Discuss the issue that it is pointless to analyse religious experience

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Siân Aiken

Discuss the issue the suggestion that it is pointless to analyse religious experience.

        In its nature religious experience is not a topic of religion that cannot be empirically scrutinised.  However it is still questionable as to whether there is a sufficient enough cause to analyse religious experiences or is it, at its best just a mere suppositious delusion on the part of the individual.  Many thinkers have taken religious experiences as facts and although many have spoken at great length about the subject, there are those who view that the analysis of religious experience as meaningless and pointless.

        Firstly, in definition religious experience is an unexplainable subjective experience of contact with what an individual believes to be a transcendent or supernatural being.  The majority of religious believers hold the view that religious experience is genuinely an encounter with God or the Holy Spirit.

        Christian mysticism believes that although God converses and is personally involved with humanity, it is only through mystical religious experience that God’s message can truly be encountered.  If what they claim has any shred of truth, then it would not only be meaningful to analyse religious experience but it would also be necessary, as God, the supreme creator is conversing his ‘wishes’ and ’commands’ directly to the human psyche.  However there is the evident problem with religious experience itself and also with the religious believer who may commit to a misleading thought process of converting what is essentially intuitive and subjective into something rational and objective.  The term ’leap to faith’, coined by Kierkegaard sums up the positive and negative aspects of religious experience.  Religious believers may see religious experience as the ultimate example of a leap to faith, as it’s wholly non-empirical and subjective and this is positive.  But there is a large amount of doubt that should go hand in hand with this.  As Kierkegaard writes, ’’doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into this world’’.  If this is the case, then there is little point in analysing religious experience as it is by its nature a proposition of faith, not an empirical one.  Yet if you take a different view, that a leap to faith is negative as it clouds the individual from rationalisation and the openness to more realistic explanations and flaws.  Just as John Wisdom’s parable of the gardener shows how a religious belief is unfalsifiable, a religious experience contains the same inherent flaw.  Whereas the analysis of scientific theory is absolutely necessary and exists permanently, there is not the same necessary level of analysis needed.  Analysis is only useful if those who are under analysis have the willingness to accept any criticisms and to continually search for that which provides the most logical answer.  Unfortunately, many religious believers when faced with logical criticism don’t alter their foundational beliefs, but irrationally change what they believe to suit their foundations.  For example, a religious believer may have had an experience that made them feel a great sense of fear over an event that they believe is imminent.  If there isn’t an obvious event, instead of disproving the experience, many religious believers would find another meaning or an insignificant event that only serves the experience rather than find another way round the explanation.

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        Richard Swinburne, with his ‘principle of credulity’ and ‘principle of testimony’ exemplify the previous point I just made.  The principle of credulity says that if one cannot find any reason to disbelieve an event, then one shouldn’t really believe in its occurrence.  For example, Jesus’ resurrection or the Toronto Blessing would fall under this category to a religious believer.  However the problem is that although the experience may have been analysed by both secularist and religious person, they may both be guilty of pre-held beliefs and therefore can’t commit to a logical fallacy.  Swinburne’s principle of testimony has similar problems, ...

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