Argument From Religious Experience

Argument From Religious Experience

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The Argument from Religious Experience

The argument from religious experience is the argument that personal religious experiences can prove God’s existence to those that have them. One can only perceive that which exists, and so God must exist because there are those that have experienced him. While religious experiences themselves can only constitute direct evidence of God’s existence for those fortunate enough to have them, the fact that there are many people who testify to having had such experiences constitutes indirect evidence of God’s existence even to those who have not had such experiences themselves. The Argument from Miracles When and where do religious experiences occur? Religious experiences can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. Although religious experiences are somewhat unique, it is not uncommon for them to occur in some very ordinary places. In the Bible there are many examples of people doing some very ordinary things, yet suddenly becoming aware of being in the presence of God. For example: Moses was out tending to his father-in-law's sheep, when he suddenly saw a burning bush from which God spoke to him (Exodus 3:1-4). There are also examples of people having religious experiences in the midst of ordinary satiations in other religious traditions. Muhammad (PBUH) was said to be in a cave on Jabal al-Nour, when he received his first revelation from Allah (Qur'an 96). Arjuna was in a chariot on a battlefield, when Krishna revealed his divinity to him (see The Bhagavad-Gita: An introduction). Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was bathing in a river when he was taken into the presence of God, and shown that there was one divine reality behind the cosmos (Guru Granth Sahib p.1). Some issues Although atheists deny the existence of God, religious experiences may offer proof that God does exist. People have done some rather inexplicable things because they believe God told them to, even at risk of their own life. For example, at a time when it was extremely dangerous to be a Christian, Saul converted from Judaism to Christianity because he believed he had met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

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Bearing in mind that Saul (later Paul) was on his way to arrest and persecute Christians for spreading (what he believed to be) lies about Jesus being the Son of God, this makes his change of faith even more remarkable. The question many Christians will ask is why did someone like Saul convert to Christianity, if he did not have the religious experience he claimed to have had? Of course, the biggest problem with religious experiences is actually proving that people have heard God, or been in the presence of God. How do we know that people who claim these experiences are not simply convincing themselves that they have done these things, when when they have not? We should also note that some people have done some very wicked things because they believe God told them to do it. To read more on this subject see Killer Cults: Murderous Messiahs and Their Fanatical Followers {draw:frame} . Finally, many people in lots of different religions all claim to have had religious experiences. However, they cannot all be experiencing the same God, as different faiths tend to teach different things about who or what God is, and our relationship with God. So if someone says they have had a religious experience, how can they prove that their experience is genuine, and also that it is better (or more genuine) than those of people in other faiths? Common types of religious experiences Numinous: The sense of ‘awe and wonder’ a person may feel when they experience the presence of God in a certain place or building. It usually describes the feeling (or realisation) that God is very different from us - powerful and awesome. Some people usually feel this when they enter a church or a cathedral. However, they might just as easily have a sense of God's greatness by looking at the world around them (E.g. a sunset). Miracles: A miracle occurs when God acts in the world in a special way. Miracles are said to be things God does, which go against the laws of nature. People who believe God exists, usually believe God can and does work miracles. For example, miracles which involve healing the sick are often believed to be the result of prayer. Mystical Experiences: Some people claim to have experienced God in such an intense way, that they have literally been in the presence of God. Some people also believe they have become one with God at certain times. People who claim have such experiences are often called Mystics. It is common for Mystics to use a variety of spiritual techniques, such as meditation, to come into the presence of God in this special way. The most direct argument for the existence of God is that which claims actual experience of God. Such an argument is the oldest form of religious justification but is also arguably the most controversial. Whereas the other arguments rely on some form of logical persuasion, the religious experience argument relies totally on the authenticity of such an experience. From the point of view of the potential convert there is no need that the experience be a direct personal one. Trust or faith in the genuine experience of another may also act as proof of a divine being. However, criticisms of the argument are primarily concerned with the possibility of such an experience, and secondarily with how it might be possible to authenticate another's testimony. We will return to the problems associated with religious experience later on in more depth. History The problem of verifying religious experience is an old one. St. Theresa of Avilea was accused of being in league with evil spirits, but argued that her vision was of divine origin. Jesus himself was accused of the same thing because he was able to cast out demons. It seems that the notion of origin - where these experiences come from - is all important when we consider whether such an experience is proof or not of God's existence. Descartes highlighted many of the problems when he showed just how uncertain most of our everyday perceptions were - let alone those of supposed divine origin. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) similarly asked how it was possible to know whether God spoke to you in a dream, or whether you simply dreamed that God spoke to you. A further issue was raised by A. J. Ayer (1910-89) when he pointed out that mystical experiences are usually only descriptive of the inner experience of the person who has them - not of the objective existence of the being who is said to produce them (i.e. God). From a sympathetic viewpoint, William James (1842-1910) argued that mystical experiences cannot simply be discounted no more than everyday ones can be. For instance, if we say that St. Paul was an epileptic, and try and account for his visions in that way, we also have to explain how certain acceptable everyday states of mind may also resemble types of mental illness think of being in love! drug-related experiences, or euphoria arising from tiredness or illness? Argument of God’s existence based on people’s religious experiences and revelations, are not to be considered evidence by any standard for anything, and of course of no relevance for anyone else. People seeing gods, spirits or other ghosts or are hearing voices in their heads, are usually best directed to professional psychiatric care. If one has glorious revelations of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, or one are seeing flying pink elephants in broad daylight, is basically the same. Then you are probably not completely mentally sound.
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