Friday, September 26, 2008

Religious Experiences for All!

Hi, Sorry for the lack of material lately. I've been insanely busy and my blogging has suffered. I received a comment today, I thought I'd bring the conversation to the main page.

A supreme being does not need to correct the very natural laws he has brought into existence. Religion aside, I find the very fact that a single event caused this very nature, with all its complexity, to exist to be quite fascinating.
If "sin" is to be redefined in non-religious terms then it would be taking a something such as self-consciousness for granted.
I find it amazing that the non-relgious go so adamantly about attacking faith and praising knowledge. Faith and knowledge are inseparable. One has to "believe" one's consciousness to "know" that one does exist. One has to "believe" one's senses to "know" that there is a reality external to oneself. In that sense, one's whole perception of the world is a "belief".
The religious premise is that there is yet another reality not accessible to the senses but is accessible to directly to the consciousness; the very thing that chooses to believe of the existence of self and the trustworthiness of the senses. Those who have experienced the presence of the supreme being report it as being perceived directly by their consciousness thus bypassing their senses; and they do report the perception of a reality external to themselves. One could call them crazy, one could call them delusional, one could also call them liars but I have yet to hear a reasonable proof that such experience cannot exist without proving that the very existence of any external reality can be a delusion.
If you have never had such an experience there is nothing that anybody can tell you about religion, or a supreme being that will convince you. If you had that experience, however, and chose to discount it as a delusion then I would very much like to know why you trust your perception of any other reality more than that experience. At the end, one could always choose not to believe in the existence of a supreme being. But, technically speaking, one will never be able to claim being non-religious. There is always the very primitive religion; a belief in the existence of oneself and the existence of an external reality.
And here is my Reply
Hello, thanks for posting.

Certainly the existence of our conscious minds is improbable. But does it really require faith to believe you exist? If it does, than it is not the same faith that is required to believe something which cannot be seen nor touched nor experienced by a sense of any physical sort. That is, you are equivocating in your use of the word “faith”. For example, I have, in a sense, ‘faith’ that the entity to whom I am now replying is a human being accessing the internet. Is it possible that an alien, or a cat or god himself has typed this message to me? Maybe. But my belief in your nature is based on my knowledge of the world around me. In a hundred years, if we have sentient computers and alien visitors my assumption would be invalid. When you say that I have faith in my senses, this is the sort of ‘faith’ I think you mean. But believing something for good reason isn’t faith. At least this isn’t faith in the religious sense. In Hebrews, Paul describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”. Now Paul didn’t know about microscopes and waves and so forth so don’t get caught up on the literal ramifications of ‘unseen’. Faith, in a religious context then is belief for which no tangible evidence can be provided, for Paul the faith is the evidence in and of itself.

On a brief tangent, the reasoning in this area of can become both circular and nasty. In psychology we talk about a patient’s investment in a problem. Once you are asked to make large sacrifices or shown negative consequences, you are more likely to persist in a destructive behavior (loving your fraternity after they haze you, or staying in a failing business venture). What then can we make of the matter of faith in 1 Corinthians 15 “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins”. What terror the men of Corinth must have felt when they heard these words.

So I disagree vigorously with your use of the word faith to define the everyday occurrence of taking for granted the obvious and natural state of our humanity while using it also (correctly) to define an intangible belief. To refer to the acknowledgement of one’s existence as a “primitive religion” is absurd because to lack such an acknowledgement is a sign of serious mental derangement.

Now, the most interesting thing you have said is about religious experiences. Let me make another assumption (call it ‘faith’ if you like), that you are a monotheist. You believe that there is only one god, namely yours. So then, let me surprise you by saying I have had religious experiences. I do not count myself crazy. Nor do I count other Christians as crazy for having the same experiences. What about Muslims with religious experiences? What of the archangel giving the prophet the Koran? Were all the religious people of the polytheistic cultures crazy? I don’t think so, do you? They too speak of religious experiences, of oracles and shamans. They are infidels to you and you are atheistic to their gods, but your defense of religious experience defends them too. If a religious experience is proof of the validity of faith, why don’t you worship at the altar of Zeus? Of course that would be absurd. You want to show me Christian (if that is your faith) experiences to prove Christian truth. You cannot have it both ways. I readily admit religious experiences happen and are powerful subjective occurrences. However, one of two things must follow from this. Either such experiences are open to all people, are a part of our consciousness and mean prove nothing because of their very spread across religious traditions throughout human history. Or somehow they prove the validity of faith. This is what you might wish were true but it is unlikely. People of all faiths can have such experiences but for them all to be valid is impossible.

How can the ancient pantheons be reconciled with the demands of the monotheist? How can the three monotheists reconcile amongst themselves? How can the denominations within them be reconciled? They cannot. Zeus cannot exist if Yahweh exists. Gentile Jesus and Islam’s Allah cannot both exist, they contradict each other directly! If people of any faith, of any denomination, of any number of gods can have a religious experience, then such experiences cease to be about religion. If you wish to study such phenomena I suggest you study people instead.

to anon: Feel free to contribute more in the comment section of this post.
to the rest of you: Jump in as well, if you like