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James, Var Religious Experience > James, Week 7, Lectures 16 & 17

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments The penultimate week, discussing lectures 16 and 17.


message 2: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Could you move this to "James, Var Religious Experience" folder?


message 3: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1753 comments James shows remarkable open-mindedness, accepting religious experiences as real and valid, even though he (as he says) is unable to have them.


message 4: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 596 comments Roger wrote: "James shows remarkable open-mindedness, accepting religious experiences as real and valid, even though he (as he says) is unable to have them."

That is so true! He wrote this early on.
...I am not finished with this chapter yet, and am still trying to figure out where he's going. The man is long-winded beyond my patience, and I am not all that impatient to begin with! I may just have to go to the freezer and get out the Russian vodka :)


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "Could you move this to "James, Var Religious Experience" folder?"

Sorry about that. Done.


message 6: by David (new)

David | 2732 comments His conclusions of mysticism seem mixed.
1. Mystic states carry authority for the single person who has them and for no one else.
2. Mystic states remove the exclusivity of authority from rationalistic states.
3. They are good for forming hypotheses that may be the truest insights into the meaning of life, or not, we cannot know?
4. They do not seem to carry the same weight or authority of religious experience, because they do not have the same spiritual value in immediate luminousness, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness?


message 7: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments David wrote: " His conclusions of mysticism seem mixed.
1. Mystic states carry authority for the single person who has them and for no one else.
2. Mystic states remove the exclusivity of authority from rationalistic states.
3. They are good for forming hypotheses that may be the truest insights into the meaning of life, or not, we cannot know?
4. They do not seem to carry the same weight or authority of religious experience, because they do not have the same spiritual value in immediate luminousness, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness?..."


I haven't quite finished these lectures yet, but what James seems to be saying is that everything he talked about previously was peeling the onion to get to the heart (my words) of the issue, which seems to be that these mystics have experienced the purist form of religious experience.

1. These are experiential moments that are specific to the individual (thus, experiential).
2. I'm not sure what this comment is saying.. ?
3. Because these states are purely individual (and yet, there seems to be some commonalities), there is no way to know outside the personal experience. But, the truths the mystics have brought from these experiences and shared seem to be truest insights into the meaning of life.
4. The rational and reasonable (mind) do not apply because these states are inexpressible and inexplicable.

When James was discussing the influence of drugs on quasi-mystical experiences he seemed to speak with some authority, and with the knowledge that drugs may be windows to the mystical experience, but are not the genuine article (ie the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon). It reminded me of my very first experience taking Psilocybin mushrooms. I remember placing myself upside down in an armchair, my head dangling toward the floor and my feet propped on the headrest, and having the most incredibly profound moment of complete knowledge... I saw simply and clearly the workings of life and the world and the universe, and I told myself that I must remember this because it would change everything. Well, I remembered that I had a profound moment of knowledge that answered everything, but damned if I knew what it was. What I was able to come away with, tho', was the realization that there was indeed a coherent and cohesive meaning behind it all.


message 8: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments Janice(JG) wrote: "David wrote: " His conclusions of mysticism seem mixed.
1. Mystic states carry authority for the single person who has them and for no one else.
2. Mystic states remove the exclusivity of authority..."


I think the second conclusion means that mystic states make people realize that the rationalistic state of consciousness is not the only authoritative or the 'true' state of consciousness and opens up the pathway to other realms of consciousness and reality.


message 9: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments Kerstin wrote: "Roger wrote: "James shows remarkable open-mindedness, accepting religious experiences as real and valid, even though he (as he says) is unable to have them."

That is so true! He wrote this early o..."


I should have tried the vodka way before. :-)
Is it just James or is this the style of this period?


message 10: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments Borum wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "Roger wrote: "James shows remarkable open-mindedness, accepting religious experiences as real and valid, even though he (as he says) is unable to have them."

Is it just James or is this the style of this period?..."


