Some experiences seem to be an answer to prayer. William James reports a sailor in 1689 whose ship had been overcome by pirates. The man fought the pirates, but came to a point where he needed something to strike with. He prayed "Lord, what shall I do now?", and at that point, remembered a knife in his pocket. He broke free from those holding him, got the knife, and killed some pirates. The man that fought the pirates believed, this to be an answered prayer, but others would argue that, it is just a matter of coincidence. Therefore, because experiences are subjective and personal, people interpret them I different ways.
Many Christians, view prayer as a conversation with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to him, it presupposes a belief in the personality of God, his ability and willingness to communicate with us. Also many Christians would argue that an acceptable prayer must be sincere and not selfish, and offered in the faith that God, is, and is the hearer and answerer of prayer, and that he will fulfil his word, “Ask, and ye shall receive”. There are also many bible references, that suggest that the lord wants us to pray to him and that he wants to answer our prayers, for instance in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it shall be given; seek, and ye shall find; Knock, and it shall be opened to you” and Matthew 21:22, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” This perspective is shared among many theists. The idea that such religious experiences, according to many believers, illustrates the nature of God and even the human mind, which in turn, illuminates our understanding of God.
However, although many agree, there are numerous people that would argue differently, with dissimilar explanations to explain religious experiences. Religious experience is a diverse area in which philosophers and theologians have interpreted differently, in favour of religious experiences and their outcomes and there are also many that argue against.
Many of the arguments in favour of religious experiences for the existence of God are argued inductively, meaning that they are based on subjective testimonies of individuals. Richard Swinburne in ‘is there a God?’ argues inductively that it is reasonable to believe that God is loving and personal and would seek to reveal himself to humanity as an act of love. This suggests that religious experiences can be felt empirically through our senses and interpreted non-empirically through our ‘religious sense’. Also Swinburne claims that people, in general, tell the truth and that we cannot realistically work on the basis of always doubting their accounts of religious experience. Thus, if we are told that someone has had a religious experience, then we should believe that experience has taken place, even if someone else had a different experience. Swinburne argues that, unless we have evidence to the contrary, we should believe what people say when they claim to have had a religious experience: ‘In the absence of special considerations, the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them’. Equally, psychologist Carl Jung commented that: ‘religious experience is absolute … it cannot be disputed. Those who have had it possess a great treasure, a source of life, meaning and beauty which gives splendour to the world’. This implies that religious experiences enlighten our understanding of God, through the ways in which he communicates with his creations; we learn the nature of God, his Omni-benevolence, as Jung suggests ‘a source of life… gives splendour to the world’, religious experiences have been found to have profound effects on the lives of people and whole groups of people that have experienced them, in many cases bettering their lives. Critiques often refer to the claims that prayers have been answered as mere coincidences, however believers claim that God does answer and that it is a sure sign of his existence. Archbishop William Temple observed: ‘When I pray, coincidences happen and when I don’t, they don’t’. Evidence for the existence of God, for many are through the given examples of God’s attempt to communicate with humans through religious experience such as Kristin Boyer’s case study, her testimony, when she claims ‘my prayers were answered’.
Where she reported that when she was little, whilst reading the scriptures she would pray asking if the scriptures were true and within a couple days of pray every night, she claim to feel a warm, tingly sensation through, where she knew her prayers were being answered. She also claimed, through weeks she felt happier and helpful and did better in school. She felt worthier and had a strengthen belief in God. This illuminates our understanding God through strengthen our belief in him, the forms in which he can communicate and what he is capable of. The testimonies of religious experience are enough proof for the existence of God.
However, others dispute this and protest that religious experiences cannot be verified by objective, empirical testing, thus it cannot prove the existence of God. In fact, Richard Dawkins, an anti-theist, in The God Delusion, claims that there is no such thing as a religious experience and they have nothing to do with God – they are merely expressions of a person’s psychological needs. He would that, and an ‘answered prayer’ is just a coincidence, because there is no such thing as religious experience. Psychologist, Freud also offers a secular explanation for religious experiences that coincides with Dawkins. Freud suggests that it is a reaction to a hostile world where we feel helpless so we seek a father figure, which ultimately leads to the projection of God. Similarly, French sociologist Durkheim suggests that God is a ‘social construct’ which gives society moral guidelines by which it can thrive. Thus, arguing that God and religious experiences are simply just an invention of the mind.
Overall, does religious experience illuminate an understanding of God? I believe it does, although evidence cannot be empirically tested as they are too personal and subjective to prove convincing proof of the existence of God due to its format, it cannot develop or illuminate the understanding of God, for those who have not experience it or believe in God. However, religious experiences strengthened the belief in God for those who do, and sometimes it can lead to or encourage a belief in God. But by, strengthening our belief we have learn more about God, his nature, his capability and aspects of his characteristics in the way he has attempted to communicate, thru religious experiences. So, to a rather significant extent religious experiences can illuminate our understanding of God.