Monday, 2 May 2011

Other Ideas - Religious Experience

Karl Marx

Marx was a political atheist best known for his dislike of capitalism and his political philosophy - Communism. He said that religion had a lot to do with capitalism and was the ‘illusionary of men’ and ‘opium of the people’. The class system was a result of capitalism which benefited many people and religion helped preserve this system for those who benefited. He said the church was evidence for this, the church would alter its teaching for who the ruling class is. What Marx fails to point out there is no point the Church teaching about charity if the ruling class is low, the Church has to alter its teaching for the ruling class. Anyway, put that aside, he goes on then to say that just like the rich benefit from religion because it protects the class system, the poor benefit too, it makes life more bearable for them. Ideas about being rewarded in the next life, blessed are the meek. God only makes people suffer as much as they can etc are all easy to accept then the cold hard fact you are poor and will not life a high quality life.
Much of Marxian thought was influenced by what he studied at the University of Berlin. He studied the works of Epicurus and Feuerbach. Feuerbach argued that the idea of God is a human projection. All attributes of God are ones we desire to be. ‘God is man written in large letters’. Marx emphasized again that unhappy social condition such as poverty, death, inequality etc led to people being cut off from reality and following religion. Marx formulated the term ‘Alienation’ by which he meant that man is dominated by a force alien to him yet created by him to explain how people used religion in their lives. 
However, it occurs to me that Marx was not able to explain the existence of a God in a world where evil happens all the time and hence took the easy way out, so to suggest, and say that God is an illusion and reject the divine. Nevertheless, we can conclude that if Marx asserts that religion is an illusion than religious experience are psychological ways of dealing with all the issues in the world.

Nicolas Lash

Lash was a Roman Catholic theologian who also served in the British Army. He rejects the views that God can be experienced directly as suggested by William James. But rather he says God is experienced in the everyday events of life. It is one thing however, to say God can be found in all things and another he is in all things, God can be found through suffering and acts of evil like rape but he is not in suffering or child abuse.

William Alston

William Alston was an American philosopher who died in 2009. He argued that religious experience were something to be taken seriously and do point to God.
He begins by asserting that direct experiences of God (so not being aware of God through nature or sermons etc) are likely to be more plausible presentations of God to the individuals, agreeing with St Teresa. These experience he said have a greater chance of presenting God if they are non-sensory because God is purely spiritual. After outlining what he feels would be a plausible religious experience he suggests we may ‘see’ these experiences differently according to our perception, but effectively there is something to see. In order for us to perceive or see something (X) Alston says three conditions must be met:
  1. X must exist.
  2. X must make a contribution to the experience of X
  3. The experience should give rise to beliefs about X.
Which clearly, for believers all these conditions exist hence so do religious experience. God exists, God causes the experience to happen and after it (like William James and Noetic quality) believers are left with some deeper knowledge or beliefs about God. Alston says much more on the topic of religious experience but personally I feel this is enough for the exam.

  • He believes that a subject believes they have experienced God, it is probable that God exists. Note the use of the word probable. He backs this statement with two principles.
  • Principle of credulity: the absence of opposing evidence means the experience is probably real - works of Freud, Feuerbach, and psychological explanations however is opposing evidence.
  • Principle of testimony: if X is saying they have experience Y then Y is probably true - Hume’s argument of probability goes against this.
  • Swinburne also says God seeks to make contact with some but not others without any real reasoning - so much for a just God!
  • Cumulative argument - although on its own one religious experience may be weak but when we combine all the different experiences we are left with a strong argument for God and experiences. You can’t simply add however weak arguments to get a strong, mathematically you should be multiplying but when you multiply weak arguments you are left with an extremely week argument.
Video on Karl Marx

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