I don't know if this is actually how he writes, but apparently this is how he speaks. And I believe speech-making was much more grandiloquent at the time. I've heard people bemoan the loss of our ability to speak with such intellectual vocabulary and content. I think the Lincoln-Douglas debates were cited as examples of learned English.


message 11: by David (new)

David | 2732 comments Borum wrote: "I think the second conclusion means that mystic states make people realize that the rationalistic state of consciousness is not the only authoritative or the 'true' state of consciousness and opens up the pathway to other realms of consciousness and reality.

That is kind of how I understood it, I think. I just could not help but be reminded of the "smoking pot with the professor" scene from Animal House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUOGx...


message 12: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments David wrote: "Borum wrote: "I think the second conclusion means that mystic states make people realize that the rationalistic state of consciousness is not the only authoritative or the 'true' state of conscious...

That is kind of how I understood it, I think. I just could not help but be reminded of the "smoking pot with the professor" scene from Animal House:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUOGx... "


Ha! Yes, just like that. And anyway, who's dreaming whom?


message 13: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 596 comments David wrote: just could not help but be reminded of the "smoking pot with the professor" scene from Animal House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUOGx..."

LOL!


message 14: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments David wrote: "Borum wrote: "I think the second conclusion means that mystic states make people realize that the rationalistic state of consciousness is not the only authoritative or the 'true' state of conscious..."

Hahaha :D Voila the union with the giant fingernail!


message 15: by David (last edited Jul 12, 2016 01:35PM) (new)

David | 2732 comments James seems to be saying mysticism is too private to be universally or objectively authoritative. Why is mysticism too private, but religious experience is not?


message 16: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments David wrote: "James seems to be saying mysticism is too private to be universally or objectively authoritative. Why is mysticism too private, but religious experience is not?"

I think probably because there's no way to share it, it's indescribable (which is the thing all mystical experiences have in common). James also says the mystics usually don't want to talk about it, probably because it feels so personal, ie something experienced beyond normal memory or mind.


message 17: by David (new)

David | 2732 comments Janice(JG) wrote: "I think probably because there's no way to share it, it's indescribable. . ."

If that were true, James would not have had any examples to share, people like Hunter S. Thompson and Timothy Leary would have had less to write about, and many people who grew up in the 60's wouldn't knowingly nod their heads and smile with each other. :) In fact, you shared one of your own.

Maybe the hypothesis should be that religious experiences are just a subset of hallucinations of mystical experiences that are made more relatable because the "interpretations" of them are both inspired by and infused with popular religion? For example, If you were so inclined you could have interpreted your "profound moment of knowledge" as God granting you the gift of temporary omniscience while in his presence resulting in a permanent peace of mind. Then your mystical experience would be a religious one.


message 18: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments David wrote: "Janice(JG) wrote: "I think probably because there's no way to share it, it's indescribable. . ."

If that were true, James would not have had any examples to share, people like Hunter S. Thompson a..."


I think that it's possible to 'share' their experiences but it's impossible to 'exactly convey' what it felt like.
Not only is their experience hard to describe, but it may be an experience that one who has never experienced it hard to imagine or empathize or even doubt it.
For example, people who have went through horrendous, excruciating trauma or abuse can't exactly describe (and don't want to) what they went through. Even if they do, some of their experiences are so awful that my scope of imagination fails to exactly picture their inner experiences (or even their external experiences!)

I don't think I've had any mystical experience in my life. I've never had any hallucinogenic drugs or general anesthesia and I don't really 'know' what Janice went through but only vaguely have my own 'version' or 'image' of what she went through.

I think lots of our life experiences and emotions are difficult to convey 'exactly' but it gets even harder as they reach more extreme levels of intensity.


message 19: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 117 comments David wrote: "Janice(JG) wrote: "I think probably because there's no way to share it, it's indescribable. . ."

If that were true, James would not have had any examples to share, people like Hunter S. Thompson a..."


