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Revelation. Part 1 Religious Experience. Religious Experience . Numinosity Feeling of presence of awesome power Feeling of distinctly separate Some classify numinosity as a feature Some classify it as a type which can be contrasted with mystical experience. Rudolph Otto.

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Part 1

Religious Experience

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Religious Experience

  • Numinosity

    • Feeling of presence of awesome power

    • Feeling of distinctly separate

    • Some classify numinosity as a feature

    • Some classify it as a type which can be contrasted with mystical experience

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Rudolph Otto

  • The idea of the Holy (1936)

  • ‘numinous’ = otherness

  • Religion must derive from a being totally separate

  • In presence of that being numinosity is experienced

  • But many say God is not impersonal

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Martin Buber (1878-1965)

  • Stress personal relationship and concept of numinous

  • God can reveal himself on personal level

  • Can understand God through other people and nature

  • ‘In each Thou we address the Eternal Thou.’

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Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55)

  • Supported Buber position

    • (or the other way round, note dates)

  • Saw faith as a miracle

  • Can only know God through leap of faith

  • Faith arises through experience, including religious experience

  • Individual knowledge of God can vary

    • Depends on:

      • Personal level of faith

      • Personal denomination of faith

      • Type of faith

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    Mystical Experience

    • Often contain voices or visions

    • Involves spiritual recognition of truths beyond normal understanding

      • Features

        • Knowledge of ‘ultimate reality’ gained

        • Sense of freedom from limitations of time and space

        • Sense of ‘oneness’ with divine

        • Sense of bliss or serenity

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    William James

    • Famous commentator on religious experience

    • The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)

      • Four characteristics of mystical experience

        • Ineffability

        • Noetic Quality

        • Transciency

        • Passivity

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    William James

    • Ineffability

      • Religious experiences tend to be private events

      • Consist of indescribable sensations

      • St Teresa of Avila

        • ‘I wish I could give a description of at least the smallest part of what I learned, but, when I try to discover a way of doing so, I find it impossible.’

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    William James

    • Noetic Quality

      • Provide insights into unobtainable truths

      • Knowledge acquired through intuition and perception

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    William James

    • Transciency

      • Most religious experiences last between a few minutes and 2 hours

      • But, the significance and effects are out of proportion to duration

        • Dreaming for a few minutes can seem like hours

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    William James

    • Passivity

      • Sense of loss of control to higher being

      • Taking on of different personalities

        • E.g. writing with wrong hand speaking in an unlearned language

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    F.C.Happold (1893-1971)

    • Mysticism – A study and an Anthology (1963)

    • Sought to provide context in which to discuss mystical experiences

      • Two types

        • The Mysticism of Love and Union

        • The Mysticism of Knowledge and Understanding

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    • The Mysticism of Love and Union

      • The longing to escape ‘separateness’

      • Or a desire for union with God

      • We are governed by two urges

        • The desire to be an individual (separation)

        • The desire to be accepted (to be part of something bigger than ourselves)

          • This is because we are sharers in ‘the Divine Life’

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    • The Mysticism of Knowledge and Understanding

      • Another urge

        • We want to know the ‘secret of the universe’ (the meaning of life)

        • We can look for this through experiential knowledge of God

        • Whereas most philosophers play games of ‘conceptual counters’ this knowledge is gained through intuition

          • James’ idea of noetic quality

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    • As well as two ‘types’ of mysticism Happold says there are three aspects

      • Soul-mysticism

      • Nature-mysticism

      • God-mysticism

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    • Soul-mysticism

      • Soul is hidden or numinous

      • Mystical experience is therefore ‘finding the soul’

        • Looking for self-fulfilment

      • This form of mysticism does not deal with God

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    • Nature-mysticism

      • God is immanent

      • He is everywhere

        A motion and a spirit

        That impels all thinking things

        All objects of all thought

        And rolls through all things


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    • God-mysticism

      • A desire to return to ones ‘immortal and infinite Ground, which is God’

      • Idea that human soul is ‘deified’

        • Becomes God whilst retaining own identity

          • E.g. Sufi Muslims

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    Voices and Visions

    • Mystical experiences often feature voices and or visions

      • For example

      • Conversion of St Paul (Acts 9)

      • Julian of Norwich 14th 15th century female mystic

        • And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, ‘What is this?’ And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made.’

