The validity of the religious experience - PDF book by George Alexander Barrow

The validity of the religious experience

a preliminary study in philosophy of religion

The validity of the religious experience


The problem of the validity of the religious experience is essentially modern and recent. Problems connected with what we call the religious life there have always been, both as to its practice and its im- plications. Men have questioned whether it was an experience of God or the Devil, and have sought to regulate it. 

Others have claimed their inspiration from their possession of an abnormal religious life and asserted that peculiar knowledge of God or of life was given to them in that experience. Being practical^ men, the leaders of religious life have Bought to restrain this phenomenon, nnc\ "those limits have been laid off the time Mystics, perhaps the only ones who Tiaverealised religion as an experience different from the other experiences of life, have never won a large following. 

Quakers remain few, even though their first quietism has been largely lost. The effort to keep the contemplative orders true to their first ideal has often seemed impossible of success. 

The normal life which does not recognise sharp distinctions be- tween the experience of religion and other experiences has dominated the Church. Hence the practical spirit of the Church has expressed itself in restrainIng the expression of religion as a thing distinct from life's other activities. On the theoretical side, theologians have been much more concerned with the revelations made and the ideas drawn from the religious experience than they have been with that experience itself. 

The official teachers and leaders of Christianity have therefore paid little attention to the religious phenomena for its own sake. 

The terms used in describing it are not drawn from an analysis of the phenomena, but from assumptions, many of them crude and carelessly used. Outside of official Christianity, there has been, in recent years, the considerable study of religious phenomena. 

The history of religions, comparative religion, together with the science and the psychology of religion, though naming fields whose boundaries are only very roughly defined, outline the modern interest in the subject. 

By contact with different forms of religious expression, and especially by contact with the East, where attention has for centuries been centred on these phenomena, our western world has been aroused to a careful objective study of religion. This has not yet gone far enough to give us new terms, since it has hardly yet formulated clearly even the principal problems. 

We cannot look to this objective study for clear definitions of our terms, or for unambiguous terms. Nor would they serve us for more than a start. Valuable as the results of the scientific study of religion will be for the future theologian, these studies will be, even for him, merely descriptive. The determination of the normal age of conversion, or the solution of the relative consistency of differing forms of religious expression, can give to the theologian only more material and new problems. 

In this analysis, the first term to be questioned is the last of our titles. So far a number of terms have been used in speaking of the religious phenomena in order to avoid the implications of any one of them. The concept which we will find ourselves forced to consider most is brought to us in the word " experience." 

To assume it in any one sense would be dangerous, so we must ask first what is meant by the term as applied to religion. At the start, and from whatever point we make our start, the application to religion must be carefully examined. 

The widest meaning is therefore the best to bring out the most general implications. The widest use is that already referred to when anything which may be the object of a man's consciousness is called his experience. Dreams, insight into artistic activities or values, as well as the perceptual facts of everyday life, are in a man's experience. 

Even in this widest use, however, there are limits. It is a question of whether a man experiences his own purposes or his own will. The question might be put in the form of whether there can be a subjective experience. Ordinarily, the assumption would be that there could not. What a man experiences, though it may come to him from his own body or even his " subconscious life," is usually assumed to be something over whose coming, or at least over the complete determination of whose coming, he does not have control. Even the artist, in seeking to realise and make possible the experience of his ideal of beauty, must discover, at least in part, rather than create, that beauty. He deals with a world not completely under his power. 

The experience of the moral struggle leads to the same discovery of weakness in the will to do right. The experience comes because the action is governed by other forces besides and in addition to the ideal. 

The problem as to whether the God of ordinary theology can have a moral experience since his omnipotence can feel no limits illustrates the ordinary use of the term. A man experiences that which in some way or other is not subject to his will. Our ordinary activity, the direct result of our will, can, however, and does become the object of knowledge and of subsequent will activity. Just as we speak of a man experiencing anger, when we refer primarily to the presence of the angry feelings in his consciousness, so we can and sometimes do speak of his experience of an ideal.

 Especially is this true of religion. In the popular devotional literature, whether of revivalist or mystic, the effort is made to concentrate attention on the active side of a man's nature. He is asked to pay attention to his motives, or, with the Indian mystic, to ignore his desires. In either case, motives or desires are treated as something in his consciousness which may be objects of attention. The philosophic use of the word " object " as opposed to " subject " has led to the danger of ignoring the fact that in ordinary usage the same consciousness often has applied to it both words.

the book details :
  • Author: George Alexander Barrow
  • Publication date: 1917
  • Company: Boston: Sherman, French & Co.

  • Download 9.5 ,MB

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