I'm still reading these lectures, so I don't know if James mentions this, but Catholicism tends to discourage any attachment or attention paid to mystical experiences, mostly because they may be "so-called" mystical moments that are really extremely intense experiences of the imagination, intensified and colored by the imagination. Also, Catholicism (and perhaps other Christian sects) at one time discouraged the idea of mystical experiences because they might be products of the devil meant to tempt & trick the individual into self-aggrandizement.


message 20: by Borum (last edited Jul 13, 2016 07:08PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Janice(JG) wrote: "David wrote: "Janice(JG) wrote: "I think probably because there's no way to share it, it's indescribable. . ."

If that were true, James would not have had any examples to share, people like Hunter..."


I'm reading Geoge Eliot's Silas Marner at the moment, and although he was of a nonconformist Protestant belief, I think what you said is also reflected here where his epileptic fits are described:


"To have sought a medical explanation for this phenomenon would have been held by Silas himself, as well as by his minister and fellow-members, a wilful self-exclusion from the spiritual significance that might lie therein. Silas was evidently a brother selected for a peculiar discipline, and though the effort to interpret this discipline was discouraged by the absence, on his part, of any spiritual vision during his outward trance, yet it was believed by himself and others that its effect was seen in an accession of light and fervour. A less truthful man than he might have been tempted into the subsequent creation of a vision in the form of resurgent memory; a less sane man might have believed in such a creation; but Silas was both sane and honest, though, as with many honest and fervent men, culture had not defined any channels for his sense of mystery, and so it spread itself over the proper pathway of inquiry and knowledge....

... amidst the various queries and expressions of interest addressed to him by his fellow-members, William's suggestion alone jarred with the general sympathy towards a brother thus singled out for special dealings. He observed that, to him, this trance looked more like a visitation of Satan than a proof of divine favour, and exhorted his friend to see that he hid no accursed thing within his soul."

George Eliot. Silas Marner (p. 8-9), Oxford University Press.

... and with this opinion used as a base, Silas is falsely accused of a crime.

Mystical experiences may have been cast with insinuations of falsification or insanity and even temptation and trickery as Janice mentioned. This kind of negative bias and manipulation may also be the reason for their want of privacy.


message 21: by Nemo (last edited Jul 14, 2016 02:42PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments I've never thought of intense traumatic experiences as mystical, but I'm reminded of Life of Pi (the movie not the book), in which the title character became a worshipper in the midst of a severe storm, like how Odysseus bowed to Poseidon when he was tossed about in the sea on the verge of drowning.


message 22: by Borum (last edited Jul 14, 2016 06:22PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Nemo wrote: "I've never thought of intense traumatic experiences as mystical, but I'm reminded of Life of Pi (the movie not the book), in which the title character became a worshipper in the midst of a severe s..."

Is that so? I haven't seen the movie yet, but in the book he was a devout worshipper (of three major religions) even before the storm. Hmm..

It is possible, I think. Some mystical experiences are achieved through starvation or extreme circumstances where the subconscious mind is revealed.


message 23: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Borum wrote: "I haven't seen the movie yet, but in the book he was a devout worshipper (of three major religions) even before the storm. Hmm..."

In the beginning of the movie, Pi was a believer of three (or more ?) religions, and his atheist father told him that if he converted to one more, his life would be a continuous holiday. (I was tempted to check out the "holy-days" of all religions, and see if it was indeed possible.)

But Pi didn't become a worshipper until near the end, after the traumatic experiences.


message 24: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Traumatic and mystical experience in opera:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_mamm...


message 25: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments Nemo wrote: "Borum wrote: "I haven't seen the movie yet, but in the book he was a devout worshipper (of three major religions) even before the storm. Hmm..."

In the beginning of the movie, Pi was a believer of..."


LOL.. A life of continuous holidays.. That sounds like paradise to me.. :-)

I didn't recognize the difference between a believer and a worshipper.. I've always though believer and worshipper was sort of interchangeable.. would the difference lie in some ritualistic or dogmatic differences or is it a difference of intensity?


message 26: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 596 comments Borum wrote: "I didn't recognize the difference between a believer and a worshipper.. I've always though believer and worshipper was sort of interchangeable.. would the difference lie in some ritualistic or dogmatic differences or is it a difference of intensity?"

