Examine and comment on the importance of this claim for understanding ourselves and/or God with reference to the topic you have investigated. (50) A religious experience (RE) is an encounter with the divine, which is a personal, subjective and non-empirical proof for God’s Existence. It is an inductive argument and so can only produce a probability that God exists. For believers it provides the ultimate proof that God exists as it shows God acting in the world and gives believers a deeper understanding of God. There are both biblical and modern examples of religious experiences.
There are lots of different types of RE, for my investigation I have focused on conversion religious experiences, these are experiences that cause a person to change their beliefs. A biblical example of this is the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus. A modern example is the conversion of Nicky Cruz, the ex gang member of the notorious New York Gang the Mau Maus. William James was a philosopher and psychologist who argues that RE stand at the heart f religion and the experiences themselves are true religion.
He argues that RE are psychological phenomena that occur in the brain but they may have a supernatural element. He argues that RE are emotional reactions, which is directed by God however they are too subjective for those who have not experienced them. He therefore argues that RE gives us knowledge about God and ourselves. As it shows the psychological and emotional aspects of RE in ourselves but they are directed by God which gives us further insight into him. James collected empirical evidence and found 4 common themes of RE.
He argued all RE were: Passive, acting upon the person; transient, not sustained but passes; ineffable, beyond description; and noetic, giving a deep knowledge as directed by God. James spoke directly about conversion RE in his book ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ he argues that conversion RE provide empirical evidence for God as it causes people to have dramatic changes in character and lifestyle for the better. James’ criteria are also demonstrated in St Paul’s conversion in the bible.
It was passive as Saul met god face to face; it was transient as it was a short experience that passed; it was ineffable as even the men travelling with him were stunned and speechless; and it was noetic as it gave Saul the knowledge to change his ways, to stop persecuting Christians and to become a disciple. Richard Swinburne argues that if RE fits in with the nature of God than it is acceptable as a proof for the existence of God. He argues, “An omniscient and perfectly good creator will seek to interact with human persons capable of knowing him.
” Swinburne is therefore arguing that RE give proof of God’s attributes and gives a greater understanding of God. He also argues that unless you have evidence to the contrary we should believe they have had a genuine experience of God; this is the principle of testimony. He argues in his principle of credulity that we should accept what appears to be the case unless you have clear evidence to the contrary. This shows that we should just in what people are saying if you have no reason to believe they are lying. St Paul had no reason to lie about his experience, as he was a persecutor of Christians.
St Teresa of Avila was a mystic who argued that RE provided proof for god’s existence. She argues that if an experience fits in with Christian teaching and leaves the individual feeling at peace it is a genuine RE. It therefore gives us a deeper understanding into God and shows the theistic nature of God. This is very relevant for conversion RE as they do not follow traditional Christian teachings of absolute moral rules but follow Jesus’ teachings of love and forgiveness. However they do leave the individual at peace. For example Nicki Cruz’s conversion experience fitted to Jesus’ teachings of love and forgiveness and left him more at peace.