Saturday, February 02, 2019

Ordinary Religious Experience

For a long time I've been of the opinion that the heart of religion is religious or spiritual experience. I find that both religious and anti-religious writers tend to assume that beliefs are what it's all about. But I'm more interested in religious experience.

But when I read books about religious experience I tend to find they concentrate on peak religious experiences - the kind of thing that happens once in a lifetime - when there's an overwhelming experience of love, connection, oneness, joy. Such things may be important, but their rarity means, I think, that they are less important than what I would call ordinary religious experience.

Ordinary religious experience is what people actually experience in every day practices of prayer and worship. I would maintain that ordinary people experience a quality of inner experience - including joy and peace - in worship every week - and that's pretty much the reason they do it. The reason people believe in God is that they experience God in worship on a Sunday. It's not all lightning and heavenly voices - but there is a sense of beauty and love that, along with the story of a community, gives people a sense of what God is.

I feel like ordinary religious experience should really be the foundation for any conversation about God and religion, yet I don't really know of any theologians or philosophers of religion who approach their task in that way.

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