The American Religious ExperienceMidterm Examination
Challenges to religious experiences - essay plan
There are various arguments that are advanced to motivate religiousbelief. One of the most interesting and popular is a wager argumentoften associated with Pascal (1623–1662). It is designed tooffer practical reasons to cultivate a belief in God. Imagine thatyou are unsure whether there is or is not a God. You have it withinyour power to live on either assumption and perhaps, through variouspractices, to get yourself to believe one or the other. There would begood consequences of believing in God even if your belief were false,and if the belief were true you would receive even greater good. Therewould also be good consequences of believing that there is no God, butin this case the consequences would not alter if you were correct. If,however, you believe that there is no God and you are wrong, then youwould risk losing the many goods which follow from the belief that Godexists and from actual Divine existence. On this basis, it may seemreasonable to believe there is a God.
Describe and illustrate The Argument from Religious Experience.
How one settles the argument will depend on one's overall convictionsin many areas of philosophy. The holistic, interwoven nature of boththeistic and atheistic arguments can be readily illustrated. If youdiminish the implications of religious experience and have a highstandard regarding the burden of proof for any sort of religiousoutlook, then it is highly likely that the classical arguments forGod's existence will not be persuasive. Moreover, if one thinks thattheism can be shown to be intellectually confused from the start, thentheistic arguments from religious experience will carry littleweight. Testimony to have experienced God will have no more weightthan testimony to have experienced a round square, and non-religiousexplanations of religious experience—like those of Freud (aresult of wish-fulfillment), Marx (a reflection of the economic base)or Durkheim (a product of social forces)—will increase theirappeal. If, on the other hand, you think the theistic picture iscoherent and that the testimony of religious experience provides someevidence for theism, then your assessment of the classical theisticarguments might be more favorable, for they would serve to corroborateand further support what you already have some reason to believe. Fromsuch a vantage point, appeal to wish-fulfillment, economics, andsocial forces might have a role, but the role is to explain why someparties do not have experiences of God and to counter the charge thatfailure to have such experiences provides evidence that there is noreligious reality. For an excellent collection of recent work onexplaining the emergence and continuation of religious experience,see Schloss and Murray (eds.) 2009.