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"Religious experience must be true because there is a common core to them all" Discuss.

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Introduction

"Religious experience must be true because there is a common core to them all" Discuss. The Bible claims that God can be directly experienced and philosophers such as William James saw religion as essentially based on experience and that such experience should be the primary basis of study of religion as opposed to practices and dogma. Indeed many of the world's major religions are based on experience or revelation of the transcendent to mankind. Yet religious experience is intrinsically enormously subjective. Arguably two of the most complicated issues to discuss in any context and reach an objective opinion on are God and personal experience. As individuals we are incapable of personally experiencing things which happen to somebody else, it is impossible. If we add this to the fact that religious experience is of the divine and the transcendent it becomes apparent that by its very nature it is extremely difficult to assess or comment on anything viewed as a 'religious experience'. One thing which may make it an easier phenomenon to understand is the theory that there is a common core to all these, this could be seen as something within the nature of religious experience such as a numinous feeling or the sheer individual quality, or something that happens after the event such as a drastic life change. ...read more.

Middle

However these are direct religious experiences, a person can also experience indirect religious occurrences, such as a numinous feeling which doesn't fit James' criteria as well. Another key aspect of religious experience is the after effects, the idea that as a result of such an experience one's life is changed. For the non believer this is usually conversion, and for somebody who already believed in God a religious experience would reinforce faith and perhaps inspire a deeper devotion. St Paul is perhaps the most famous biblical example of this; renowned for his persecution of Christians and a practicing Jew, Saul was converted upon seeing a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus. This experience fits James' description of religious experience to an extent, it was a passive experience, ineffable, brought new knowledge and a life change and was presumably transient. The complete change of individual central attitude within Paul was evident to himself and those around him. Other well known examples of converts include C. S Lewis and Tolstoy. Should the change of opinion and religious conviction of these people provide a 'common core'? Sociologists and Psychologists such as Jung would argue that there is perhaps a degree of repression and wish fulfilment, i.e. ...read more.

Conclusion

And so although experience is often used in the empirical sense that we can all objectively experience the same thing and see/hear/touch the same thing, in terms of religious experience it is not as earthly and transient, it is of something bigger that, although termed 'experience', is not as collective as the term suggests. Swinburne argued in his principle of credulity that unless we have no obvious reason to doubt someone, we should believe what they say, and thus by this principle we should take religious experience to be true. Yet although there may be a common core, some comparisons between religious experiences can appear contrived and there are anomalies, corporate experience for example contradicts the view that religious experience is individual. Ultimately, whether an experience is emotionally or psychologically motivated, a form of wish fulfilment or a genuine religious experience, it is self authenticating, real and objective to the person who has experienced it. However, Rudolf Otto described religious experience as 'an apprehension of the wholly other' and if this is taken to be true, one cannot gain any knowledge of something completely removed from everyday life from somebody else's experience, even if there are similarities between multiple experiences. Thus whether one person, or ten people, have an experience of God it is not cumulative, it does not make it any more believable. ...read more.

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