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‘I Have Had a Religious Experience’ Explain What This Means to the Believer (30 Marks)

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By mimthompson
Words 1198
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This was a practice essay I wrote a few years ago so naturally isn't perfect as I had only just begun writing essays at this stage.

A religious experience is a non-empirical event in which a person can gain knowledge and understanding, they come in a range of forms including, visions, conversion and mystical experiences. They are spontaneous events in which it can be voluntary or not. They are always unique to the individual experiencing it and is always a positive event and they have a religious element to them.

A believer can have a vision a vision is an image or event in which there is a message and are always non-empirical, this could mean a number of different things depending on the believer however most are numinous this is what Otto described as a feeling of fear and fascination. A vision could gain understanding, an example of this is Julian of Norwich who determined that God is a mother she had this feeling of sudden understanding this can also be described noetic quality. An effect on the believer could also be that it reinforces faith, for example in Genesis Jacob has an imaginary vision in which he sees a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending and at the top sat God, this reinforced his belief and when he awoke he felt God’s presence in the place. A result of a vision could also be a social influence, this could be by discovering a healing spring such as St Bernadette who had 18 corporeal visions in which she saw the Virgin Mary who told her to dig and she found a healing spring, this had huge impacts to Lourdes bringing in hundreds of pilgrims. Visions are always spontaneous and leave the believer feeling at peace with themselves and they can feel closer with God, they are also Transient, this means that they do not last long however their effects could last long depending on the believer, for example the Toronto blessing changed hundreds of lives however not all of them have changed for good, some have gone back to what they were before this mass religious experience.

Visions often result in conversions, this is when the effects of a religious experience are so life changing to the believer that it results in them converting to the faith they have experienced and is often considered a greater understanding of faith. William James claimed that conversions can happen to a believer in 2 ways, the first is a volitional type, this is an ongoing process in which the believer knows and analyses the situation and takes a long time followed by a sudden conversion, C.S.Lewis experienced this, and he contemplated religion for many years and he said ‘I went out at 9 o’clock for a walk, at 10 o’clock I was Christian.’. For a believer to have a conversion they want to change present wrongness in their life and it is positive changes they wish to make. The other type of conversion is a self-surrender type this is involuntary and unconscious to the believer, St Paul under went one of these on the road to Damascus, he heard a voice tell him ‘Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?’ and he made a social conversion in which the believer changes their way of life and chose to lead a new life, and influence others. Edwin Starbuck agrees with this type of conversion and explains it further to the believer by stating that ‘quite often a person must stop trying to change; only then will change occur naturally.’ St. Augustine also went through a sudden conversion, this meant he as a believer changed his views and way of life when he had a moral conversion after a vision. William James said that to the believer sudden conversions are very real to those who have had the experience. They feel the process has been ‘performed’ upon them, God causes this conversion to occur. For Methodists, salvation is not truly received unless they have been through a crisis of the sort which is involved is involved in a conversion. Those believers having a sudden conversion will also see it as a miracle rather than a natural process.

A mystical experience is spiritual recognition of truths beyond normal understanding, an experience with God. William James states that there are 4 basic characteristics of all mystical experiences, these are: Ineffability this means that the believer will not be able to describe it, Alfred Tennyson says that ‘I am ashamed of my feeble description. Have I not said that it is utterly beyond words?’ the believer will be so awestruck by it that words will not cover it. He also said that the believer will have a noetic quality to a mystical experience, this means that that the believer will have an imparting of knowledge and will gain a sense of understanding. The mystical experience will not last long, this is called transiency and the believer can do nothing about it and cannot stop it, this is called passivity. Augustine had a mystical experience in which he had love and union ‘our heart our restless till they rest in thee’ this is what Happold described as 1 of 2 mystical experiences, love and union, the other was knowledge and understanding, this means the believer has a sense of unity with God and a love for everything. ‘I was lead into learning the incomprehensible’ said Nicholas of Cusa who had a mystical experience in which he the believer gained a sense of knowledge and understanding. He further said that a believer will have 1 of 3 mystical experiences, the first is a soul mysticism in which the believer does not deal with the concept of God as such but rather sees the soul as something that is hidden or numinous, and they want to find soul fulfilment. St. Francis of Assisi preached to the animals, this is a form of nature mysticism which is the belief that God is immanent, he is everywhere and can be found in everything so the individual will find God in nature. The final is God mysticism is in the souls of us who desire to return to their ‘immortal and indicate found, which is God’ the souls become God while remaining itself. This is the closest an individual can come to God. Individuals are said to gain knowledge of ‘ultimate reality’ a sense of freedom from the limitations of time space and human ego is experienced, as a sense of oneness or unity with the divine and a sense of serenity is experienced. R.A Gilbert said that to the individual the experience will ‘serve to illustrate the extreme difficulty of discussing non-empirical concepts solely in terms of intellect’.

In conclusion the believer will experience the divine in one form or another, whether it ends in a conversion is down to the specific individual. I believe that to an individual a religious experience is real and is proof that God exists, for surely you don’t just recover from one instantly. The experience should provoke a sense of religion form the soul.

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