Validating Beliefs

October 3, 2011

Political Theory, Uncategorized


The Principle of Credulity is used in Philosophy to assist one in evaluating a religious experience.  It states that we are allowed to accept our sensory experiences at face value unless we have good reason for discounting what they tell us. But can we extend trusting our senses to our religious domain?  That spirituality extends from personal practice and thought; when one has a religious experience, I find it difficult to believe that someone else has the default entitlement to rightfully discount that encounter with the divine, let alone persecute them as they would have done in the time of Mill.    Should we be able to ridicule others, humiliate or even persecute them merely because we don’t believe that their experience was valid?

Now one must ask, what is considered a good reason for discounting an experience with the divine?  Who has the right to deem the reason valid or not?  Intersubjective Validity is a way philosophers attempt to validate an experience, for it describes oneness with the divine in the same sort of sense from someone practicing Hinduism to another who is Christian for example.  Is a shared thought the only thought that brings us to the truth? And if that thought isn’t shared, is exile or death really what should have been at stake for those who did not believe the same way as the church or state?  Many of the argument’s we have received in class from the multitude of scholarly persons we have studied apply in this situation.

Locke’s ideas on toleration would allow one to personally practice religion as they choose.  It is not up to their neighbor or the state what constitutes as a religious experience for that particular person.  While Mill’s ideas on liberty of thought and discussion would argue for there to be a strong appearance of freedom of expression, a category in which religious expression definitely falls.  What would you do if someone were to disregard the freedom belonging to the beliefs that you held to be true?

Here we have an example of an experience that some may say could not have taken place.  This song begins with a recorded interview from a woman who was deemed physically dead and came back to our world by choice.  If someone would have told you this story without you hearing it in person (as you will once you click the link) would you have believed it?  In a situation such as this, it seems hard to deny this woman’s experience based on your own opinion of what can or cannot happen in a spaceless/timeless atmosphere.   One’s religious identity, and even sanity, could be at stake if their experiences were to be challenged.  Is one privileged to decide for someone else what religious experiences they are capable of having and those they are not?   Should those who experience their own aspect of the divine be allowed relay and try and validate their experiences to others?  These are some of the questions at stake regarding religious experiences.  These are the questions I have up for discussion my friends.

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About Madeline Cecilia

I currently live to ski.

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14 Comments on “Validating Beliefs”

  1. amgille Says:

    While I myself am not an extremely religious person, I have found that I cannot discredit anyone for the experiences with the divine that they have had and that I haven’t. Maybe to those people, their closer connection to their religious beliefs does allow for this type of activity to take place. It is not in my power to tell them whether they truly did experience such a thing or not, as what power do I have to know all of the experiences in the world? Yet, I love your question of whether only a shared thought can be found to become a truth in the world. As it stands, that seems to be the case as the light at the end of the tunnel is not one of the scientific facts of life that everyone can agree on. Instead, regarding religious experiences, maybe in life what is truth for some people, is not the same for others. The truths that people find in life may not need to be based on what others see, just what they themselves have found. In a way, this is the way that religion works. Not everyone relates to one faith across the globe. There are different denominations, sects, and groups of religions, that each hold their own truths, and who is to determine which one is truly the correct religion?

    I also do believe that everyone should have the right to take a stand for their opinions and to tell of the things that they experienced. As Mill wrote, “But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.” Maybe there truly is that light of the tunnel that the woman experienced and that we will all, in turn, get to experience at our deaths. Her tales of the experience might help us better understand what comes after death, or may, in some cases, cause others to determine that the tunnel doesn’t exist. In fact, the movie of her life that she sees could incite others to change their lives so that if they see their own life movie, they will be more proud of the actions they took during life, and will not be ashamed like the woman with the experience. In this way, society could become a better place as we look at our death as a way to be proud of the actions that we took during our life. Sure, some people may discredit those with religious experiences as insane or irrational, but many of the world’s greatest people were thought to be insane and irrational too before their experiences or actions were taken to heart and thought through. Overall, regardless of the content of an experience, people should have the freedom to express what they have thought they experienced or have experienced. While it may not be what some agree with, it could be what others have experienced or are hoping to experience, and could be a soothing notion to those who do believe in the afterlife or in a divine power.

