In the article, Are Men ever directly aware of God, James considered ‘mystical states of consciousness’ as the centre and root of personal religious experiences which encompasses spectrum of experiences, from the unspiritual to the most devotedly profound. One of his arguments is that, we, humans, are in control of what we believe. This can be cross-referenced from his humanistic perspective in psychology. Moreover, he started his piece by defining the expression, ‘mystical states of consciousness’. He built his paper by creating a valid topic of investigation and study by defining mystical states of consciousness as “real” experiences, which is available to most people. And to prevent verbal disputation and recrimination of the loosely-defined words – ‘mysticism’ and ‘mystical’, he proposed four marks that an experience must have to be considered one.
He started with ineffability which stresses the defiance of expression in order for the experience not to be mistaken as a state of feeling. Moreover, it must be directly experienced; cannot be transferred to others and the no words can be used to describe it. Noetic quality, on the other hand, which is also so similar to states of feeling, says that mystics experience a state of knowledge, not just an intellectual aha moment. It is all encompassing knowledge which is the knowledge of the Unity that fuses even contradictory thoughts to a whole which penetrates the mystic’s backbone. Subject claims that they have experience revelations and insights into virtual truths.
Transiency and passivity are less sharply marked, but are also usually found in mystical religious experiences. Transiency is a state that cannot be sustained for long; it fades rapidly, and remains out of reach. However, some memory content always remains, and this can be used to “modify the interior life of the subject between the instant of their recurrence.” When in a mystical experience, individuals do not seem to keenly process the data. It is a passive experience; the subject feels a loss of control, and of being in the grasp of superior command – James’ fourth mark. These four qualities mark is what he called, the mystical group.
These four marks of ‘mystics’ and ‘mysticism state’ forms a distinct region of consciousness. Later, James goes on to suggest that these experiences occur as our “field of consciousness” increases. James offers variety of experiences that he wants to categorize as mystical, extending from the most trivial to the most important.
And he cited examples of their lower grades. He relates this to the power of poetry and music. He also mentioned déjà vu, a sudden feeling which sometimes sweeps over us of having been there before. He sees this sort of experience as making us imprecisely conscious of the likelihood of things beyond our normal perceptions. There are degrees of what James calls mystical consciousness. For these, the writer merely quotes from people who have experienced them. One of the subjects describes being visited by trance states in which awareness of the world was annihilated, leaving a sharp awareness of the self. This brings him to the contemplation of what we to-day call drug-induced states, the consciousness produced by intoxicants and anaesthetics, especially by alcohol. The writer states that his own experience of nitrous oxide intoxication has led him to the conclusion that our normal waking consciousness is but one especial type of consciousness.
Continuing his survey, James now reaches religious mysticism – pure and simple. This is where the experience is of the presence of God. As one of the writers quoted says, I was aware that I was immersed in the infinite ocean of God. He completes his survey of the range of mystical experiences by looking at its methodical cultivation as a component of the religious life. He starts with yoga, the experimental union of the individual with the divine and the various levels of contemplation in Buddhism. Then he goes on to quote at considerable length an account that offers insight into Sufism.
Finally, the writer comes to the mystical theology of Catholicism as exemplified in three Iberian mystics, St John of the Cross, St Ignatius Loyola and St Teresa of Avila. Two concerns that the writer dwells on are sense of revelation and tonic effects of mystical states – Illumination and Ecstasy. Thus St Teresa reports on the one hand on receiving privileged insights, and on the other hand on experiencing rapture of the mind and senses.
Moreover, five negatives have been described; however, the main benefit that James seems to see in all this is an overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute. There is oneness and both parties are aware of it. Before concluding, he characterized the general traits of the mystic range of consciousness as whole pantheistic, optimistic, anti-naturalistic and harmonizes best with twice-borness and the so-called worldly states of mind.
