Subjective Religious Experiences? – Elijah’s Blog

Posted on Updated on

photo-1475094276386-8a8776e8dfa1Many people dismiss religious experiences because “religious people claim to have experiences and they can’t all be correct”. While its certainly true that they cannot all be correct (they teach contradictory things), not all religious experiences can (or should) be discounted.

In epistemology, there are things known as defeaters. Defeaters are beliefs that show another belief to be false. For example, if I believed that it was raining outside and I looked outside to see clear blue skies, my observation of the weather would be a defeater for my belief that it is raining.

The same principle can be applied to experiences. If we have an experience, we have to assess it based on our other beliefs about the world. If our experience contradicts our current beliefs, then we have to make a decision; either accept the experience as veridical or reject it based on other beliefs.
In either case, one may act as a defeater for the other.
In the example above, the existence of clear blue skies is an experience that forced me to reevaluate my belief that it was raining.

The same goes for religious experiences. If someone claims to have had an experience consistent with Hinduism, we can analyze Hinduism for its truth value. If it turns out that Hinduism is false, that becomes a defeater for the experience and we can therefore reject the experience as evidence for Hinduism. Given that Hinduism is false, there must be another explanation for the religious experience.
You cannot have a true experience of a false religion.

When it comes to Christian religious experience, we can do the same kind of assessment. If you have an experience consistent with Christianity, you need not reject it until you have a defeater for that experience. And because the evidence points towards Christianity as being true, we can also embrace experience as veridical. Unlike the Hindu experience, we have reason to think that the Christian experience is real.

This is one of the main reasons that I accept subjective Christian experiences as subjective evidence for Christianity’s veracity. It is important to note that a subjective religious experience may be a justification for an individual to embrace Christianity, but one person’s subjective religious experience ought not be used as an objective justification for others to accept Christianity as true.

I cannot say that I know for sure that I have had a genuine religious experience. And even if I do, I will likely remain skeptical of it’s veracity, because I know that I am not immune to psychological manipulation. But who knows. Perhaps my mind will change on that one, given the appropriate experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *