Are Religious Experiences Valid?
What are Religious Experiences?
A religious experience is an event in a person’s life that is linked to a religion – this can mean god or Jesus presenting himself to you directly or giving you ‘signs’ which you seem to know is a divine intervention telling you to act In a particular way.
Most people are either severely for or severely against the idea that religious experiences are valid - whether they are worth considering when making life decisions (such as whether or not a god exists).
The following is an attempt to collect and summarise all of the arguments for and against this phenomenon - if you have any additions you would like to suggest, please detail them in the comments section at the bottom of the page!
Different Types of Religious Experiences
Religious experiences come in all sorts and varieties:
Perhaps the most common, this is the claim that something in your life has happened against the laws of nature that you can only attribute to a divine being like God. This might be fighting cancer off against all odds or a stranger coming in to your life with the overwhelming desire to help you get through a problem.
- Mystical Experiences
This is the feeling that you have come into contact with a god. Some people have claimed that they were 'at one with God' and others merely feel his presence near them.
The feeling one gets when he feels the strength and awe of God (or a god) nearby, often felt when entering a holy building like a church or cathedral, or, when looking at something natural that is so beautiful that you feel God's powerful presence.
Speaking in a language unknown to anyone but resembling something that could make sense whilst being possessed by a divine power.
Famous Examples of Religious Experiences
Since there have been thousands of recorded religious experiences, it's very likely that you may have already heard of some.
1. The Story of the Toronto Blessing
A series of long and severe ‘possessions’ by a ‘divine spirit’ occurred to many people simultaneously in a church in Toronto, Canada. People reportedly fell to the floor laughing hysterically or crying, some even barking and vomiting. These violent religious experiences were said to be direct interventions of the Holy Spirit.
See the video below for more on the Toronto Blessing.
Examples of what Happened at Toronto
2. The Story of St Bernadette Soubirous -
This is the story of a woman in France who chanced upon a grotto (cave) with her sisters and saw apparitions (visions) of a young virgin Mary-esque lady. Her visions were quite unique in that they occurred regularly (sometimes every day) between 11th February and 16th July 1858! The Virgin Mary like lady told her to do many things such as praying, building a chapel in the grotto (which still exists today) and bizarrely: eating mud.
To learn more: Wikipedia: St Bernadette
3. [Bible] The Story of Saul’s Conversion
Many religious experiences are referenced to in the Bible – Saul’s is perhaps the most significant and obvious one. The story is as follows:
Saul was a murderer who had no faith in god. As he travelled to Damascus (a town), a light flashed around him. He then fell to the ground and heard the words “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me…I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul then stood up with his eyes open but couldn’t see anything for he was blinded. For three days he couldn’t see and didn’t drink nor eat anything. The lord Jesus said to a disciple:
“Ananias, get up and go look for a man of Tarsus named Saul.” Of course, Ananias went to find Saul and explained to him that Jesus asked him to find him. Saul’s eyesight was then restored and then he claimed to believe in Jesus and god.
4. [Bible] The Story of Moses and the Burning Bush
In The Book of Exodus [Bible], Moses comes across a bush that although is on fire is not being burnt down.
Upon approaching this burning bush, the voice of God overwhelmed Moses, commanding him to carry out the task of freeing the Jews from Egypt.
In order to prove his power, God turned moses' staff into a snake and back and inflicted his hand with leprosy before healing it back to normal.
"Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation." (Exodus 3:14-15, NIV)
This is a good example of how religious experiences often involve the command to tell others about it or convince others of particular views (that the world is ending or that there is too much sin etc.).
The Full Story of Moses
Arguments Against Religious Experiences being Valid
- Religious experiences can neither be logically nor scientifically explained – make no sense.
- We have no reason to believe other peoples’ stories because:
- They have a reason to lie or exaggerate.
- They are probably mistaken or incomprehensive of what they experienced.
- They may be hallucinating and never experienced anything at all other than a mental malfunction.
- There are thousands of different denominations of religion and each of them claim to have religious experiences – only one denomination at most can be telling the truth but it’s more likely that they are all wrong.
Arguments For Accepting Religious Experiences
- Group Religious Experiences prove that it is not all made up.
- Individuals who do not know each other have similar religious experiences.
- Religious experiences are often life changing and change bad people into good ones.
- There are just too many reported cases of religious experience to deny all of them.
- Experience of God requires faith and wanting and logic does not apply to this.
- Non-Religious people repress and ignore experiences that could have changed their lives.
God is Inconsistent
1. He only reacts with religious people or people that are looking for signs.
Many religions claim that you must ‘open up’ or ‘search for god or Jesus’ before he will come to you. Christians often refer to Jesus saying: “here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” and then state that in order to feel Jesus’ presence we must first seek it. This creates the large problem that when people search for things before finding evidence suggesting what they search for exists, they will 1. Interpret otherwise explainable or coincidental occurrences as religious experience 2. Exaggerate what they see 3. Lie to save face – when everyone else seems to be having experiences in your small circle of religious friends, you are likely to start lying so as to not feel less special than them. 4. Start believing your own lies – it often occurs that people will lie to themselves and then after a while start believing in their own –once recognised- lies.
2. Religious experiences have only been recorded by people who already knew about religion
There haven’t been people who never even heard of the concept ‘god’ or ‘christianity’ coming forth and pledging their faith to the Lord.