Religious Experience Argument for the Existence of God

Religious experience is defined as more or less direct inner communion or encounter with something divine. A significant number of people report transcendent experiences of what has been called in the west cosmic consciousness, and in the east samadhi (wholeness), satori (enlightenment), moksha (liberation), or nirvana (unconditioned consciousness), etc., which they feel are best-explained by the existence of God or the Absolute. While highly subjective, religious experiences are emotionally significant to the people involved and provide corroborating evidence for belief.

Many people undoubtedly have transcendent experiences of faith and suffering, inspiration and conscience, ecstasy and agony, which they believe are produced by the supernatural – the spirit of God working in their souls. These experiences range from more or less vivid visions of divine beings, to feelings of inner union, reunion, or communion with the divine… from the comfort of traditional worship, to the thrill of the recognition of the providence of God working in the world and in individual lives… from the satisfaction of mystical feelings of connection with God, to the consolation of “near death” experiences, in which immortality seems to beckon… from the committed practice of yoga and meditation to the progressive consciousness of samadhi/satori, and moksha/ nirvana… from the sometimes uneasy feelings of a pained conscience in moral relations, to the oft-times blithe certainty of an unaccountable inspiration in art and music.

While there is some diversity, probably due to background and education, religious experience and mysticism have been given many remarkably similar expressions by various visionaries.

Traditional religious experiences of the soul include: blissful rapture and feelings of belonging to the Great Creator; grateful communion with God and feelings of brotherhood with humankind, as part of the Supreme Allsoul; joyful recognition and feelings of union with the Spirit of Nature and All That Is. True believers are said to reach all this and more through ‘yoga,’ prayer, and meditation alone.

In some methods of meditation, the mystic counts his breath or recites a mantra, thus interrupting and ‘stopping the world’ or the inner dialogue about the world. There is then a suspension or bypassing of the will and/or the ego, resulting in a detachment from desire, a surrender of ego and submission of will. This is accompanied by feelings of exalted peace, blessedness and joy, a kind of direct inner contact with the divine, and an incomparable inner experience. This results in an inexpressible certitude which is in the heart, sometimes as a still-small voice that says, “This is the way, walk therein.”

While religious experiences themselves can only constitute direct evidence of God’s existence to those fortunate enough to have them, the fact that there are many ordinary people who testify to having had such experiences constitutes indirect evidence of God’s existence, and the very fact of such curious experiences is highly evidential.

Samuel Stuart Maynes

I’ve come to believe that everybody has a religious experience of one kind or another and to varying degrees. Many people do not recognize their experience as religious. Some might even feel they have never experienced God. That would depend on what you expect from a religious experience. If you expect to be in conversation with God and seeing visions, that is hardly par for the course. Saints maybe, but not the vast majority of the human race.

Encounters with God can be positive or negative, depending on how we handle them. Though he might never admit it, even the atheist is having a negative encounter with God. Usually that encounter is negative for any number or combination of reasons, but the sticking point is that for an atheist a negative experience of God is marked not by indifference but by hostility.

Chesterton put it well: How can you be hostile to Someone who does not exist?

So I think even some atheists by their hostility to God inadvertently offer us a religious experience argument for the existence of God.

Sadly there is one problem with your argument: how do we know who or what is responsible for the ecstasy? If it is proof of God, it is also, sadly, proof of every other god and/or demon in every cosmology and theology and mythology in the universe.

And, as Hesiod professed, one may believe in “the gods” (the superhuman powers) without believing in a Supreme Being.

Your argument needs to be completed with doctrine, and with miracles - as it was in the case of Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Our Lady said of herself, “I am the Immaculate Conception”, a then-recently defined Catholic dogma. This, along with the miraculous healings, verified the Godly origin of Bernadette’s visions.

Doctrine helps identify who we are or are not talking about. For example, a real Catholic revelation would never say “Jesus is not the Son of God”.

The Resurrection is all three of these rolled into one: it is a deeply personal experience the Apostles had of God (in Our Lord), it is a matter of divinely (and naturally) revealed dogma, and it is one of the most verifiable miracles on the planet.

It is important to remember that his argument is a philosophical argument in a philosophy forum. Theism and theocentric humanism are at the origin and heart of the Western philosophical tradition going back even to the Pre-Socratics. In the face of physicalism, which has never really demonstrated why it is more reasonable to abandon theism in favor of it, an effort at a philosophical argument substantiating theism–be it successful or not–is certainly a return to the roots of our civilization and of value.

From the point of view of we, who are already Christian believers, his arguments could be used in the realm of apologetics, the preambles to the faith, and would then typically include the evidence of miraculous phenomena, fulfilled prophecies, etc.

Yet as JP II made clear in Fides et Ratio, giving voice to the entire Catholic tradition, philosophy has its own method formally using only the natural light of reason, and that enterprise is legitimate and worthwhile in its own right.

As long as it is not used alone, or made a cornerstone. It needs additional support to stand. The Resurrection is the cornerstone. Why not rest all this on there?

Because, as I indicated, he is engaged in philosophy, not Christian apologetics. And philosophy is legitimate and valid in its own right, as I also indicated.

Should he or someone using whatever valid arguments he advances choose to engage in Christian apologetics, then the points you make enter in.

A personal religious experience may be an argument for that person, but it has very little weight with the population at large. Even the RCC is extremely cautious before declaring personal experience (revelation) to be worthy of belief.

I think that saying somebody else’s religious experience is a proof of God (or gods, demons or whatever, as one of the other posters suggested) is a tad premature. I would just like to have one myself, like, say, to see my guardian angel or something. :twocents:

In the end God Himself is a direct expereince, and this experince is superior to any “head knowledge” we may now possess about Him, and this experience is the very aim of the Christian faith, in fact. It’s known as the Beatific Vision, and is mystical in the sense that’s its impossible for us to achieve on our own; its a gift of eternal grace. And if God chooses to give some a “glimpse” of this vision in the here and now, a vision which produces sheer peace and happiness in the receiver, which He reportedly has, I don’t know if that has anything at all in common with the expereinces claimed by followers of other relgions, etc.

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