  2. Brian Robinson Says:

    This issue touches many different aspects of personal belief and validity yet one thing sticks out to me the most; is it up to each individual to decide if their religious experience is valid? Absolutely!! Every person should have the right to believe anything they want about their own personal experiences and divine or spiritual revelations. I believe they should also reserve the right to preach or try to convince others of their belief as well. However, this aspect comes with much more restrictions and limitations.

    Freedom of speech ensures that each citizen of this country is entitled to say whatever they believe. As with most other rights, there are still systems in place that restrict certain aspects of this first amendment right. If something is offensive or harmful to the general public then it should not be distributed or spread by anyone else regardless of their beliefs. Specifically with this example, if someone has a divine religious experience that they want to push onto others, they should not be able to do so if it is offensive, harmful, or damaging to the culture of our society. Accordingly, if they are trying to share their ideas and experiences with people in a destructive and forceful way, they should not be guaranteed the right to continue to do so. If they are spreading their ideas and experiences in a constructive manner, however, it is no one’s right to discredit or falsify a certain person’s beliefs. That idea or experience may define someone’s identity and it is my contention that only the individual themselves can define their own identity.

  3. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I don’t think that anyone can really claim to know for certain that someone else did or did not have a spiritual experience. Even though a lot of people profess to understand God and the inner workings of religion, the truth is that none of us can know for sure because, well, none of us has been there. Because no one can know before he or she dies which church (if any) is correct about the nature of religion/ afterlife/ heaven, etc., it therefore seems impossible for any one member of a church or religious group to tell another that his or her religious views are incorrect. People should be allowed to think how they want on spiritual matters, and churches (and governments) should avoid ostracizing people on the basis of such views because no one can really know for sure; at the same time, however, people have to respect that not everyone is going to think their way and accept their stories of experiences with the divine. To disagree over the nature of religion does not challenge the identity of anyone; rather, it challenges the intellectual understanding of society as a whole. That’s a key distinction to make.

    There shouldn’t, however, be any prohibition against spreading the word of one’s own religious views (in whatever form that may be). Even though some people argue that sharing religious views is “preachy” and sometimes rude, doing so helps others either affirm their faith or change to a new faith and ultimately makes each of us consider religion even more carefully. In this sense, I agree with Mill because he writes that everything should be free to be said or expressed because it just might be the truth. Religion seems to be the ultimate example with which to support Mill’s arguments. I also add that one can share one’s religious views with another in a respectful, “non preachy” manner.

  4. leannaprairie Says:

    I have had a similar discussion regarding religion with my dad many times. He was raised Christian, but now follows a very different religion, called Self-Realization Fellowship. As I grew up, my dad tried countless times to get me to buy into his new religion (side note: I don’t identify with any one religion in particular, but consider myself to be more spiritual than religious). I had a hard time explaining to my dad that while he had a very strong religious experience while meditating, I simply did not. It doesn’t work for me. Yes, meditating makes me feel calm and relaxed, but do I feel some sort of religious or spiritual experience? No, not at all.

    The hard part of explaining this to my dad, was trying to tell him that the way I have a religious experience is through dancing. When I dance, I feel more connected to a higher power, I feel like I can learn about myself and the world, and it seems as though I can look at my thoughts from outside my own head. I know to some people this may seem ridiculous, but that’s just the issue that Madeline is trying to raise, isn’t it? Should my dad be able to say that dancing doesn’t qualify as a religious experience, just because he doesn’t think it does?

    I personally believe that everyone should be able to practice their religion as they see fit, as long as they don’t shove it down someone else’s throat, and as long as it doesn’t involve them being forceful or violent to others. Religion should be a personal thing, it shouldn’t be about advertising your beliefs. If you find a group of people that share your beliefs, great, but that doesn’t mean that those beliefs are the only ones to be had, or that the individual practicing their beliefs in a different way is wrong.

