Religious Experience is Nothing but Fantasy. Discuss (35 Marks)

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Religious Experience is Nothing but Fantasy. Discuss (35 Marks)

The above criticism to religious belief was proposed by Sigmund Freud; who thought that the origin of relig exp (religious experience) is rooted in the unconscious and that they are a product of eschewed psychosexual development. Freud rejected any appeal to the supernatural to explain these occurrences as our mind regularly deludes itself, pointing to dreams as an obvious example. The materialistic approach to explaining relig exp has led scientists to pinpoint specific physical causes of this phenomena; St Paul of Tarsus is thought to have possessed a form of epilepsy. In this case, Paul’s relig exp would be a fantasy but perceived as real experience.

A theistic challenge to materialism is that God and organic explanations of religious phenomena. In this way our brains may be wired up to experience God; materialism does not necessarily deem all relig exp fantasy. But how does one explain those who do not experience religious phenomena? Are some people born with Gods calling card? This in my mind is where atheists and theists will never agree; theists will say God only chooses some to be his messengers and atheists will say that our genetics and upbringing predispose some of us to superstition. In this way we cannot know whether each and every religious experience is fantasy; a conclusion reached by Bertrand Russell who reasoned that the fundamental truth that we cannot get inside someone else’s head and verify the experience deems this argument irresolvable.

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William James set out specific criteria for a religious experience. For example, the experience must be transient i.e it is temporary and therefore cannot be sustained. This conveniently prevents science from examining the psychological causes of the experience; further evidence that this argument is irresolvable. James based in conclusions in part on Pragmatism; the doctrine that truth is the acceptable conclusion for whomever concerned; in this sense, religious experiences are very much ‘true’ to the believer. This would be seconded by Ludwig Wittgenstein who indentified religion as a closed language game; proposing that the experiences are fantasy is not an ...

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