A mystical experience is a type of religious experience. It is when a person has an experience pf having apprehended an ultimate reality, which is almost impossible to express using normal language. It is beyond regular experience, a normal experience such as falling down is repeatable and easy to recall, the person who experience it can simply repeat the circumstances which led up to the event but a religious experience is differently; it can not be repeated, once it happens it is extremely unlikely to reoccur. A mystical experience may involve gaining insight into the divine. Those who have experienced these mystical experiences realise that that the everyday world is not the whole reality.
Usually the experience involves some sense of unity, of all things as a whole. The person may feel immersed in the divine, they fell as a drop in an ocean a tiny part of the whole of creation; they loose a sense of individuality and personal identity. The experience also has feeling of freedom from the limitations of time, space and the human ego, which is ‘switched off’ during an experience. Mysticism is seen as the closest that a human being can be to the divine whilst being fixed in this reality. Mystical experiences can have different circumstances; some are profound and feature heavenly creatures such as angels but others can come through the appreciation of nature. F. C. Happold believed it is a sense of unity with all things, a sense of timelessness, and a sense that there is an immortal unchanging self and that our ego is not our true self.
William James commented on the idea of mystical experience. He believed the term mystical is used in many different contexts but that this suggestion is too broad “any person who believes in thought transference or spirit return”. Therefore in his book he offers four characteristics, which he claims, will enable us to identify a mystical experience. These characteristics are that the experience will be ineffable, this means the experience is beyond verbal description, it is impossible to fully recall and explain ones own experience. The experience would also have a noetic quality, which is to say that the experience produces insight into truths the type that cannot be understood by intellect alone. The experience is also seen as transient which means it is not a prolonged experience it last long and it is not remembered perfectly and finally it is to be passive, the mystic is taken over. This can result in phenomena that suggest alternative personality stakes, mystic may speak in tongues for example.
Walter Stace wanted to give an objective description of the phenomena; we need to distinguish between the experiences itself and the interpretation. The experience is out of this world it is non temporal, a feeling of peace and holy. Stace saw two types of mystical experience, one is introvertive, the experience is centred in the mind rather than in life and it arises spontaneously or extrovertive, the experience is mediated through concepts and beliefs.
b) Assess how far a mystical experience can be said to be authentic.
It is simpler to judge whether an ordinary experience is authentic than judging the authenticity of a religious experience. There are always problems with deciding whether a subjective experience is valid because it cannot be tested. The experience is individual and therefore cannot be verified by a witness as with a regular ordinary experience, this creates problems, the reliability of the subject is questioned and authenticated others cannot back it up.
Religious experiences are not exclusive to any one religion. The religious experience is experience by many cultures and reported in the contexts of many different religions. Religious experience is often the heart of these traditions. The Christian church assesses the experience and considers whether it promotes the positive aspects of Christianity and accords with orthodox teaching agreeing with known truths or whether it is harmful and divisive. ST Teresa of Avila thought that genuine mystical experience would conform to church teaching and result in an increase in charity and humility. Some argue that a religious experience is a self-authenticating experience but sometimes a person can be certain and still very wrong.
The only conclusive way to disprove a religious experience is if it can also be shown that God does not exist, show that the experiences are brought about through natural mechanisms, which are known to systematically cause false belief and delusive experiences or, good reason for thinking that the perpetual claims based on the experiences are inconsistent. As yet critics have not provided these grounds. If scientists could disprove God then religious experience could also be disproved. In the same way Christians cannot prove God in scientific terms those who do not believe in the divine cannot prove that God is not real.
Swinburne uses the principle of credulity to show religious experience is not to be invalidated instantly. In the absence of good reason for thinking otherwise “if it seems to a subject that x is present, then x probably is present”. Apparent cognitions and perceptions should be accepted as valid unless there are special reasons for discounting them. Reasons, which would count against them, would include discovering that the person was under the influence drugs or prone to mental illness.
Some believe that the mystical experience has ” intrinsic value”, ideas, judgements and experiences should be accepted was valid unless they are called into question by other ideas, judgements and experiences. If a person believes that they have had a religious experience they will convince themselves to assess these claims we must assess the person and their reliability. Their proof is person relative. The experience has more value than just the act; the experience brings religious truths and insight into the divine.
There are many difficulties with verifying religious experience. It is always to be remembered that religious experiences are usually significantly influenced by culture. For example it is extremely improbable that a Christian will have or religious experience involving Brahman. Christians are likely to claim that they have had an experience of God, Jesus or the Paraclete/holy spirit but Hindus, Muslims and Jews are unlikely to have an experience of God, (in a Christian sense) Jesus or the spirit.
This lead to the assumption that those having these experiences are not really having an experience of divine but merely experiencing the world religiously (Hick). The experience of a divine image connected to your own tradition leads to the supposition that their experience is not void of psychological bias. Religious experience is sometimes seen to come very close to the realm of psychological experience. Freud thought that religious experience was a reaction to a hostile world. A person has psychological needs. We feel helpless and so seek a father figure. But even if this is the case it need not negate religious experience.
How would a person recognise God, how does a Christian for example know they are meeting God the creator. According to Anselm God is a being than “whom non greater can be conceived”. How could he be recognised. Drugs and alcohol can be used to create the effect of a religious experience. In the Varieties of religious experience James referred to use of drugs and said it crated a similar effect to a religious experience.
Religious experience is a bit like emotion it is a personal response that means it can not be empirically tested, but many people accept that emotions are real, they see and feel love but it can not be tested are religious experiences not the same for the subject who feels it and experiences it like an emotion just because it can not be tested it does not disprove it. Love is a good example of emotion it is felt by many and it binds people together but it cannot be tested and regulated can you tell people that love is not real, many would question this idea.