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The Thinkers' Club Message Board › The Varieties of Religious Experience

The Varieties of Religious Experience

A former member
Post #: 33
I was hoping that a bit of discussion could take place prior to the event. I must admit that this is due to the fact that i may be unable to attend since it is on a weekday. This should not detract from intelligent discussion at the meeting. It should enhance. Is anyone interested?

Hether
Mark
user 9321097
Macedonia, OH
Post #: 1
Hi Folks!

I am a new member in agreement with Hether, this may be a good way to get some concepts flowing...

As an opening, does anyone have a particular "Religious Experience" through association or by direct knowledge that is of significance?

Mark
A former member
Post #: 1
I have seen enlightenment used many different ways. From the ultimate answer to all of life's questions to a idea that will answer a very mundane question. No doubt there are many types of experience that are not necessarily religious. Actually, terming it "religious" puts the blinders on and limits the understanding of what that glimpse of Reality or event might be. I have heard it called 'no mind' I have heard it referred to as nothing and everything. The less logic used and definitional words attached to IT! the better... wink
Amy
user 8342056
Twinsburg, OH
Post #: 33
I am in agreement with Heather; an online discussion prior to meeting is always a good idea!!

I have experienced several religious episode that one might deem either religious or spiritual in nature. No doubt, others will question the validity of such experiences (as does James. I have not reached the chapter on mystical experience yet, but I did read the introduction, in which it is explained that James concludes there can be no epistemic validity behind mystical experience. Here, I define validity as something that is objectively and necessarily true; that satisfies the criteria for Truth with a capital "T"). For those that do not know, I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. I became agnositc is college (more like secular - religion was not on my mind). Once, after nearly 5 years of not attending church - I went to a Catholic mass and found myself reflecting during the service. I guess I was praying. I was thinking about how much I no longer understood where my life was going (I had a bit of wunderlust at the time) or what I believed or who I was or where I belonged. I heard myself (or what is not myself...that's the question) answering myself "You are Catholic. That has always been with you. You can always come back here. This is where you belong." It is not a concept that I would have come up with myself; it was unlike any thought entering my mind at the time. The experience was too uncanny for me to believe that it was all a figment of my imagination.

I agree with James - I cannot know that this message came from a Higher Power. Yet is has that uncanny, intuitional feeling of truth. Which brings up the question, are there some truths that by their intuitional nature will never be verifiable by analytical means. Has anyone else here studied Quine??? Is anyone else familiar with James' writings regarding epistemology and "real option" theory??
A former member
Post #: 46
The issue ends up being, I think: What really is a 'religious' experience?

To our ancestors, it was lighting strikes, or earthquakes, or anything they didn't understand. I mean, who else but gods could make the earth move? And who else could throw those lighting bolts when they were angry? Or send those locusts? Don't be silly, they'd say; only gods could do it.

Hether and I attended a good Cleveland Freethinkers Roundtable last week, which involved a talk, followed by lots of back and forth, with a Case prof who writes on education, science, and religion issues. One of the folks outside our separate room in Panera's asked us in passing what the group was all about, and joined in. At one point she felt strongly she had to give her testimony; that she had been sick, and that with an operation Jesus Christ had saved her; and that she was disturbed at some of the discussion going on, etc. While no one attacked her religion (though, like many religionists, she may not have felt that way, since many feel any question is an 'attack'), it remained a civil discussion throughout.

I bring her up because, just like the shaman who picks the right plants, then performs a dance and ceremony and declares that the spirits have cured someone; this woman was cured by Jesus Christ - but only after an operation by doctors and nurses that had studied very hard (based on thousands of years of accumulated human experience). She feels she has had religious experiences; but the only quantifiable 'experience' she has had, happened by the skill and dedication of other humans.

Even 'prayer' I think - and its 'benefits'- is gaining some further understanding. But the studies that have been done which have found prayer benefits - to the individual, never others - are all approximately equal to those who gained benefits from meditation. That's almost the exception that proves the rule.

I can't get a copy of the book, by the way, in time for the discussion; so this board may be it for me!

Dave
A former member
Post #: 2
While rereading James the concept of a god as a he or she is seen as a limiting factor that must be followed when speaking of a religious experience. William James does approach the barrier when he briefly skirts the issue by mentioning loss of self being an avenue to Reality. Well I am paraphrasing what he said a bit but maintain loss of self which is not imaged but occurs as an accident as perception of the highest. The return to the illusion of separateness reoccurs throughout the book which is its message. Repeatedly returning to the clergy’s dogma is a belief of mind instead of direct observation.
To James credit it must be noted that he speaks of intuition as a method of experience which should not be discarded. Using intuition tempered with logical scientific method is a powerful tool if intuition is developed and fine tuned. The work is not a direct testimonial such as ‘I Am That’ by Nisargadatta Maharaj or the testimony of St. John of the cross. Regardless William James does provoke thought concerning Self definition which makes it very valuable.
Amy
user 8342056
Twinsburg, OH
Post #: 34
I wanted to respond to what Dan said:

It may be the case that for that woman, Christianity was more of a "real option" as a belief than meditation or some sort of other philosophy/religion. Even though meditation may have the same effects that prayer does, do you really think that it would have had the same effect for her?

From what I have read of James so far, he is taking the view that scientists and doctors are too eager to reduce the effects or explain the occurance of religious experience (as a individual experiences it in their mind-body) to psychological or physiological factors. James, I think, is concerned with what effects the experience of believing has on the the believer. I worked with a woman who had stage 4 cancer. Her doctors told her she would die. There was no hope in medical science whatsoever. She refused treatment, started watching American Home Videos all day, prayed (she is very Christian), and kept a positive mental attitude. She made a 100% full recovery.

