Tuesday 8 October 2019

Should Christians have spiritual experiences? What if they don't?

Over the years I have been asked - sometimes in comments, sometimes in personal e-mails - whether Christians should be having spiritual experiences; these forming the most solid basis of their faith?

I have been asked this question especially by those who do not have such experiences - on the lines of: 'Is there something defective about my Christian faith that I personally don't ever get spiritual experiences?'

The answer I would now give (as a generalisation) is that yes, modern, adult, Western Christians should be having spiritual experiences, and should base their Christian faith upon them. And that yes; anyone who does not have such experiences should indeed regard their faith as (to that extent) defective.

The reason is that the ability to have spiritual experiences in a Christian context has become necessary here-and-now; and it is the lack of such experiences - or the denial or explaining-away of such experiences as false or trivial - that is the root of Christian weakness and the problem of materialism/ positivism/ scientism/ reductionism - the Ahrimanic totalitarian bureaucracy and Leftism.

It is that important.

Spiritual experience has become vital for Christians in this modern context and era - which is why I believe that Romantic Christianity is now (it was not always) our destined way forward (via Final Participation)  to Life Eternal; and that all other paths will lead elsewhere.

So I would argue that a Christian who has not had any spiritual experience, is not having spiritual experiences, should not rest content in that situation; but should examine his metaphysical assumptions, attitudes, behaviours etc - to try and discover what is blocking the spiritual experiences that would otherwise be happening. And then try to remove those blockages.

Or else, it may be he is indeed having spiritual experiences, but is failing to recognise or denying them. That too should be remedied. In this modern era our task (as adults) is to become conscious of the spiritual realm - and the spiritual realm must be freely chosen.

Thus we should neither want nor expect to be overwhelmed by irresistible spiritual experiences, since that would be bad for us - we should want and expect to know them, and choose them. 

This will be (as usual) a very personal and distinctive matter - each must discover for himself - and only you can discover for yourself (nobody else can do it for you). Furthermore, because we live in a pervasively materialist world, there is a tendency passively to lose the ability to connect with the  spiritual realm: for spiritual experiences to become less frequent, less intense, to cease... This should be regarded as a sign of spiritual malaise.

In sum, it is no longer sufficient for a Christian to be passive and unconscious; no longer sufficient to follow external guidance, no longer sufficient to suppose that following rituals and adhering to morality is sufficient.

These are insufficient because a person who tries to be that kind of Christian will not remain any kind of Christian at all (except verbally), but will join the mass materialist apostasy - even when they self-identify as Christians. They will not choose Heaven.

Here-and-now the only secure Christians are those with direct personal conscious experience and knowledge of Jesus Christ and his offer of Life Everlasting. And if Jesus is then chosen and Heaven made our first priority, then that is indeed sufficient.


Matthew T said...

And of course it may go without saying that some people are genetically receptive to such things, just as some people are colour-blind, autistic and poor judges of others' emotions, etc. But no reason to give up!

Bruce Charlton said...

@MT -

Yes, everybody is truly different, from eternity; so there would be no reason to expect that all people would be identical in this respect. But, as Blake Ostler clearly shows in the linked interview; this is something each needs to do for himself.

A spiritual adept cannot do it for someone who is not naturally adept. Secondhand is qualitatively inferior to first hand. The most another person can do is provide inspiration or motivation - can (if trusted) show that it is possible.

Not to have spiritual experiences is analogous to (and sometimes related to) getting stuck in the adolescence of consciousness. We should reject that spiritual blindness or insensitivity is analogous to being 'grown-up'.

Desert Rat said...

My own experience is that one is on a sort of roller-coaster ride in practicing religion. The wonderful Presence that brings with it joy, peace, knowledge and deep insight fades into memory and then I am left alone once again to deal with the world. The revelation serves to stiffen the spine in living among so much ignorance (much of it my own). The "dry" periods vary in length from days to months but at the end there is (so far) always a new ushering back into that Presence and often a review of what has been experienced and how handled. But always there is a deep and abiding love that deepens faith, gives hope and assurance that, no matter how dark it might seem to be in the end all will be well.

And I add that I find that persons who have not experienced these often have faith in a degree that I have not possessed. Those who wait patiently and humbly on Our Father will, I know, receive Him and rejoice.

Lucinda said...

For me, an important thing provided externally is something to assess and judge with spiritual eyes. For instance this post feels like something true and important. The other day I was looking something up online, having to do with psychology and relationships, and I clearly felt, “This is garbage and a waste of time.”

Many seem to think that non-judgmentalism is the desired highest state of spirituality, and I think there’s something to that since the most spiritual people seem to develop a sort of material detachment, like Tom Bombadil. But ultimately it’s a mistake to think of it in terms of non-judgmentalism. It’s better described in terms you have said, of taking your place as a being among beings, some things having very little to do with you, while other times there is an important synchronicity, miracle, spiritual experience that is vital to recognize and build on.

For me, an important inspiration and motivation from others who are more spiritually adept is imagination, opening a view, because I am not endogenous.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - I think the highest exaltation is (in part) about becoming endogenous - each in our own unique way; and thereby participating in the work of creation. Raising children can, perhaps should, be endogenous too - at times - You know, those unplanned and unpredictable moments of intensity, mind-to-mind contact, shared activity, perfect appreciation (that we remember ever after).

Of course, in this mortal life of learning, nobody operates at this endogenous level consistently - presumably because we are meant primarily to learn-from such experiences, rather than (as later) have them as our way-of-life.

Lucinda said...

Yes I agree.

When I say I’m not endogenous, I mean I sometimes I feel like a faker. I had the benefit of having a brother just older than me who was very intelligent and endogenous. I always looked up to him, but of course he had quite a lot of trouble in school etc. In our adult years, he’s been quite mentoring to me, and I’ve really benefitted from his insights, and of course I try to think like he does, endogenously.

But I know it is not the same for me. I’m coming from the other direction, trying to forget my social concerns, always running the risk of trying to LOOK smart, intelligent, and independent-minded. What I like about interactions as a mother with her children is that the vanity of social concerns is pretty minimal between us, which allows for a more natural exploration of personal insight, just like you describe.