Religious Experience

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‘Arguments from religious experience are never convincing.’ (35 marks)

Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud present challenges to religious experiences. Marx’s challenges to religious experience arguments are sociological; he suggested that the origins of religious experience are to be found in society. He states religion is about mythological beliefs and an unreal god that distracted people from the real world, religion is ‘the opium of the people’, religious experiences create alienation and a religious experience could be the product of the desperate situation in which a person lived. Freud’s challenges to religious experience arguments are psychological; he suggested that religious experiences are a product of human psychology. He states religion is an illusion, religion expresses people’s desires and religion originates from a childlike desire for a God who resembles a father figure.

Some people have rejected James’ claim that religious experience is primary. For example, many sociologists point out that the most likely people to have religious experiences are those who are already religious. However James’ view has its weaknesses, for example some people have suggested that religious experiences are similar to hallucinations caused by drugs such as LSD. Furthermore J.L. Mackie argued in ‘The Miracle of Theism’ that if mystical experiences are explainable psychologically, which James’ stated is possible, then mystical experiences can have no authority even for the person who has the experience. Instead, Mackie suggest that people who believe mystical experiences are authoritative are ‘insufficiently critical’.

Challenges to religious experience arguments include physiological challenges. One argument against religious experiences suggests that they have a physiological cause; this means they are the product of physical changes in the body. For example did Paul have epilepsy? This could possibly explain his experience of bright light. Equally, it is known...
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