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Religion is an important aspect of human existence. This is because through religion human beings can explain phenomena which may at times be difficult to explain or shed light on. This gives room for one to be in a position of ensuring that those things or issues which are beyond a person’s capability in terms of rational thought or logical explanation are dealt with. In as much as religion is critical about the existence of man, some issues remain to be unanswered in this light (Everitt).
What are religious experiences?
An experience may be defined as an event that one lives through and about which one is conscious or aware (Everitt). These experiences which are known as religious experiences are held to differ from ordinary experiences in that what is experienced is taken by the person to be some supernatural being or presence (God, either in himself or as manifest in some action), a being related to God (a manifestation of God or personage such as the Virgin Mary), or some indescribable ultimate reality (Jordan, Anne, and Jordan).
Religious experiences are diverse. In essence, there are five types of religious experiences. These experiences are classified according to how the experiences come about. Experience of God or ultimate reality mediated through
- a common, public, sensory object,
- an unusual, public, sensory object,
- a private object that can be described in normal sensory language,
- a private object that cannot be described in normal sensory language,
- experience of God or Ultimate reality is not mediated by any sensory object (Jordan, Anne, and Jordan).
Religious life may be described as a life where a person practices and lives based on beliefs and practices which cohere in a pattern that expresses a character or way of life that seems more deeply entrenched in the life of that person or community than any of the beliefs or practices. In as much as religions are important concerning the human race, it is worth noting that religions have a bearing on the supernatural forces which may not be described or explained (Proudfoot). In this light, the value which is given to religious experiences at times is used to describe the nature of God. Thus, religion is also used to present an argument for the existence of God.
Characteristics of religious experiences
Several characteristics are used to evaluate religious experiences. First, this experience is usually nonempirical. This is because it is usually perceived as supernatural since it cannot be measured. It is an event that can be described as a mental event. In this case, it is an experience that is only experienced by the person who is undergoing it. These experiences are usually spontaneous (Proudfoot). Eventually, the person who goes through this experience is driven into a deeper relationship with God. Finally, this experience is usually individual thus it is branded as subjective.
The argument for the existence of God
Since time immemorial, there have been arguments that have been brought to the fore regarding the nature of God and the existence of God. Various arguments have been postulated regarding the existence of God by philosophers. Based on this, various arguments have been put forward which attempt to explain the existence of God (Proudfoot). Among them include the ontological and moral arguments. In this paper, we are going to look at the argument for the existence of God which is based on religious experiences. Some proponents hold differing views when it comes to religious experiences. Some believe that there is no relationship between the experiences and God, on the other hand, there are those who hold a different view.
It is worth mentioning the fact that in some cases, someone who already accepts the existence of God finds additional confirmatory evidence for their theism in the occurrence of specific kinds of experience. Typically they find confirmatory evidence for some belief more specific than theism itself – for example, a belief that they have won God’s favor and will be among the elect (Everitt). However, it is possible to raise the question of whether any of these experiences do by themselves constitute evidence for the existence of God, and if so whether the evidence is strong enough by itself to make it more probable than not that God exists.
Proponents hold the view that these religious experiences raise or increase to a great depth the probability that God truly exists. This is because they often insist that the appeal to religious experiences is not simply one more argument or a piece of reasoning for the existence of God, akin to those which already exist. Rather, they hold the view that it is not an argument at all. They contrast knowledge of God based on religious experiences, with knowledge of God based on argument or reasoning. The point that they are making is that the experiences give a direct way of knowing about things, as distinct from the indirect, inferential way which is provided by having to reason our way to knowledge of them.
Some Muslims take the divine basis of the innate nature of religious experiences and belief further back and present a different Qur’anic verse as religious evidence for their view. The vital notion in this regard is that the vital seed of God’s love and avowal of His existence is planted in human nature. However, in as much as this seed is human nature, it naturally follows that it will only thrive when the conditions and circumstances allow them to thrive (Everitt).
It is on this basis that the notion of the importance of identifying these experiences and the different aspects which accompany them come to the fore. This view reminds us that the very nature of man is enshrined in their ability to note these experiences and thus experience change. These changes come when religious experiences are observed.
It is important to note that it is not easy to empirically recognize these experiences. However, this does not necessarily mean that these experiences do not exist. Even though it is difficult to note these experiences their effects are well observed. It is on these grounds that one can boldly assert the fact that God exists based on the impact of these supernatural experiences. There is a relationship that exists between Sufi epistemology and faith with religious experience.
This is based on the premise that when the Sufi talks about the truth they talk about the ultimate and divine truth. This kind of truth is gained or acquired from divine experiences that are observed. This leaves the person who has had such an experience with the certainty that there exists a supernatural force or power who is in charge of the operations in the world (Proudfoot).
Consequently, for a moderate evaluation from an Islamic perspective, one can say that religious experience seems to be sufficient ground for a person’s belief in God, particularly if it is in harmony with the essence of revelation and reason. Furthermore, the religious experiences of millions of human beings who have been aware of God’s presence and guidance, of being cured of skeptical disease as in the case of al – Ghazali, of His help and providence, of being cured of physical diseases and the like, are more likely to be real and genuine experiences in the sense of having a real object or source of the subject’s experience. It is much less likely that the great majority of human beings, including very great intelligence and figures, have been deluded by various imaginations and projections.
One can conclude that the argument from various types of religious experience for the existence of God should be considered as a sufficient evidential ground for persons who do have that experience, provided that he or she has no obvious doubt of being deceived or deluded in it, and the experience had is in harmony at least with his or her more objectively sound background knowledge based on reason and or revelation (Everitt).
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Also, people will have more grounds for believing in something if they go through the experience. In this case, the best evidence that one can have regarding the existence of God is the experience that one goes through. However, in as much as we go through such experience, it is usually not empirical or logical. All that a person holds is the belief that the experience took place.
This being the case, not many may come to the point of taking another person’s experience as an objective. Rather, these experiences which other people go through are mostly summed up as subjective experiences. However, this should not necessarily undermine the value that these religious and mystic experiences come from a superior force or supernatural power who in this case is God.
This in essence sums up the very argument that since as human beings we all go through experiences, the ultimate determinant of the validity of life and truth is the experience. Since no religious experience can have an impact on a person and that person remains in the state that one was previously. Some form of transformation is usually observed in the life of the person who has gone through that experience (Jordan, Anne, and Jordan).
However, some people hold the opinion that since many have tried to have a religious experience, but have not been able to experience them, then God does not exist. What should be put across in this regard is that these experiences are usually mystical. No one has control over them. This implies that since no human being can control them, then the assertion that there is a supernatural and powerful God holds.
Everitt, Nicholas. The Non-Existence of God, New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Jordan, Anne Lockyer, et al. Philosophy of Religion for A Level OCR Edition, New York:Nelson Thornes, 2004. Print.
Proudfoot, Wayne. Religious Experience, California: University of California Press,1987. Print.