Flashcards in Religious Experiences Deck (40)
union with a divine spirit, sense of oneness with this divine spirit and with all things e.g. meditation
God is felt as wholly other to the experiencer. Sense of distance and unworthiness in relation to God e.g. numinous
broad terms of mystical experiences
o More to reality than the physical
o Human condition allows for an intuitive understanding of the Divine
o Two distance natures: ego (conscious self) and spiritual eternal self (spark of divinity)
o Purpose is to discover your spiritual eternal self and unite with 'Divine Ground'.
o Christian tradition of mystics: seeking an encounter with God through prayer. There is recognition that God will always remain unknowable.
visions and numinous
• Visions and Voices
o It is not always clear whether there is actual seeing/hearing
o There is difficult describing and interpreting
o Hard to define - sense of awe, wonder
f. c. happold and re experiences
o 1960s, people looking outside the authority of the traditional Xian Church to find meaning and truth
o Personal belief is the key focus
o Happold recognised mysticism as an underlying, universal aspect in all religions, with key dependence on intuition, rather than rational understanding.
o 'A release of latent powers and a widening of vision, so that aspects of truth unplumbed by the rational intellect are revealed to him'.
teresa of avila
o Raised as a pious child
o Religious ecstasy through book 'Third Spiritual Alphabet' when ascetic works such as the Spiritual Exercises
o Often experienced a 'blessing of tears' when undertaking devotion, came to terms with her sin and absolute subjection to God.
o Deemed diabolical, starting inflicting pain on herself
o Began visions of JC, bodily form but invisible. A Seraph also drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart = spiritual-bodily pain
o 'He seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God'. Painful yet 'sweet' experience.
o Inspired herself and others, 'lord, either let me suffer or let me die'
o Influenced other theologians e.g. Francis of Sales, Fénelon and the Port-Royalists
stages of conversion
o Individual dissatisfied with current situation
o Searching for truth
o Turmoil followed by clarity
o Sharing and enjoying new found peace and contentment
o A new direction towards a radical long term change in behaviour and attitude
o E.g. Conversion of Saul in Acts
william james background and example
• Attempted to be objective in his study of the psychology of religious experience.
• Pragmatic - tried to deal with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.
o Gives the example of a man called S.H. Hadley, a drunk who felt a presence greater than him.
• After listening to testimonies of others, he converted to Christianity and felt he went from 'indescribable doom' to 'glorious brightness'.
• He gave up alcohol and helped others do the same.
• An example of pragmatism - consequences of experiences can validate them for the experiencer.
william james and conversion
o Included a huge variety of different types of religious experience, including first hand accounts.
o He treated religious experiences sensitively and scientifically.
o Concluded that religious experiences have a 'common core’, which transcends all experiences and cultures.
o Uses a posteriori reasoning, depends on inductive reasoning and whether the conclusion is the most plausible option.
• Experience is impossible to describe in everyday language.
• This is because it induces feelings, which seem so different to normal ones.
• 'The attempt to demonstrate by purely intellectual processes the truth of the deliverance of direct religious experience is absolutely hopeless'
james: noetic quality
• Revelation of knowledge such as depths of truths, which are inaccessible by reason alone.
• 'States of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect'
• The experience itself is relatively short (no more than 2 hours approximately)
• The effects can last a lifetime and even the recollection of the experience allows for a continual development of the inner richness and importance.
• The experiences feel passive and thus the experience is happening to them - they are the recipient rather than the instigator.
criticisms of james
• Logical positivism undermined most of James' conclusions. Independent testing with empirical senses is essential for something to be true.
• James' understanding of re experience is very subjectivist. He cares about the specific cases, rather than whether it shows a God who exists in the world for everyone.
o Our way of understanding the world and our own experiences.
o We must trust our own experiences, as they are usually reliable.
o Even though experiences can be misleading, the balance of probability suggests we are usually correct in our understanding. If we didn't we'd live in an 'epistemological queer street'.
o Therefore, should trust re experiences as we trust our own.
o Just as we accept accounts of others of their everyday experiences, we should also accept their accounts of re experiences, unless we have good reason not to do so.
mackie criticism of swinburne
• Balance of probability for re experiences is actually the opposite of normal, everyday experiences. The probability of re experiences are lower, people may be mistaken.
Cultural conditioning – we believe that we are seeing/experiencing what we have been taught and told. In ‘Christian countries,’ Christian figures appear e.g. Mary, Jesus and God, but in ‘Hindu countries,’ Hindu religious figures appear to people who have religious experiences.
martin criticism of swinburne
• If we follow these principles, could lead us to conclusion that God does not exist. Atheists do not experience God and so if we accept their experience, God does not exist.
• Swinburne replies saying the principle is not applicable to negative experiences i.e. a lack of experience does not equate with absence of existence e.g. high frequency sounds.
caroline franks davis criticism of swinburne
• We accept certain experiences on face value, but we do not with experiences of ultimate importance e.g. crime scene investigation.