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    Conversion experiences

    • Conversion is

      • Regeneration

      • Assurance of divine truth

      • Greater understanding of faith

      • Adopting religious attitudes and way of life

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    Conversion experiences

    • Psychological Background to Conversion

      • Each person has a number of aims/ideas in their mind ranked by importance

      • Which aim is of paramount importance at any one time depends on circumstances

      • A Transformation is when one aim establishes permanent priority

      • Emotional excitement can change our primary aim from day to day

      • People prone to emotional excitement find it difficult to focus on any one aim

      • If a permanent shift of focus is observed it may well be a conversion experience

      • If the excitement is caused by something religious then it can be classed as a religious conversion

      • Often neither the subject nor the observer can say what caused the emotional excitement

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    Conversion experiences

    • Prof. Edwin D. Starbuck

      • Noted that all adolescents go through symptoms similar to a religious experience

      • Caused by feelings of

        • Incompleteness and imperfection, brooding depression etc

      • So adolescents who claim to have a religious experience could simply be shifting their feelings to religion

        • Starbuck noted though that theology shortened the period of storm and stress

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    Conversion experiences

    • William James

      • Noted that some people will never turn to religion

        • Maybe cynical

        • Hindered by pessimistic beliefs

      • Some are temporally inhibited

        • Refuse to believe but change their mind

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    Conversion experiences

    • Types of conversion

      • Volitional

        • Gradual change

        • But may one day suddenly become aware of it

      • Self-surrender

        • Involuntary

        • Unconscious experience

      • Usually two things are important in conversion

        • Present sins with a desire to change

        • Positive changes to be made

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    Conversion experiences

    • Permanency

      • Often converts have little knowledge of what they have converted to

      • As knowledge is gained so problems are encountered

        • Some will effectively convert back to their old ways

      • The gradual volitional change is most like to hold

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    Conversion experiences

    • Examples of conversion

      • Intellectual

      • Moral

      • Social

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    Conversion experiences

    • Intellectual conversion

      • Conflict between systems of thought

      • One becomes ‘true’ and one ‘false’

      • Can be between religious and non-religious ideas

      • Can be between two different religious ideas

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    Conversion experiences

    • Moral conversion

      • Revolves around lifestyle rather that intellectual thought

        • James H. Leuba gives an example

          • ‘Swearing Tom’ went to church, took note of what the preacher said, went home – avoiding the pup on the way – and became ‘Praying Tom’.

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    Conversion experiences

    • Social conversion

      • Takes place slowly in subconscious

      • Followed by a rapid sudden change

        • An example would be the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus

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    Conversion experiences

    • William James’ conclusions

      • Sudden conversion is very real to the individual

      • For Methodists, salvation only comes to those who go through a conversion experience

      • A sudden conversion is like a miracle

      • Even a conversion that seems natural is inspired by the divine

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    Corporate Revelations

    • Toronto Blessing

      • Started on 10 January 1994

      • Toronto Airport Vineyard Church

      • Since then has spread around the world

      • Said to be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit

      • Effects are

        • Falling in the spirit

        • Shaking

        • Weeping

        • laughter

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    Putting it all together

    • Answer the following exam question in groups

      • To what extent do mystical experiences show the existence of God?.

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    How to answer

    • Explain the concept of mystical experience

    • Explain and discuss the ideas of W. James

    • Explain and discuss the ideas of Happold

    • What do you think and why?

    • Conclusion

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    Part 2


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    • The word ‘miracle’ tends to be used in society to refer to an amazing event

      • E.g. birth of a child

    • In religious terms the word ‘miracle’ is intended to refer to something far more significant

    • In terms of revealing God, the idea of miracles is appealing as they can offer physical evidence

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    What is a Miracle?

    • Traditional concept

      • An interruption to the process of nature that cannot be explained by natural laws

      • An interruption that bears some deeper, usually religious significance

        • “A miracle may be accurately defined as ‘A transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent’.”

          David Hume, An enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748

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    What is a Miracle?

    • Richard Swinburne

      • Illustrates transgression with biblical examples e.g. turning water into wine

        • But wine can be made with water as the main ingredient

        • The miracle is therefore in the timing

      • Illustrates the deeper significance

        • “If God intervened in the natural order to make a feather drop here rather than there for no deep ultimate purpose, or to upset a child’s box of toys just for spite, these events would not naturally be described as miracles.”

          Richard Swinburne (ed), Miracles, 1989

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    What is a Miracle?

    • R.F. Holland

      • Suggests that something does not have to break natural law in order to be considered a miracle

        • ‘A coincidence can be taken religiously as a sign and called a miracle.’

          • E.g. A young boy strays on to a railway line just as a train comes along, the boy would be hit and killed except that the driver suddenly has a heart attack, releases the dead man’s handle and the train stops a metre from the boy.

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Taking Holland’s view, clearly the answer is ‘yes’.

