9. Personal Experiences

Click here to hear episode #9.

Many believers claim to have personal experiences of God. In this episode, I argue that such believers may rationally believe that God exists on the basis of this personal experience, apart from any consideration of the evidence for and against God’s existence. This episode has book reviews for Simply Christian by N.T. Wright and God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. For the audience question I consider if the digits of pi constitutes a genuine example of an actual infinite in the real world.

See the full transcript.

  1. Interesting topic, one that I personally agree with. However, not one that the fundamentalist crowd will support. Traditionally, it is against church doctrine that our personal experience and thus personal beliefs are to have a bearing on us to to take action. Merely suggesting that the individual has the ability to self-discipline, or to adequately qualify personal experiences, is going too far. It is a funny thing what the mind will justify against our best or common interests. For example the egregious sins: kill, rape, or steal. “If an individual is truly reflective, or recognizes a strong possibility that they may be hallucinating…”. Sanity or “dendronitis”, cannot be self evaluated, you are incapable of responding to your own self-evaluation. The orthodoxy will never support the personal form of qualifying your beliefs that you espouse here. Just FYI, this is a significant break in theology.

    You mentioned in one of your examples the fact that President Bush exists. What interests me deeply is – do we believe that he exists in the sense that he is portrayed in our personal “seeing” or “hearing” of him. Consider then it is a much more difficult question in light of what is “to know” a person. Of course we can assume there is probably a human somewhere called George Bush. But unless we grew up with him, or are in his family, had a beer with him before he went into politics, how can we know him than by anything other than name? The question becomes (likewise this can be applied to Jesus), who really is President Bush? What does he really do, how does he really feel and believe, beyond his political persona. Because his persona, how we know him, isn’t in service to the transparency and truth per se. His image of course is in service to needs of public and government, you could say republican agenda, his administrations agenda, and finally, the necessary authentication of official US position on all matters federal and foreign. All of this supersedes the true existence of the person, we can throw out any notion that a real George Bush exists, beyond a reasonable hunch that with modern technology it would be cost prohibitive that he is a Max Headroom. As with any person and his/her message, there is of course the pre-subscribed notion your audience holds. The audience obtains it from western society’s American, republican, elite, and this is what qualifies our experience of media, of the person of President Bush.

    Next, you mention that personal experiences are not logical but emotional. I would suggest to you that personal experiences, aren’t in the realm of logical or non-logical, only their meaning or eventfulness can be argued logically. Personal experiences aren’t necessarily emotional either, though I give you they most likely gain emotional attachments, but they start out as truths, provided our eyes and ears function according to baseline human standards. Finally, personal experiences, are most likely to be social affects, they cannot be by a majority, “personal”. In other words, if I subscribe to subculture, “21st Century Christian Doctrine”, or, “21st Century Wester Counter Culture Atheism”, then my interpretation and perceptions are affects of my larger pre-subscribed notions about my world. I believe this offers another way of looking at your crtique of “Senseless Divinititus”, since any coherent discussion must fundamentally agree that in spite of belief in any religion we as social beings adhere to constructs, and we establish social symbols and we do not easily escape them by sheer logic nor willpower alone. The Nazism example meets this criteria of established social constructs that we as socially consumed beings cannot escape. Even if the flipside of Nazism social construct and adherence, is to do “extreme good”, we must accept that it is a social construct with equally subservient adherence inspite of any rendering of it’s moral character by those outside it.

    I would also argue that, it is precisely from our personal experiences where we are able in good conscience to argue our case about our experience in reality to other individuals. I go so far as to say we only argue honestly when it is about our personal experiences, so that any arguing from the stance of presubscribed, subcultured interpretations of human artifacts, such as the Bible, are contrived, disingenuous, and socially withdrawn. Or, if you chose, how can scientific measurement be viewed to inform us about reality and where God may be.


    harpoonflyby    Oct 24, 10:42 AM    #
  2. I’ve got a better analogy for you than the Bush one.

    A kid knows that Santa Claus exists. He’s been told about him by his parents, and has seen him on TV. All the other kids talk about Santa. Empirical evidence suggests that he exists. Then Mummy takes him to Santa’s grotto. The kid meets Santa! This is strong personal experience, so he must exist! Right?

    Just because a person has experienced something that seems to them like God, doesn’t mean that it is God. Psychological experiments prove that humans (adults as much as children) are prone to looking for patterns where there are none – it’s how our brains work.

    It’s why gods exist in the first place – we saw patterns and things we couldn’t explain, and so called them works of, for instance, Zeus, or Odin (or God). Because our ancestors were so convinced of these experiences, it gave rise to the myths we know today as ancient Greek and Norse mythology. (and I assume you accept both as mythologies?)

    Now, if God came down from on high and presented himself to me and showed me miracles physically, I suppose I’d have to admit he existed. (Unless doctors then found a brain tumour in the appropriate part of my brain.) But most personal experiences aren’t anything half as substantial. They boil down to wishful thinking.

    Finally, it looks like teaching people to believe in personal experiences above empirical evidence (which is what you seem to be telling people to do) is a path down insanity lane. Just look at your average paranoid schizo.


    — Simon    Dec 21, 07:29 AM    #
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