experiences as they could quite possible both be explained by psychological phenomena.
Dawkins would dismiss the idea of visions and voices as religious experiences due to the fact they are personal experiences. He says that people are ignorant of straightforward physical or psychological explanations of what they perceive as a vision or voice of the divine.
In his book 'The God Delusion' Dawkins writes "This is really all that needs to be said about personal "experiences" of gods or other religious phenomena. If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings."
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