In conclusion, the writer made three points. First, the subjects of mystical experiences are themselves totally convinced by them. Second, there is no reason why other people should share that conviction for different subject’s experiences generate different messages. James suggests that mystical experiences, viewed overall, are non-specific in doctrinal content. Third, mystical experiences prevent us from rejecting out of hand the possibility of a world beyond our senses. The supernaturalism to which they persuade us may, interpreted in one way or another.
The significance of keeping the meaning of mystical states of consciousness value-neutral was pointed out by James. Furthermore, he explains that all mystical experience, whether positive or negative, deserves recognition as available states of consciousness. He does not debate whether they are a superior or inferior form of consciousness; instead he points out that mystical states include truth and deceit, gratification and pain.
His approach is subjective rather than objective and I think he makes some valid points concerning how we judge the faith claim by other people. It was right to respect the personal belief of serious spiritual believers; likewise it is right that what they believe to be true should not be imposed on anyone for them to believe. We all have spiritual needs that somehow, someway when put together build our fragmenting “self”.
Furthermore, he didn’t investigate developed patterns of various religions rather he was interested on the experiences that formed the basis of the formal expressions. He has no time for time-honored religion, or theology, rather, he focuses on the mystical, individual life-changing experiences people have in sensing the presence of a higher power. He gave a humane analysis which cleared the empiricists.
Indeed, he sets it as his task to evaluate whether religion is good as a social force, and concludes that it is, though with some important caveats. This leaves us with an essential account of what religion truly means and the way in which it is or can be intertwined with social, political and other factors. It lets us unravel such threads in an effective way, and shows us that religion in its essence is not the cause behind all the world’s evil and or good. Rather, religion is a fundamental dimension of consciousness. He concludes that there are other types of truth that we are not usually conscious of and that mystical states give us some hint.
Moreover, it interesting that he appears to rebuff and demonstrate flaws in every “proof” of Gods existence but at the same time believes God is real because He has genuine effects. In his paper, religion was examined from a purely pragmatic perspective. It focused on the individual connection of one individual to the heavenly. Moreover, it was remarkable that the characteristics of religious experience were connected to a range of other phenomena such as drunkenness, ghostly visions, optimism and diseases without any anti-religious schema. It offers less in terms of experimental results since it is impossible to agree on an epistemological point of reference for spiritual matters. So, he provides a virtual catalog of anecdotal references from which to deduce his observations. His answer, of course, is an assorted bag, a cognitive dissonance that is tentatively positive, but not definitively so.
This article is not just an assessment but a search for the legitimacy of religion, the reality, and the unity. It is neither an endorsement nor a tearing-down; it does not walk with a particular faith. It is a scientific and philosophic look at religion and one that does not simply dismiss faith as foolish primitive garbage.
A foremost flaw in the work is that he dispatches entirely with the historical, institutional, and intellectual mechanisms of religious praxis. While it could be said that these components were anterior to his psychological concern, the manner in which they are done demonstrates a narrow purview of what religion is. Despite this admirable aspiration for reconciliation, he leaves the reader uncertain of what road to take. No matter what his convictions, systematic theology will never voluntarily submit itself to the methodological considerations of empirical science, nor vice versa. Perhaps only in the past decades has the passion for disproving religion subsided enough to allow researchers to make meaningful steps in dialogue between the disciplines.
Additionally, his breakdown of four common attributes of the mystical experience primarily the noetic quality, have really been a useful in assessing one’s mystical experience.
On the other hand, the article “A skeptical View of Mysticism” by Bertrand Russell started with a presentation of another possible source of knowledge in religion aside from science, which may be properly described as ‘revelation’. According to him, we accept the results of studies as truths which we have never conducted or had firsthand experience, and so, mystics might also claim that their source of knowledge is also unquestionable. He admitted that this point is difficult to argue because, people who have mystical experiences would justify that their claim as unquestionable as so with scientific findings of people.
Furthermore, he compared the verifiability of science over religion and says that it is useless to attempt an argument that will appeal to the man who has himself enjoyed mystic illumination. He emphasized the importance of the scientific ways of acquiring knowledge as opposed to mystical experiences which cannot be tested. He also stressed the point that mystical experiences are not transferable, so, science should have no expectation as to the result.