  5. brianfrankel Says:

    Religious experiences are singular and unique to the individual, just as is religion. To attempt to define someone else’s religious experience would be the same as describing someone else’s pain; in my opinion, it simply is not possible. This does not imply that a person cannot attempt to describe their religious beliefs and experiences to others; it does, however, mean that most attempts will be in vain or even criticized. True religious experiences have the opportunity to teach us much about the human condition and society. Over the years, some of the world’s most important values and belief systems have been molded through the religious experiences of individuals. Sadly, most of the religious experiences and views that attempt to gain publicity today are used schemes to take advantage of people and make money. How do we, as a society, separate those true experiences that can help us learn about the human condition from those that are fake? In my opinion, this is only possible on the individual level, and any attempt to restrict religious views and experiences would be a violation of the freedom of expression so highly regarded in our country.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      One thing that comes to mind when reading your response is the role of the media. The media promotes some of these “schemes” and tries to decide for the audience itself whether they are real experiences or fake. Should the media stop coverage of these individual experiences? If so, then all sharing of ideas and experiences must only be done on a personal level which restricts the easy sharing of information provided by the media. Additionally, Mill and his readings would teach us not to oppress anyone or their ideas because the free sharing of ideas and experiences will only help us grow and learn. The more we restrict, according to Mill, the more information we lose and is wasted in society. Mill would prefer to have as much sharing of these ideas that is possible yet sadly, as you stated, so many people do take advantage of this for personal game so we are stuck at a standstill.

  6. krsau Says:

    While maintaining a tolerance for religious freedom we may, as a society, have to make some tough decisions as to what religious practices we can allow and others we should ban. Yet where do we draw the line for certain practices? Do we delegate some practices to be harmful to society and their for ban them? Or maybe some practices are harmful to the believer and therefore, for their safety, should we ban them as well? How do we separate what is a true religious experience, what is a harmful religious tradition that should be banned, or are the practicers of these rituals using religion as an excuse to perform otherwise outlawed acts?

    One of the mostly widespread debates about religious rights today comes from normally very liberally minded France and their ban of the burqa. On the surface it seems that this religious practice does not trespass upon the rights of anyone living outside the Muslim communities that practice it. Yet beneath the surface their is controversy as to whether or not this is a religious practice chosen by women, or chosen for them by the males that dominate their families and culture.

    Another debate about religious rights is constantly played out in America’s borders by a religious minority that we all know of, but lack a close familiarity with. In the faith of Rastafarianism where marijuana smoking is a truly sacred practice within which the believer becomes closer to God. As the post above discussed how can we as non-believers living in a society with Rastafarianism judge the belief of marijuana smoking as a religious experience as fake? We obviously can’t quantify the either way whether it is or is not a spiritual enhancer through science, and therefore we as a society should allow it flourish. Yet what is our stance on the harms it might cause other individuals in society? Let us use a hypothetical account where a Rastafarian believer smoked marijuana and then drove while still high. Isn’t that trespassing upon other individuals right to safety upon the road?

    Finally we come to the abuse of the term religious practice to achieve goals that would normally be outside of our rights to achieve within the current system of law. Obviously one of the first ideas to come to people’s minds is a person joining Rastafarianism to smoke the reefer. While this may be an obvious danger there are even worse cases of people exploiting religious freedom to achieve unlawful goals. Examples range from cult leaders using religion to extract money, obedience, and sex from their followers, too practitioners using religion as an excuse for war and other atrocities in throughout history. Tolerance needs to be accepted and practiced, but I believe we need to discuss also where we draw the line of what is true genuine belief, and what is a harmful practice to the believer and society.

  7. blogger32 Says:

    In my opinion, one of the things that makes the United States a unique nation is that we supposedly allow for any and all people to worship and think freely. I say supposedly, because no matter how hard we work for complete toleration of religion and thought there will always be the select few, who as you mentioned, “think they can evaluate the religious experiences of others.” When attempting to answer the question of whether we should be able to ridicule or persecute others and their experiences, I think the answer is very clear…under no circumstances should we be able to. It’s not an accident that many of the most fundamental political thoughts of our nation are based on the writings of Locke and Mill, who are ardent believers in the ideals of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. They most certainly would also object to persecuting others for doubting the legitimacy of their thoughts and ideas

    Something that I think is very important to understand is that in our nation there are many different religions, who interpret spiritual experiences differently. In my opinion, this fact serves as a major reason as to why we cannot possibly evaluate the religious experiences of others, because no single person can say they are Muslim, Jewish and Catholic…it’s for this reason that we must understand that spiritual experiences are unique to each religion, and that we cannot possibly understand what a true religious experience consists of for anyone but ourselves. Even for people who may be of the same religion, there is no way to evaluate even that person’s experiences. For example, as someone who is Jewish, I know there are many sects of Judaism, such as conservative, reformed and orthodox. As a reformed Jew, the types of prayers I say and services I attend are vastly different from that of say an orthodox Jew, who views Judaism and its ideals much differently than I do.