    • However, Hume says

      • “Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happens in the common course of nature”

        David Hume, An enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Three points to consider

      • Doubt as to existence of natural laws

      • The argument against miracles from the definition of a natural law

      • Hume’s critique of miracles

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Doubt as to existence of natural laws

      • If there are no natural laws they cannot be broken

        • therefore definition of a miracle breaking a natural law does not hold

      • Brian Davies

        • God is equally present in every action

        • Therefore on intervention

      • Most Theists

        • Accept that God has put natural laws in place for benefit of humans

        • God can, and does, interrupt the natural process

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • The argument against miracles from the definition of a natural law

      • John Hick

        • “We can declare a prior that there are no miracles”

        • Natural laws are formed retrospectively based on what has already happened

        • An unusual, previously unwitnessed event, widens our understanding of natural laws

      • Swinburne

        • We can say what we would normally expect to happened in a given situation

        • Therefore an event like a resurrection is miraculous as it goes against the norm

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Hume’s critique of miracles

      • Did not say miracles

      • Simply claimed that we could not prove that one had happened

      • Laws of nature supported innumerably over hundreds of years

        • E.g. millions of examples to show that once dead, humans do not return to life

      • So, in light of evidence, more probable that miracle did not happen

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Hume’s additional arguments

      • First

        • Insufficient number of reliable people attesting miracles

      • Second

        • Those testifying to the miracle have natural tendency to suspend reason

      • Third

        • The source of miracle stories are from ignorant peoples

      • Fourth

        • Writers of miracle stories are bias and have a vested interest in promoting their religion

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Critique of Hume

      • The whole point of a miracle is that it is the exception to the rule

      • We would also have to reject much of recent science as it has changed our perception of the world

        • Brian Davies gives an example: people have now walked on the moon, once thought impossible

        • R Swinburne argues that we use the same criteria to determine scientific laws as we do for determining miracles, if we accept one we should accept the other

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Critique of Hume’s additional points

      • Gave no indication of what a sufficient number would be

      • Miracles come from just about all nations

      • That people need to prove their intelligence is objectionable

      • That miracles are claimed by different religions does not rule out possibility of them happening

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    Can a miracle occur?

    • Maurice Wiles

      • Rejects miracles on moral grounds

      • Why no intervention in Auschwitz and yet there are acclaimed interventions in trivial matters

      • Either God does not intervene or he chooses to help some and not others

      • If the latter, he is not worthy of worship

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    Implications of miracles for problem of evil

    • Miracle accounts talk of god intervening to help those who worship him

    • But, if all-loving he would want to help followers equally

    • Why then help some and not others?

    • Were those rescued through the Exodus morally superior to the 6 million killed in the holocaust?

    • This argument does not count against miracles intended to demonstrate his existence rather than help individuals

    • For example resurrection of Christ cannot be perceived as ‘unfair’

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    Putting it all together

    • Answer the following exam question in groups

      • ‘Hume has shown that miracles are nothing more than an attempt to justify one’s religion’. Discuss.

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    How to answer

    • Explain the concept of miracles

    • Explain Hume’s arguments against them

    • Critically discuss Hume’s ideas bringing in the ideas of Davies, Hick and Swinburne

    • What do you think and why?

    • Conclusion

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    Part 3


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    Revelation through Scripture

    • Propositional Revelation

      • God speaking directly to individuals

        • Adam and Eve (Gen 1-3)

        • Abraham (Gen 12:1-3)

        • Moses (Ex 3-4:1-17)

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    Revelation through Scripture

    • Propositional Revelation

      • Francis Schaeffer

        • Acceptance of propositional revelation depends on view of the beginning

          • Those who accept Big Bang theory, but still accept God, would see God as impersonal – not speaking to people

          • Those who accept creation theory would logically accept a personal God who can communicate

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    Revelation through Scripture

    • Non-propositional revelation

      • The idea that scripture is inspired by God not the word of God

      • William Temple

      • Suggests that stories in the bible are not to be taken literally

        • There are truths of revelation, that is to say, propositions which express the results of correct thinking concerning revelation, but they are not themselves directly revealed.

          William Temple, Nature Man and God, (1934)

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    Revelation through Scripture

    • Interpretation of scripture

    • Literalist view

      • Takes the bible literally

        • i.e. universe created in a literal 6 days

      • Disregards no part of the bible

      • Bible is authority

      • Literalist would accept propositional view

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    Revelation through Scripture

    • Conservative view

      • God inspire the bible

      • Bible is authoritive as it comes from God

      • Bible not leaders has final authority

      • Cannot add to bible

      • However, maybe errors in bible as written by humans influenced by their society

      • Therefore bible does not provide clear guidelines

      • Allows for individual interpretation

      • Follows non-propositional approach

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    Revelation through Scripture

    • Liberal view

      • Bible records experiences of people

      • Writers have been influenced by their society

      • Bible not directly inspired by God

      • Therefore bible does not have absolute authority

      • Liberals free to reject parts of bible that seem irrelevant

      • Individual conscience is the moral guide

      • Biblical and scientific ideas can be matched

      • Steers away from either propositional or non-propositional approach as origin of the bible is not important

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    Putting it all together

    • Answer the following exam question in groups

      • To what extent do propositional and non-propositional views of revelation affect the way in which scripture is understood? (45)

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    How to answer

    • Start with an introduction that outlines the problem/difficulties of understanding scripture

    • Explain in detail the two propositional ideas

    • Ensure that you include the ideas of the philosophers who have contributed

    • Explain the different ideas of the Literalists, conservatives and liberals

    • What do you think and why?

    • Conclusion