Religious experience has more value for an individual than for a religious communityWatch
It may be argued that religious experience has more value for an individual than for a religious community, due to its personal nature. Saint Teresa of Avila a outlined a process of seven stages of prayer in which she describes becoming at one with God and being part of a spiritual marriage in which she felt an extreme closeness and intimacy with God, suggesting God to be very personal which may suggest its value to an individual. Saint Teresa of Avila’s experience was described to take a lot of effort and work in order to experience an “at oneness” with God. This highly suggests that the value of the religious experience is of great personal value to an individual and seems to act in a way that communities could never benefit from.
While this argument is valid, it is very important to recognise religious communal conversions, for example the Pentecostal communal conversion in Acts of the Apostles in which the Angel appeared to a group of the apostles in the religious experience form of a vision. The apostles were changed forever which suggests the value of their experience to the religious community. Furthermore, the value is highlighted even more due to the fact that all the apostles were able to experience this together. If they had each been alone, the value of the experience and the impact may not have been as important or intense, suggesting their religious experience has extremely high value for a religious community. Furthermore, this experience was so widely felt by the community of the apostles that it
resulted in being recorded in the official Biblical canon, suggesting the great impact of a religious experience on the community, rather than an individual.
However, to contrast this point of view, it must be pointed out that while religious experiences can have a very wide range with lasting and significant effects on a religious community, individual conversions and visions can be extremely powerful, even more so than communal experiences, while also being long lasting and intense. For example, CS Lewis experienced an individual gradual conversion over a period of time due to talking to his friend Tolkien about Christianity for years. While this wasn’t an obvious or sudden experience, it intensely impacted his life forever, so he converted to Christianity. This, in one sense, may not appear as valuable as the communal conversation we see in the Bible, however, underneath the surface it seems that Lewis’s own individual religious experience reflects one of much greater equality and intellect. He chose to convert to Christianity as a result and it was therefore very long lasting and seemingly more intense and valuable than the communal conversion, suggesting that religious experience may have more value for an individual than for a whole religious community.
In relation to conversions, individual experiences may be of great quality and therefore greater value. However, there are some experiences such as visions, that can have a hugely significant and valuable impact on religious communities, maybe even more so than individual experiences. For example, Saint Bernadette claims to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, in which she claims that Mary was repeatedly saying “immaculate conception”. While there are many religious experience claims, such as visions that are dismissed by the Catholic Church, this particular one has been of great value to one of the biggest Christian denominations, and is therefore suggesting the value of religious experience on the whole religious communities. The effects of Saint Bernadette’s vision at Lourdes meant that the catholic church have been able to certify Mary as the immaculate conception, benefiting their religious community. Furthermore, this vision has a resulted in six million visits to Lourdes every year, suggesting the huge impact this religious experience has had and suggesting that it is of great value to the religious community, the whole of Christianity especially Catholicism. It seems that this one particular vision at Lourdes has been of great value to the religious community.
However, it is important to recognise the value of mysticism, suggested by William James and Rudolph Otto. William James claims that the four main areas of the mystical experience (passivity ineffability, noetic quality and transiency are valuable and impactful because of the quality and the impact on individuals rather than a huge but lower quality impact on a religious community. James suggests that noetic quality means that great knowledge is gained through the experience which is of great value and insight for religious believers in God, suggesting the quality and value of the religious experience on individuals. Adding to this, Rudolph Otto argues that the numinous is the underlying root of all religion, with its mysterium, tremendum et fascinans. Suggesting that humans are drawn to god and religion and mystical experiences are therefore hugely important and valuable to individuals, no matter the small quantity of the effects. While it may have a huge impact on the religious communities, the impact on religious individuals is of the same value or even more than on religious communities.
Furthermore, while the experience at Lourdes did have a hugely valuable impact on religious communities, it is highly important to point out that this is one of many religious experiences that are of high value to many, while it seems to be in a small amount of experiences that have been recognized by the church. The catholic church dismisses and rejects the majority of claims of religious experiences, meaning they are as a whole not as valuable to religious communities. However, many of these religious experiences do still have great valuable and significant impact on the individuals that actually experienced them, changing and impacting individuals much more frequently and a better quality than on religious communities, suggesting religious experiences are of more value to individuals than religious communities.
In conclusion, it seems that religious experiences have much more intense value and impact on individuals than on religious communities, suggesting that they are of much more value to an individual than religious communities.