    It’s for reasons such as the ones I have just outlined, that I believe no person, regardless of their religion or standing in society should be able to evaluate or pass judgement on the spiritual experiences of others. However, I will finish my comment with this…although I am a strong believer in not passing judgment on other peoples’ religious and spiritual experiences, I’m not convinced that you can die and magically come back to life.

  8. danieltarockoff Says:

    I believe you make a good point here. I agree with you, I think that as citizens of an apparently “free” society, we should be able to believe whatever we want without having to worry about the judgement or degradation from others. However, I feel as though it’s not so much the beliefs that are being judged than the rituals/actions taken to exemplify those beliefs. In our discussion today, we talked about Locke’s ideas of both “inward” and “outward” worship. It can be understood in the sense that it’s not the “inward” worships that are being attacked; people can have faith and beliefs in anything they want and nobody can do anything to take those away. However, the “outward” worships, the ways in which different religions, cultures, and identities are portrayed, these are the types of things being judged. These are the types of things that conflict with society.

    This brings me to another question, one having to do more so with toleration in general. How far should we, as a society, tolerate the beliefs of others? One would, presumably, say that we should embrace others’ beliefs and let them live the way they want. At the same time however, we can’t be so quick as to jump to that conclusion. What happens when someone’s beliefs go against the laws enacted by our society? There are many examples of this that happen all over the world everyday. What if an employee is fired for the clothing they wear or the hairstyle they have, because it is not deemed appropriate for the workplace? Perhaps it’s a muslim woman who wears a Burka, or maybe a Rastafarian with dreadlocks. It is often hard to distinguish whether the person is fired for the way they look because it doesn’t suit the company, or because the company doesn’t approve of that person’s culture. There are countless different examples of this occurring in today’s society, but the main fact of the matter is that not everyone is going to understand how others live their lives and why they do so. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, that they live a life of sin or lesser value. Especially when it comes to the debate of “experiences with the divine,” the debate of the existence of a higher power. I personally don’t believe in a God, or any higher power for that matter. And I think I’m right. I’m actually very confident that I am. But I don’t devalue the lives of people who DO believe in one. They have the right to believe in what they want. And although I say I’m so confident that I’m right, I can’t say that I wouldn’t result to an attempt to connect with a higher power in an extremely compromising situation, such as the possibility of being faced with death.

    With all of this in mind, it is tough to comprehend how far we must go when tolerating religions and cultures that go against enacted laws. It seems that the only way to ever truly determine what’s “right” is to examine each case individually, which is clearly impossible due to the vast amount of cases. The only solution I can think of is a world where people don’t concern themselves with other’s lives. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, other people’s lives sometimes affect our own, and it’s not that easy. Toleration, therefore, is going to have to depend on the will of each individual faced with an issue, and the ability for them to accept ideals different from their own.

  9. emmaschneider11 Says:

    I would agree with Locke and his position that one should be able to practice religion as they choose and should not be persecuted by others for doing so. I listened to the song from the link and in my opinion this experience sounds so strange and odd that it is hard to believe it is true. I have heard numerous others stories of people having out of body experiences or dying and coming back to life. These too seem somewhat implausible, but who am I to say they are? While these experiences may not seem believable to me I do not know whether they are true or not, and I have no right to pass judgment on those who have experienced these sorts of things or tell about them.

    I feel that religion is a personal issue. Even within defined religions people have differing views and relationships to their beliefs. Extraordinary experiences fall within the category of religion, and therefore are also issues of personal concern. Other citizens, the government or anyone else has no right to define what is true or untrue or valid or invalid within the realm of religion.

  10. lkpeacock Says:

    I completely agree with much of the post and the comments. Religious experiences are extremely personal, and although sometimes they can be hard to relate to or imagine happening to oneself, I think it is very important to listen to other’s beliefs. The song, by Cloud Cult, was very interesting in this regard. There were no credits on the YouTube link, so it was hard not to think that the woman my have been on drugs. However, who am I to say that this experience she had was real or not? It is an extremely awesome experience to say the least! Who encounters “a dark tunnel opening up, a very dark tunnel with rings in it and very white” and lives to tell about it? Not very many people…So to me, this is an example of a situation where, although you may not be convinced by her story, you should be open to hear of such experiences and not scoff at them.