• Re experiences are of ultimate important, cannot accept without further investigation.
richard gale criticism of swinburne
• Re experiences are not the same as everyday experiences and so we cannot apply the same principles e.g. dreams about monsters.
• Criticises Swinburne's assumption that we believe the most probable thing. In fact, we believe what we want, not always weighed up against probability e.g. supporting a football team.
• Several/many people sharing the same experience
• E.g. Pentecost, disciples speaking in 'tongues', shared language to aid communal understanding from God via the Holy Spirit.
solar miracle of fatima - more credible?
o Does the fact that we have cumulative evidence increase the credibility of the experience?
o More people = more witnesses, therefore increased weight in truth. In science, we take increased peer review as firmer truth, less subjective arguably?
o However, group hysteria and the issues with human psychological conformity.
o Must look at the credibility of the witnesses e.g. children may lie.
In his book, Nickell suggested that the crowd saw a sundog, a patch of light that sometimes appears beside the sun.
- Dawkins, why didn't the rest of the world see it?
feuerbach re experiences as psychological
o Argued that humans have invented God to satisfy their psychological needs.
o The origins of re belief and experiences come from within the human mind.
o These are then projected outside the self and are held up as something to be worshipped.
o E.g. compassion, creativity are elements of human nature which we project onto a divine figure to achieve a sense of purpose.
freud re experiences as psychological
o Argued that re experiences are delusions based on humans' need for a parent figure to look after them.
o Psyche has 3 layers: id, ego and superego.
o Superego is an inner moral voice telling us what is right/wrong, comes from society.
o When we are unable to cope with adult life, we mistake our superego for God in order to help us cope with our infantile neurosis.
- God is seen to be a father figure that is cushioning us from reality.
winnicott re experiences as psychological
o Re experiences are illusions, which enable us to cope and make sense of the world around us.
o Humans have a need for comfort, we often develop attachments to transitional objects that help us cope e.g. cuddly toys
o This continues into adulthood where we invent God as a comforting crutch to help us cope with the world
o Those who cannot distinguish between delusion and reality have traits of madness
o Illusion is ok when it is comforting but not when it goes too far and is imposed on others.
o An area of science which studies the brain and the nervous system
o Provides understanding of human consciousness e.g. memory, cognitive thought and emotion
persinger and the god helmet - re experience as physiological
o Studying relationship between brain and re experience i.e. feeling of wonder
o Volunteers wore helmet which transmitted weak magnetic signals through brain.
o Subjects told they were going to participate in a relaxation exercise. They do not tell them what is going to happen.
o Lots felt similar feelings to those in RE experiences.
♣ A dark, ominous force looming right above the person (as if it was going to descend).
♣ A feeling of suffocation or pressure on the chest.
♣ Religious figures, images of "priests," and, human skeletons, occurred as "flickering" but repeated phenomena.
o Experiment could prove that some magnetic fields/natural causes could explain RE experiences.
o Thus far, about 20 or so people have reported feeling the presence of Christ or even seeing him in the chamber (The acoustic chamber where the experimental sessions took place). Most of these people used Christ and God interchangeably. Most of these individuals were older (30 years or more) and religious (Roman Catholic). One male, age about 35 years old (alleged atheist but early childhood RC (Roman Catholic) training), saw a clear apparition (shoulders and head) of Christ staring him in the face. He was quite "shaken" by the experience.
o I suspect most people would call the "vague, all-around-me" sensations "God" but they are reluctant to employ the label in a laboratory. The implicit is obvious. If the equipment and the experiment produced the presence that was God, then the extrapersonal, unreachable and independent characteristics of the god definition might be challenged.
Near death experiences as proof for God
o 3% of US think they've had a NDE
NDEs are sometimes recorded by those whose hearts have stopped beating - they describe a sensation of having left their own bodies, being able to look down on the scene as if from a height, and feeling a loving presence.
As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had an other-worldly experience while being "clinically" dead.
o The experience includes the feeling of being able to see a bright light ahead, which suggests there could be real hope of LAD in the presence of God, since the Bible often describes the divine light of God in heaven. o The experience includes the feeling of being able to see a bright light ahead, which suggests there could be real hope of LAD in the presence of God, since the Bible often describes the divine light of God in heaven. (Gen 1:14-18 "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens”)
o E.g. Eben Alexander, writes in his book Proof of Heaven about his NDE during a meningitis induced coma. When asked how he could remember his experience if as he said his ‘cortex was shut down’, he responded with his belief that the mind can exist separately to the body.
• Physiological studies into near death experiences
o However... physiological studies by Mobbs and Watt suggest the experiences can be explained biologically
1. Through the observation of the parietal and pre-frontal cortices of the brain
2. By measuring the release of the emotion altering hormones such as dopamine in the body at the time of stress
3. The medication used to treat patients suffering from trauma could explain sensations felt in NDEs.
4. tunnel vision can occur when blood and oxygen flow is depleted to the eye, as can happen with the extreme fear and oxygen loss that are both common to dying.
However... just because we can observe this internal effect does not mean it does not come from an external source.