It's a mixed bag. Ideally they are interchangeable, a person believes, that's why he/she worships. However, there are believers who don't worship formally in any church, and then you have folks who just go through the motions of attending church.

For the two latter groups I would say that much depends on how they they were raised (attended or not attended church) and whether they have been sufficiently catechized or instructed.

Then there is a third factor for those who have been raised in any given denomination, whether or not the spirituality is compatible with their personality. I see this as a primary reason why you see so many Protestants searching for the 'right' church to attend. Within Catholicism this aspect is a little different (even though there are plenty of former Catholics attending Protestant churches for that very reason). While the Mass will always be the same, there are so many spiritual expressions, Franciscans, Benedictans, Thomists, Jesuits, Augustinians, just to name some of the prominent ones, though there are many, many spiritual masters over the centuries all with their own unique insights. Each person, then, can find an approach compatible with their personality.


message 27: by Borum (last edited Jul 15, 2016 04:57PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Kerstin wrote: "Borum wrote: "I didn't recognize the difference between a believer and a worshipper.. I've always though believer and worshipper was sort of interchangeable.. would the difference lie in some ritua..."

Thank you for clarifying that for me, Kerstin!


message 28: by Borum (last edited Jul 15, 2016 07:45PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Now that I think about it, I think a traumatic or life-altering experience could work for both cases - becoming a believer and becoming a worshipper. James seems to focus more on the individual inner experience than external religious life, so I'm assuming that his religion is more of a 'believing' experience than a 'worshipping' one. He doesn't seem to put much value on the external religious life which he sees as being 'handed down' or 'inculcated' in the individual. In fact, I think he somewhat regarded the ecclesiastical conventions and religious life as stifling or manipulating the individual religious experience, rather than expanding or enhancing it.

I think this is what's happening in lots of Korean Protestant churches these days. The Korean protestant churches are being criticized for holding too much importance on tithes and building big fancy churches, and lots of new protestant believers are leaving the former 'big' established churches to search for smaller, individual poor church that seem less materialistic. It's odd because the Protestant movement had criticized the Catholic church of its cupidity in gathering riches and selling indulgences.


message 29: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Borum wrote: "lots of new protestant believers are leaving the former 'big' established churches to search for smaller, individual poor church that seem less materialistic.."

I'm guessing that they don't pay tithes in the smaller churches?


message 30: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Borum wrote: "I didn't recognize the difference between a believer and a worshipper.. "

I think believing in something or someone is different from worshipping something or someone. The relationships that exist between a believer and the object of his belief, on the one hand, and between a worshipper and the object of his worship, on the other, are different.


message 31: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 596 comments Borum wrote: "He doesn't seem to put much value on the external religious life which he sees as being 'handed down' or 'inculcated' in the individual. In fact, I think he somewhat regarded the ecclesiastical conventions and religious life as stifling or manipulating the individual religious experience, rather than expanding or enhancing it."

I think you are spot on with this analysis.


message 32: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Kerstin wrote: "Borum wrote: "He doesn't seem to put much value on the external religious life which he sees as being 'handed down' or 'inculcated' in the individual. In fact, I think he somewhat regarded the eccl..."

Yes, that is James view of institutional religion, but he simply makes the assertion without giving any evidence or arguments to support his view.

I don't have much personal experience with religious institutions -- the limited experiences I do have are mostly positive, but, having spent most of my life in and around scientific research institutions, I tend to think that institutions can enhance and expand the experiences and endeavours of individuals.

If we discard everything "handed down" or "inculcated", we might as well erase all human history and knowledge, and start from scratch.


message 33: by David (new)

David | 2732 comments Nemo wrote: "If we discard everything "handed down" or "inculcated", we might as well erase all human history and knowledge, and start from scratch. "

Maybe this is Jame's way of suggesting man needs to evolve, change, or progress religion into a new and more "age appropriate" expression? He seems to speak favorably of Emerson.
Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (Introduction). 1836.



message 34: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 596 comments Nemo wrote: "Yes, that is James view of institutional religion, but he simply makes the assertion without giving any evidence or arguments to support his view."