    One is most definitely not “privileged” to decide what counts as a valid religious experience or belief to someone else. Who would validate their decision or right to do so anyway? The beauty in religion (or not believing in a religion) is having a freedom of thought. Of course people have the right to try to validate and share their reasons for believing what they do with others. Sharing religious experiences with others is a big part of religion itself. How else would congregations form? However, like Hobbes said, mind your own business. People should not tell other what to believe or how to practice religion. Hobbes also pointed out that all human happiness does not occur when all human curiosity is satisfied, so having different religions all over the world is essentially good for humanity and its never-ending search for happiness.

  11. jeanrichmann Says:

    Religion is a belief that should be left up to individual choice. As Locke claims, one cannot force belief. It is possible to force someone into practicing a religion, yet it is up to an individual to truly believe what they practice. With so many different branches of religions, with slight variation between each one, it is hard to know which religion is true, if a true religion exists at all. For this reason, religious choice should be left up to an individual; what they believe the outcome of their life to be should be a personal choice.

    Many individuals claim they have had interactions with the divine. These experiences have caused such persons to strengthen their religious beliefs. From personal experience, when I hear about someone claiming divine interaction, I assume they are either mentally ill or lying. This is just the personal bias I have from not having a strong religious background; who am I to say that the divine experience did not occur? I was not there at the time of the supposed occurrence. There is not one person in this world who can determine if divine occurrences happen or if they are just false claims. No one can even truly claim that a God exists to have a spiritual interaction with. We are all living beings, and we lack solid proof of what will happen in the afterlife, if there will be an afterlife. For this reason, we can not judge others based on our personal beliefs.

  12. jsimon99 Says:

    What makes us define people on what they believe? Why do we think differently of others for their actions because of their religion? This issue has been a constant question since the beginning of time because people were always being ridiculed by the majority if they had a different belief. Whether it was getting hung or tortured it was unacceptable for humans to judge others for their beliefs and the same goes for today. Today, we respond in a more civilized manner and we respect others with their beliefs. We also have learned to respect individuals if they have encountered the divine even though we truly will never know ourselves if they have or not. But we respect their experience and we learn from it, which is the most important aspect humans have developed over the years.
    We have learned that people define their own identity and that people should never be privileged to decide for someone else what religious experiences people are capable of having and those they are not. Our first amendment right in this country is one of the sole reasons for our ancestors arriving here, so we could believe what we want to believe, wherever we want to believe it. Unfortunately, there will always be that certain group of people that think what they believe is the best and that all others should follow them. They do not understand that all humans are different and that all must be respected no matter what they believe. What could be the sole reason certain people ridicule others? We may never know why people are treated certain ways whether it is with religious experiences or religion as itself, but we have developed over time by respecting humans on what they believe.

  13. Lilian Baek Says:

    I’ve always considered myself a Christian and I strongly believe it’s because of the way I grew up. Every week since I was a little girl I would trail behind my parents, without any question or real thought. However, after entering college and being away from my parents, my affiliation slowly started to fade. Still, if someone asks me what my faith is, I say “Christian” without any hesitation. This is the result of what my parents had instilled in my mind. Although faith is truly dependent on personal experiences and decisions, your surroundings play a detriment role as well. For example, as I was waiting for an elevator, a girl next to me was conversing with her friend. In short, one girl told her friend she some guy’s Facebook status as “PTL” in regards to a postponement of a test. Her friend asked her what it stood for and she responded, “Praise the Lord” (followed by an obnoxious laughter.) Personally, even though I’m not intensely attached to my religion, I felt somewhat uncomfortable and worried that others that heard it might be offended. Instances such as this probably wouldn’t alter your belief completely, however, it plays a minor role.

    Another question that comes to mind is why is America so religious? I’ve heard that religion is more or less universal in poorer countries but declines in wealthy countries. But, I’ve also heard it’s because America is geographically mobile and ethnically diverse. We see signs of religion everywhere in America. Ever since we attended elementary or grade school, we would regurgitate the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends with “…one nation under God…” Also, the star spangled banner mentions God in the verse “And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”” So exactly why is America so religious compared to other nations around the world?

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