A religious experience is defined as “specific experiences such as wonder at the infinity of the cosmos, the sense of awe and mystery in thepresence of the holy, feelings of dependence on a divine power or an unseen order, the sense of guilt andanxiety accompanying belief in a divine judgment, and the feeling of peace that follows faith in divineforgiveness. Some thinkers also point to a religious aspect to the purpose of life and with the destiny of the individual. “
Richard Swinburne made the distinction between two kinds of religious experience: public, which were ordinary or extraordinary and private experiences which were describable, ineffable or non-specific.
William James described religious experience as: “feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude of whatever they consider to be the divine”. He insisted that to be classified as a religious experience the event must be transitory; ineffable; noetic and passive. Furthermore, James insisted that it was only a religious experience if the outcome was positive.
Many people have found issues with the credibility of religious experiences and indeed the arguments to support them. Public records specify that records of public religious experience have only ever been reported by those of a faith or those who are agnostic- never by an atheist. Furthermore, private experiences are, ultimately, terribly subjective and will be dependent on a person’s religious stance or even their sobriety at the time of event.
William James’ point regarding the experience to bring a positive outcome is puzzling if you examine the case of Abraham being told to execute his son; whilst God eventually told him not to proceed, the event would not have brought about a good disposition which goes against James’ criteria.
Ultimately, I feel that these points alone prove that arguments for religious experience are never convincing.