Moreover, he raised the point on our acceptance of truth, that we, as critical thinkers should not recognize things/events as true without sufficient evidence and has not passed the intra- and inter- subjectivity tests. However, this can also be contradicted by mystics by saying that science should be neutral and should view theirs on their procedures.
Furthermore, he stated that the chief argument in favor of the mystics is their agreement with each other. However, mystics vary in the way they give verbal expressions to their experiences, and so he enumerated three things that successful mystics maintain. First, all division and separateness is unreal, and that the universe is a highly indivisible unity. Second, the evil is illusionary, and the illusion arises through falsely regarding a part of self-subsident. And lastly, the time is unreal, and that reality is eternal, not in the sense of being everlasting, but in the sense of being wholly outside time. These traits, however, according to him are just representative sample of the whole.
Russell built further arguments by instructing the readers to image that they are in a law-court, seeking to decide on the credibility of the witnesses who claims to assert these three assertions. He demonstrates an argument, makes the possible reaction of both sides, then critics it.
He started with the differences of the belief of mystics wherein he cited examples such as the Virgin of the Christians which would be disagreed by Protestants, the Archangel Gabriel and such. Indeed, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, etc. would discredit and brand each other as untrustworthy. However, he said that mystics would argue that everyone should respect each other’s belief and wouldn’t focus in their differences but instead look unto their similarities to strengthen their claim concentrating on the above mention things they tend to uphold.
Then he asks what test can be applied to their unanimous evidence. Russell said that first hand information is vital in order to make someone believe your claim and this is promised by scientific investigations. Nonetheless, this questions yields to various answers such as a receptive frame of the mind, humility, fasting religious mediation, and breathing exercise. And so, if we succeeded, according to Russell, to feel in a certain time that time is unreal and experienced a state of mind that they describe, how then, shall we assess its reliability when we reverse to our normal states?
Furthermore, mystics agree about the unreality of time. Russell said that if time is unreal, there would be no sequence of events and the cause and effect relationship of what we do would be nonsense. Our time markers for time such as before, after, tomorrow would become just mere utterances. Therefore, there would be no events; we’re just lost in the vastness of the cosmos, embracing what is said to be real in the temporal world. And if so, there would be neither improvement nor deterioration, no distinction between sorrow and happiness. And such views, according to Russell exterminate not only science but prudence, hope and effort which does not go along with what is important to religion – morality and worldly wisdom.
Mystics, however, would not accept this conclusion but urge doctrines which teach such. Russell cited Dean Inge’s disagreement with the region that focuses on evolution that stresses temporal process. Russell found himself in harmony with Inge, however, sought more than that, more inferences.
It is imperative not to distort the doctrine of mysticism, in which the author thinks, there is a core of wisdom. Let us see how it seeks to avoid the extreme consequences which seem to follow from the denial of time, said Russell. The philosophy from Parmenides to Hegel is an example wherein the distinction between what he calls, reality and appearance, the way of truth and opinion. Difficulties could arise, however, at this point because if the relationship between them would become so intimate, all things whether pleasant or not would have their counterparts in reality, and if the relation is too limited, inferences cannot be made about the character of appearance to reality and reality would be vague Unknowable.
On the other hand, he said that pantheism would be very difficult to avoid for Christians because if the world is only apparent, God created nothing, and the reality corresponding to the world is a part of God; but if the world is in any degree real and distinct from God, we abandon the wholeness of everything, which is an essential doctrine of mysticism, and we are compelled to suppose that, in so far as the world is real, the evil which it contains is also real. The Bishop of Birminghan also rejected all sorts of pantheism because if a man is actually a part of god, the evil in man is also God.
Russell then moves to another argument which is the mystic’s denial of the world of sense. Assuming that the world ‘reality’ is used in the context of law-courts, there would be no doubts in rejecting their claims because of the inconsistency of their testimonies and mundane moments. This resulted to the scrutiny of another sense which is emotion. And what Russell claims is that mysticism is an emotion and not a fact which does not assert anything and cannot be confirmed nor contradicted with science.