You do not have to believe in a god to see that this woman's religious experience - her particular mental state - might have had an effect on her physical state. Think of depression. When one is depressed not only do they have a sad and hopeless mental state but it has a physical effect. They can't sleep or they oversleep. They don't eat. They physically feel torn up and in pain. All of this contributes to other health defects. In the case of this Jesus woman or my coworker, their mental state might have been more optimistic and happier because of their religious experience. This might have removed the stress that would otherwise have put other strains on their bodies. Not having to deal with stress and anxiety might have allowed their bodies more energy to fight off and recover from disease. This makes sense. It also makes sense that telling someone to meditate might not give them as much confidence or hope. They may not believe or be inclined to believe in meditation (for whatever reason) as much as they may be inclined to believe in Jesus. People do not have full control over what belief systems appeal to them and which ones do not; it comes down to whether the option to believe is a "real option" for them.

I am going to explain what I mean at the meetup.

By the way, you can get the book on Google Books for free and read it on your computer without a download. Pretty cool.
A former member
Post #: 39
Boy, I forgot I even started this topic. Sorry about that. I hope the meetup was fun. I am almost done with the book and find that it is certainly a book which deserves some debate. I am a fundamentalist Christian, so this book has opened my eyes to the different ways that people experience God. It has both increased the number of questions I have and it has also given me some peace about the nature of religious experiences being very personal. James is an empiricist. He translated this into an objective analysis of the usefulness of religious fruits which occur upon and following conversion. His scientific analysis of something so experiential was professionally done and it helps to understand where the most extreme of the dichotomy (atheists-religious extremists) come from in their experiences along with all of us who lie somewhere along the spectrum in varying degrees of faith/skepticism.

I was checking to see how the meetup went. Any thoughts?

hether
Amy
user 8342056
Twinsburg, OH
Post #: 35
Hey Hether (and everyone).

I thought that the meetup went really well, thanks! I wish that we would have seen all the people involved in this thread there! This was our first meetup in which religion was really the topic of discussion, and I am consistently impressed by the level of respect we all have for each other divergent religious beliefs (or lackthereof). We have Zen Budhists, Catholics, Lutherns, and Agnostic/Atheists who all attend our group on a regular basis; it just goes to show that we're all able put our personal experiences on hold to consider others positions objectively and yet be candid in sharing them at other times.

I think the main thing I got from the text and discussion is that we all have these "religious" experiences, which might be better termed "spiritual" or even "aesthetic" or "galvanizing" experiences that carry with them that noetic quality and force that compells us to believe in them. We all need beliefs (as Vince said). We all need that certainty; some sort of answers to life's questions that gives life meaning and coherency. When our current beliefs do not sustain us or when we are miserable, we tend to be more receptive to new beliefs - we are "looking" for a religious experience of some sort to occur. To some, Jesus is a real option, meaning that these folks are in the right place in their lives and have the right mentality for Jesus to make sense and appeal to them. When they are then exposed to the idea of Jesus, they really can believe because they are sort of primed to do so. For others, this same process happens when they become atheists (the belief that God does not exist) and they are "enlightened" by the "truths" of science or the material world. Beliefs are aesthetic - they appeal to us because they appeal to our tastes; they are not rational. They do not fulfill some rigid criteria for truth just as it is not more "true" for someone to appreciate one painting but not another. The value of the thing is what impact is has on one's personal lives.

Although it may be an incomplete study - as some at the group argued - to study personal religious experience in a vaccuum, I am so glad that someone did. We get wrapped up in our options of organized religious - good, bad, or indifferent - and we forget to look at the phenomenon of the belief itself and the meaning and pragmatic, edifying effects it had on the individual. We are constantly rationalizing belief with science, as if we could narrow it down to someone's biology that they like a certain type of music or don't. It's just not like that.

Where my personal beliefs are concerned, I think that we all construct meaning. Whether mystical experience comes from a divine source or from a misfire in the brain, I do not know. But I think that everyone ought to be able to experience God or spirituality in the way that they have no choice but to do. You can't make a kid like strawberry ice cream more than vanilla, even though you can force him to eat it. He may grow into an appreciation for other flavors later, but no one can change the very personal way in which he tastes and experiences those flavors. The same is true of religion, I think.
A former member
Post #: 40
I agree with James - I cannot know that this message came from a Higher Power. Yet is has that uncanny, intuitional feeling of truth. Which brings up the question, are there some truths that by their intuitional nature will never be verifiable by analytical means. Has anyone else here studied Quine??? Is anyone else familiar with James' writings regarding epistemology and "real option" theory??

i am unfamiliar with Quine or James' writing regarding epistemology and real option theory, but lately I have found myself seeking out an answer to the question, "What is the basis of Truth?" I found that as a fundamentalist Christian, I must concede to being dogmatic in my views...I suppose. You see, I was thinking that the only Truth which is Truth must be empirically verifiable and subject to scrutiny through the scientific method. However, in speaking with people who are strict naturalists, this seems reductionistic. To explain feelings as simply an adaptive mechanism for survival does not seem to explain the whole story. I think that feelings enable us to function well in society and amongst others, but they are really unnecessary when we could have been just like other animals with instinctive drives to social behavior. Anyway, the point is that I am at the point where I have to throw up my hands and say, there is not one way to arrive at truth; however, this is dangerous since it could place me in the realm of the postmodern conception of truth as relative and not absolute. So, while insisting on Truth being absolute, it can be gained through various methods (i.e. science, religion, intuition, philosophy, etc.). If one allows for only one basis of deriving truth, it leaves so much more Truth left untouched. To be balanced is quite frightening and requires a great deal of struggling between paradoxes or anfractuous details. I'm still not to the end of this question. I just have not found all Truth by one method, but by more than one.


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