Monday 7 October 2019

Romantic Christianity and spiritual experiences

From this blog in 2014 I find this important piece of writing by Mormon philosopher and theologian Blake Ostler (BO), about the primacy of personal spiritual experience - and the implications of this primacy.

Read the whole thing - but these excerpts give a flavour. I have added the bold emphasis:

Q: What should you conclude when your spiritual experience conflicts with logical and tangible evidence?

BO: This is a very good question. First I would suggest this, there’s nothing more immediate than your own experience. Only you know what your experience is. If it conflicts with logic? Trust me, I’m very good at logic and I know there are a lot of ways to do logic to make it conflict with just about anything I can come up with, that’s what I do for a living {laughter}. 

And tangible evidence? We don’t know what evidence is until we have all of our basic premises and axioms in place to begin with. You see, when I see through the lens of faith what counts as evidence is different than when I don’t see through the lens of faith.

In fact, I found something very interesting among people who have lost testimonies. Almost invariably they will say, “I had a testimony and then I decided, ‘I’m going to take a look at this without relying on spiritual experiences or the way that I see things when I trust the Spirit. I’m just going to see what logic or evidence provides.'”

The fact is that evidence isn’t self-interpreting, and logic is only a very useful tool for arriving – and I am very “Humean” about logic. All logic is ex post facto to prove what we already feel is true; how’s that?

Q: How can one find the truth when two people experience two opposite things while praying about the Book of Mormon? One gets the feeling it’s true, the other gets the feeling it’s wrong?

BO: Well, I say trust your experience...

Trust your Heavenly Father. What I said was that the experience that anybody else has is not evidence for us. If somebody else has a different experience, I think I have good prima facia reason for believing my own experience as opposed to theirs. What else can I do?

And it comes down to faith. Am I going to trust my heart or not? Am I going to have an open heart or am I going to close it? That’s the bottom line. 


TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

I've heard of people who have chosen to reject positive spiritual experiences they've had on the grounds that these experiences can be explained in materialist terms, or that they've simply never had anything they could call a positive spiritual experience.

But I've never heard, for example, of someone saying they had a positive spiritual experience where God told them The Book of Mormon wasn't true, or that the Heavenly Mother doesn't exist, etc.

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter - Maybe... But I am pretty sure that there will have been some; or some who reported such negatives or understood themselves to have such negative experiences.

But I think Blake Ostler makes the important point that individual is individual - we should not look for some kind of sum or consensus of individual spiritual experiences in order to generate an external 'objective' structure.

I feel that personal is personal. If someone we love or trust tells us of something they have experienced it may be helpful, or may be harmful - since telling about (and interpreting) an experience is not the same as having the experience.

The key point is that personal spiritual experience is irreplaceable; we need to have it for ourselves, and there is no replacement for that.

But - as you say - mainstream metaphysical assumptions have it that all such experiences are delusions or misinterpretations - so there is educatonal (or self-educational) work to be done before the claim of No Spiritual Experiences can be accepted.

As Rodney Stark said (and this hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it in 2007) all mainstream scholarship and discourse assumes that All revelations are Not revelations - the only disagreement is how they are to be explained away. To know whether something is a revelation or not, the first step is to acknowledge that there really are such things as revelations - then to decide whether This is one of them...

If we don't admit even the possibility of real spiritual experiences, obviously we will not have any.