Furthermore, he reiterated that science only demands a person on normal eyesight, normal consciousness, and normal behavior as opposed to religion which demands physical, psychological and mental alteration. He therefore concluded that mystical states which demands abnormal physical condition are just abnormal perceptions while normal perception, which is proved to aid in our life have correspondence with fact.
He said that mystical experiences as emotions may have been the one responsible for providing breath, calmness and profundity wherein self-centered desires are dead, and the mind serves as a mirror of the infiniteness of the cosmos. And the assertions from these feelings are inessential for he cannot accept any method of arriving at the truth except of science. And that evil and good may have rooted from false beliefs.
This article remains too rigid makes it sure that science is the only way of knowing things. Russell, till the very end of his article asserted that he can’t accept other ways to verify the truth of a claim. This I disagree. As much as philosophy is concerned, I am deeply inclined of why David Hume included emotions and ideas as source of truth and or knowledge. No one, till now have solved this misery, I guess. Indeed, we are aware of the development of the pragmatic theory of truth which however, failed because of the relativity of human behavior.
As the famous quotation goes, “Experience is the best teacher”. And I believe that there are things which we cannot share or make other people to believe because of the individual differences and experiences we have. We are unique individuals not just in our thoughts but in the biological foundation – DNA. We even don’t know ourselves much that’s why we still use Freud’s unconscious mind. Freud’s theories were never proven correct; however, it is still used because nothing was used to verify its credibility. Same goes with religion, the metaphysical concepts that they have introduced has affected our lives and that’s why we believe in it. It is faith, and we don’t question it.
Moreover, the contemporary issues that have arisen were about the dispute between evolution and creationism. It is a common misconception that they are contradictory to each other. That one must believe and choose between the two. We must take into account that evolution answers the question HOW and creationism answers the question WHO.
Furthermore, I believe on both yet I am more convinced on creationism. Just like mysticism which miracles comes on unexpected times, felt the power and the good feeling it brings, the innate satisfaction and joy which is beyond comprehension is a manifestation that there divine intervention. This I believe on religion that there is divine being who makes all things possible which also depends on the person’s beliefs and acts. It is the core of wisdom and knowledge that is applied to do the right thing or the other way around. It is the application of what we learn and experienced that leads us to what we believe and wanted to happen. What we act, do is nothing unless we can discern if it is right or wrong. This is what keeps us moving, changing, and progressing. This, however, when not carefully considered also cause adverse effects.
I would like to connect this with Julian Rotter’s Locus of Control which tests whether individuals are governed by themselves or by faith or destiny. Because of my assertions in this paper, you may say that I have low locus of control, that my philosophies in life are dependent upon external situations.. Actually not, I am in the middle. I believe that I am responsible for my life; I am in control of what happens in my life. However, we cannot deny the fact that we are cultured – affected by social interactions. As Plato has said, we are social animals. Furthermore, everything happens for a reason, everything in life is so interconnected. I have met people whom I wasn’t connected to for 6 years and now we’ve become best of friends. Though, I believe that I am the one in control of my life, my beliefs however, are affected by outside forces,
I have learned much from Russell’s argument; however, I am firm with my stand that we are free to choose about our basis of religious belief. He should not be enmeshed in determining if religious experiences might or might not be true, but should determine whether anything practical results from them.
Finally, both of the essays have classified religious belief as emotion, and it is. The only difference is that the first accepted it in a humanistic way and the other has done it otherwise. Now, what is my ultimate basis of religious belief? It is subjective – spiritual rather than existential. We have our own beliefs but it’s how we act that matters, how it affect ourselves and the people around us. It’s the truth of life that matters. Science itself does not claim that they are the ultimate truth; they only claim that they are presenting the best interpretation of things so far. So does with religion, it is the best way we have interpreted our faith so far.
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