Monday, June 7, 2010

The Nature of the Religious experience

Who knew that a lone philosophy class, taken my last semester of college for the sole purpose of wasting time, would provide the inspiration for a new project and a change in my own philosophies?

The class was Nature of the Religious Experience. It was my first class of the day that semester and it made my head hurt, a lot. The primary text for the class was William James’s difficult and lengthy The Varieties of the Religious Experience. James wrote it as a series of lectures he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1901-1902 These lectures were an early attempt to scientifically examine the value of religion in the life of individuals. He was not trying to prove the superiority of any one religion, but was looking at the value of any religion. This was a then unheard of step towards truly empirical evaluation of the purpose of religion. William James was both a scientist (in the Victorian sense of the word, not necessarily in the current use) and a deeply religious man. He was a psychologist and a philosopher. He seemed to have been somewhat conflicted by the sometimes irreconcilable differences in scientific and religious thought.

Anyhow, to cut to my point, William James came to a brilliant and incredibly simple conclusion: that religion is deeply important to the well being of the human psyche. He summed up his view with:

“1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;

2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;

3. That prayer or inner communication with the spirit thereof- be that spirit ‘God’ or ‘law’- is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world. ” (James, 485)

My point in sharing this somewhat obscure text with you is this: What you believe is not important to me. What is important to me is that spirituality enriches and inspires your life, not limits or oppresses anyone. Every faith has its strengths. Every myth has it’s lesson to impart, regardless of where it comes from. We are each unique expressions of the human condition. Our spirituality is a reflection of our experiences. If we look past the dogma and codification of beliefs as “wrong” or “right” we can have a dialogue about what spirituality means to us, as individuals and as a species. What tools can we share with one another, if we learn to not be blinded by our views? What can we learn from each other if we can get past the ideas of “mine” and “yours”?

Please join me in sharing spirituality and communication at my website

“Let us be saints, then, if we can, whether or not we succeed visibly and temporally. But in our Father’s house are many mansions, and each of us must discover for himself the kind of religion and the amount of saintship which best comports with what he believes to be his powers and feels to be his truest mission and vocation. There are no successes to be guaranteed and no set orders to be given to individuals, so long as we follow the methods of empirical philosophy.” (Joyce, 377)

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