Conversion experience

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  • A religious experience is one with religious significance or interpreted in a religious manner.
  • There is argument to say that conversion is the strongest way for god to reveal himself as it a change into a belief that was otherwise not there.
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  • Conversion experiences have been recorded in the scriptures and in modern day
  • Although not empirically verifiable the results are seen to have a profound effect
  • William James believed that the proof of a religious experience lies in its results
  • St Teresa of Avila almost gave criteria for conversion experiences; people who are happy are less likely to be converted it is more likely to occur in someone experiencing hardships
  • This person may search for a basis to make a decision typically leading to an emotional crisis point
  • This then leads to a sense of peace and joy which then leads to a change in direction as crisis type event can cause rapid transformation
  • James goes further to say he believes there to be a loss of worry, a sense of noetic change and ecstatic happiness
  • Notable conversion experiences are that of St Paul on the road to Damascus and more recently C. S. Lewis
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  • Scholar Starbuck studied conversion and said there is parallels between conversion experiences and the normal pattern of finding our identity in adolescence coincided with conversions.
  • He stated most occur between the ages of 15 and 24 where non religious adolescents go through similar stages of anxiety and depression before finding relief
  • This would suggest that god is clearly revealing himself as he is saving in peoples time of need through conversion experiences
  • However others have found an element of passivity in conversion in that reducing it to a psychological experience fails to address its true cause
  • Freud argued that people claim to convert just to escape worldly horrors and so god may not be revealing himself at all and it may all just be an excuse that humans use
  • James believed conversion happens when we least expect it and so would explain some peoples reservations towards it however you could say if divine intervention is involved then doesn’t that contradict our free will?
  • Conversions from theism to atheism would demonstrate that we do actually have free will
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  • Another form of religious experience is visions and voices and can also have deep and enlightening impacts on people
  • Visions can occur either awake or dreaming and St Teresa of Avila argued inner visions are people seeing with their minds eye; voices can either be hearing god or an angel which carries authority
  • It does not have to be audible as it was at Jesus’ baptism but can also be part of a conversion
  • Some have recorded a vision or voice initiating their conversion giving weight to the claim that conversion is the most typical way for god to reveal himself as it is synonymous of other experiences also
  • Despite this many feel that visions and voices are up to psychological factors and therefore cannot be god revealing himself
  • People with schizophrenia for example have stated to have heard god and murdered in his name as Peter Sutcliffe did but St Teresa disputes this saying that they could only be true if they were consistent with Christian teachings and led them to feel at peace
  • Regardless of this, visions and voices do have profound effects allowing us to argue that they may be a better way for god to reveal himself however the fact that they can often occur as part of a conversion leads me to believe that conversion is the more typical out of the two
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  • Further experiences try to account for god revealing himself such as corporate experience
  • The most famous of which is the Toronto blessing whereby people began talking in tongues, laughing or weeping hysterically
  • Corporate experiences can be seen as more valid as they are shared between a mass of people and have the same feelings and responses
  • Some have argued that the responses of hysteria are due to conditioning
  • The behaviour of corporate events may just be learnt and copied and so suggests conversion to be stronger for god to reveal himself
  • Other have raised questions of why would god cause you to act so foolishly in order to reveal himself as the perfect being
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  • William James defines religious experience as a union with something greater than ourselves and that union helps us find peace
  • Religious experience is at the heart of religion as it points directly to god
  • Through the arguments stated previously and this definition I would conclude conversion to be the most typical way for god to reveal himself as it seems to be the strongest against criticism and can incorporate other experiences proving its dominance
  • Although it is near impossible to prove a religious experience points to god the effects and lasting impact they make are clear showing that they must have some validity when arguing for god revealing himself
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