Exactly! It drove me nuts reading these types of assertions without being given any grounding.

I tend to think that institutions can enhance and expand the experiences and endeavours of individuals.

Absolutely. The collective knowledge and wisdom present in an institution is certainly a positive. And we've all benefited from them.

If we discard everything "handed down" or "inculcated", we might as well erase all human history and knowledge, and start from scratch.

Isn't this what modernism is all about? To believe that the future gets progressively better and that we can discard the past since it is out of date anyway? Might as well discard the wheel. It's older than dirt, it should have been on the ash heap of history long ago!


message 35: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments David wrote, "He seems to speak favorably of Emerson.."

Yes, he does. Both James and Emerson value the experience, freedom and independence of individuals, something they share with existentialists.

Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?

A relation to the universe entails a relation to all that is in the universe, including all human beings. To deny our interdependence of other human beings is as much a departure from truth as to deny our individual independence.


message 36: by Nemo (last edited Jul 17, 2016 01:52PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Kerstin wrote: "The collective knowledge and wisdom present in an institution is certainly a positive. And we've all benefited from them. "

I like the body metaphor of philosophers and theologians: An institution, or a nation, is not a machine, but an organic body, with each member being interdependent of one another and contributing to the health of the whole.

Speaking from limited personal experience, I think religious institutions can potentially contribute greatly to the well-being of individuals by providing an infrastructure whereby all members can effectively support each other intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and financially.


message 37: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments Nemo wrote: "Speaking from limited personal experience, I think religious institutions can potentially contribute greatly to the well-being of individuals by providing an infrastructure whereby ... members can effectively support each other intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and financially...."

I can certainly agree from within my personal experience. Also, while not all members may be well supported by the particular religious institution to which they belong, it seems to me that many religious institutions provide support to the larger communities in which they exist, whether through food banks, resource centers, counseling, or any of a number of other services which they may choose to provide -- sometimes locally, sometimes in geographically diverse ways.


message 38: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments Nemo wrote: "Borum wrote: "lots of new protestant believers are leaving the former 'big' established churches to search for smaller, individual poor church that seem less materialistic.."

I'm guessing that the..."


Yes and no. Not all small churches are reformative or reactionary and have the same emphasis on tithe and other donations for the church as if it's the utmost proof of their faith. Still, it's far less than in the big churches where they expect other extraneous donations for enlarging and renovating the church and where important positions in church are granted according to how much they give to the church.


message 39: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments Nemo wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "Borum wrote: "He doesn't seem to put much value on the external religious life which he sees as being 'handed down' or 'inculcated' in the individual. In fact, I think he somewhat r..."

I agree with you there. Although James' emphasis on the individual experience is the first thing to be considered, it is not the ONLY one. Personal experience is limited compared to the collective experience both in a positive and negative way, and I'm afraid James doesn't explore much into that aspect. Not only is the contribution to the consequent actions greater, but the experience itself is more deepened as well.

I'm reading Charles Taylor's book right now, and he showed this by comparing the moment of joy at watching the victory of one's hockey team alone at home and watching it in the stadium with thousands of others. Not only the consequent actions, but the internal experience as well, is expanded and transformed by sharing it with others.


message 40: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Borum wrote: "...important positions in church are granted according to how much they give to the church..."

I first thought this is exactly the kind of favouritism that is reproved in the New Testament, but on second thought, a person's financial donation is an objective measure of his level of commitment, (provided that the donations are ranked not by the raw amount, but in relation to each person's net worth .)


message 41: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 596 comments Nemo wrote: "Borum wrote: "...important positions in church are granted according to how much they give to the church..."

I first thought this is exactly the kind of favouritism that is reproved in the New Tes..."


Exactly. Voluntary contributions are really three-fold: time, talent, and treasure. All are necessary to keep a congregation going. If you have a situation where monetary contributions are used to play favoritism something is deeply amiss. Then you no longer have a church, but a club.


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