What may a study of religious experience indicate about human nature

What may a study of religious experience indicate about human nature? Comment on the significance of this study. ‘ The unreasoned and immediate assurance is the deep thing in us, the reasoned argument is but a surface exhibition.’ William James A religious experience is something beyond and outside of human science and understanding. It is, in essence, an encounter with the divine or ultimate. A religious experience is unique to each person who has one and so there is no specific or exact description of a religious experience. It is non-empirical, it often gives numinous feelings outside of our-selves and some thinkers also say that it gives a new purpose of life and destiny to the individual. For those who have had a religious experience it is full and ultimate proof in the existence of God and often leads individuals to complete re-evaluate their lives and follow a more humble religious way of life. However a religious experience only ultimate proof of the existence of God to those that have had such an experience, for those who have had not, it is impossible to understand what these individuals could have possibly experienced, and why only certain people have them. The vast majority of Religious Experiences are unique individual experiences however there are some where are a group of people all share the same experience for example the Toronto Blessings where a large group all had the same experience. There is simply not one type of religious experience and so Richard Swinburne among others categorised such experiences into 5 clear categories. An every-day occasion that can be interpreted in a religious form , anyone can watch the sunset as simply a natural occurrence however some people may see the sunset and be overwhelmed with religious feeling. Witnessing a miracle or something super-natural such as a resurrection of someone you know to be dead. These two categories are what Swinburne classed as public experience, because they can be witnessed by anybody present. The next three are private experiences in that they are unique to the individual and not shared by anyone. The first is an unusual experience with particular religious meaning and significance such as a dream where the individual is able to describe and talk about their experience. An example of this (taken from Alistair Hardy’s archive) is ‘’everything becomes more clearly defined; sights, sounds and smells take on a new meaning.’ This individual is able to describe how he felt during his experience. There are also such experiences of this kind that individuals simply cannot put into words. This type of experience which is beyond our human understood is called a ‘ mystical experience’. A mystical experience is when an individual experiences the ultimate reality giving the individual a sense of unity and understanding to the divine. The final type of experience is non-specific, it is not a certain event such as a vision or dream, it is simply a numinous feeling that individual gets and they may feel the presence or ‘ guiding hand’ of God. Although it is not included in Swinburne’s categories there is also an induced religious experience which is where an experience occurs as a result of a religious action of ritual performed such as prayer. An individual prays to god and they feel that God has directly responded to their prayers and helps them to get through and make sense of their lives. Testimonies from archives throughout history document religious experience and they suggest that perhaps humanity and God really are linked and even the Old Testament view that God created human life. Richard Swinburne argues that religious experience is indeed solid evidence that human beings can communicate with God and vice-versa. He believes God communicates with humans to change their outlook and view of life. He also says that’s God selects a person, there is no particular reason, and he gives them a chance to get to know him and embrace a religious way of life. However many Scholars disagree with Swinburne’s view on religious experience and believe firmly that not are religious experiences not evidence that God and human beings are connected but believe religious experience are an illusion individuals create in their minds. One such scholar of these beliefs is Freud who argued that religion is created by humans to counter the grief in their lives and need a father figure in their lives (God) to give them hope and protection. Freud backed up his beliefs with research evidence that people who convert have weaker relations with their own father’s than people who haven’t converted so use God as protection and their own Fatherly figure. Therefore Freud simply believed those religious that went the step further to claim they had religious experiences simply wanted to give themselves some hope and re-assurance that someone cares for them. However there is one major flaw of Freud’s theory in that it doesn’t disprove God’s existence. The argument is that God created humans with the innate tendency to look at God as a Father figure so that we can learn to grow closer to him through faith. Another scholar who disagrees with Swinburne’s views is Karl Marx who similarly to Freud believed that religion was something people made up and created in their minds to ‘ dull the pain of their lives’. He believed religious experiences (for those who took it further than others,) are the result of the religion drug which gives hope and happiness to people’s lives. His theory, like Freud’s, has one major flaw in that he said that it was the lower class who created religion to give them hope however it is those better off, the middle class, who have more religious experiences according to research. A scholar who agrees with Swinburne and supports his views on religious experience is William James. He classed religious experiences, particularly mysticism, which could not be explained or described in human language into four categories. The first listed in his book ‘ The varieties of Religious Experience’ is Ineffable. This is an experience significantly different from ordinary experiences and cannot be described using ordinary language. The second is Noetic Quality which provides knowledge to an individual which can’t be explained and described to a limited extent; they may be called a ‘ revelation.’ The third is Transient which are brief experiences lasting no longer than half an hour. The final is Passive which are experiences that are completely involuntarily bought on as if their bodies or minds or being taken over as opposed to inducing or actively bring the experience about. James says that ‘ through religious experiences God allow humans to communicate with him. Swinburne believed that all religious experiences should change an individual’s outlook and view on life from a religious angle and guide them to lead a new life in keeping with Christian teachings and values. He said humans have a ‘ religious sense’ helping them to feel religious experiences, empirically, through their senses. He therefore believes that if we are told that someone has had a religious experience, we should believe that this experience did indeed take place. Under his ‘ Principle of Testimony’ he argued that it is simply human nature to always tell the truth. Swinburne said that unless there is sufficient evidence to show someone is lying (alcohol/drug abuse) then we should believe someone is they claim to have had a religious experience no matter what type of experience or who claims to have had it. ‘ In the absence of special considerations the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them’ Swinburne said that because so many people have reported having religious experiences then it is a basic principle of rationality to believe them, for obviously they cannot all be lying. He called this the ‘ Principle of Credulity’. In short, unless there is strong solid evidence to suggest otherwise, we should believe all reports of religious experiences are true, ‘ we should believe that things are as they seem’. However as with every argument some scholars disagree with this, arguing that it is impossible to verify if someone has had an actual religious experience as they cannot be tested as a basic yes or no result because to verify such a complicated phenomenon in such a basic way would not give accurate results as it is impossible to reduce such an experience into yes or no validity result. Many scholars argue that the Roman Catholic method of validating a religious experience is unjust and wrong. The Roman Catholic Church tests every report of a religious experience to the teachings of the holy bible to see whether these reports match those of the bible. Many scholars believe this is unfair because a religious experience is supposed to private and unique in that an experience is subject to each individual so to have their claim of an experience dismissed by the Church is unjust just because it doesn’t match into the bibles teachings such experiences.