Discuss the suggestion that it is pointless to analyse religious experiences.
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Discuss the suggestion that it is pointless to analyse religious experiences. A religious experience is defined as a non-empirical event in which the individual(s) concerned makes direct contact with 'a higher entity' (in relation to or associated with God), and experiences a sense of wonder, insight, holiness and profundity. To this end, the individual may interpret the experience by following an experimental or a prepositional approach: the former allows the experience to speak for itself, without trying to define exactly what happened, whilst the latter extracts from the experience certain definitive propositions, which are then claimed to be religious truths. As a result, when we come to examine such events, we must therefore consider whether it leads to an exclusivist or inclusivist interpretation. For example, if an individual claims that the particular experience, such as Muhammad hearing and reciting the words of the Qur'an offers a unique and infallible truth - the words of the Qur'an are believed to be the words of Allah - then they will have a corresponding authority. However, alternatively, an inclusivist might be willing to accept that the Qur'an contains valid religious truth, but not that it can claim absolute truth.
For Buber, the relationship with God was 'I-Thou', in which God represented the 'Eternal Thou', and was therefore seen as present in every other 'Thou' that we encounter (a similar view to Soren Kierkegarrd). However, there have also been various challenges to the view that religious experiences are meaningful and illustrate contact with a 'higher entity'. In 'Philosophy of Religion', John Hick stated: "In short, any special event or experience which can be constituted as manifesting the divine can also be constituted in other ways (and accordingly cannot carry the weight of a proof of God's existence)". Immanuel Kant (In a 'Critique of Practical Reason') also dismissed the validity of religious experiences on the grounds "that it is impossible to speculate about anything (originating from) beyond the limits of time and space (i.e. a spirit) when we are confined to them", whilst Ludwig Wittgenstein also expressed a very similar view, in which he famously declared in the final sentence of his work, Tractatus, "whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent". Furthermore, it is also important to make reference to the belief advocated by Sigmund Freud, who 'In the Future of an Illusion', argued that religion (and religious events)
To this end, it is significant to make reference to the verification principle advocated by A.J.Ayer, which examines whether religious claims can be shown to be true, and the falsification principle (closely associated with Anthony Flew), which considers whether such statements can be shown to be false. In conclusion, it is clearly apparent that although there are various forms of religious experience, there are also contrasting decisions between many philosophers and psychologists as to whether such events can be considered of any significance and hold any true meaning. My personal view is that such events are undoubtedly 'meaningful' for the individual who experiences them, and are therefore an important element in a believer's faith. I can also appreciate the views of Jung and Durkheim, who are not concerned with proving the validity or religious experiences (or God), but are more interested in the positive role religion has in society. However, this does not detract from the various problems associated with such events including the fact that religious experience cannot be authenticated by means of intellectual or scientific proof (a factor which is relied upon ever more so in the modern 'scientific' era) and that each event is open to one's interpretation. James Yates
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