A Short Experiment – Comparing Descriptions of Spiritual Feelings from Different Religions
It is interesting to read people’s personal descriptions of religious experience. People from very different religions often use similar words to describe their spiritual experiences.
I’ve collected a sample of people’s descriptions of religious conversion or spiritual revelation. The following twenty quotes are from practicing Atheists, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, New Agers, Protestants, and Universal Unitarians. Try to guess which quote comes from which religion (some religions are used more than once). I have standardized the language (changes indicated by brackets ), so that differences in terminology between religions will not tip you off (thus, mosque, temple and church are all become a [church]; the Bible and all other religious texts become a [text] or [sacred text]).
Try to match these 8 religions to the following 20 quotes. The answer key is below:
1. “I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”8
2. “But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my . . . faith, as I . . . beg[ed] [God's] blessings for myself and for those I love?”9
3. “The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”10
4. “As I read these books in a . . . bookstore, . . . I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”11
5. “[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine] . . . he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”12
6. “I was praying . . . when I felt a burning shaft of . . . love come through my head and into my heart.”13
7. “I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which . . . answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything . . .and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for . . . his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”14
8. “A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”15
9. “We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”16
10. “Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God] . . . . One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.’”17
11. “A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness . . . . . I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth] . . . .”18
12. “I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”19
13. “That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church] . . . I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”20
14. “For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family . . . . However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free . . . . I felt like a new person.”21
15. “Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”22
16. “Every time I was with the [church members], I felt this warm feeling, a feeling of peace and for the first time in my life since my church-going days, I wanted to follow [God] . . . .”23
17. “About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]. . . I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”24
18. “The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to . . . stop myself from falling backward.”25
19. “[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”26
20. “[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”27
21. “I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. . . . As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished. . . . The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”28
The answers are in the next paragraph. My point here is not to say that any of these people’s experiences are invalid or that they are not valuable, or that religion is bad (I am an active church-goer myself). Nor am I trying to say that this proves any certain religion to be true or false – just that spiritual experiences are a universal human emotion, and that, just like any emotional experience, they are not enough by themselves to be reliable indicators of absolute truth. This is easy to demonstrate using religious experiences, since the claims of most of these religions are contradictory. Thus, if one of the above religions were true in the absolute sense, many or most of the others would be false. Many or most of the above people’s religious experiences, therefore, could not have been reliable indicators of the truth.
Answers: 1. Protestant; 2. Islam; 3. Protestant; 4. Catholic; 5. Hindu; 6. Catholic; 7. New Age; 8. Islam; 9. Protestant; 10. Islam; 11. Hindu; 12. Protestant; 13. Islam; 14. Catholic; 15. Buddhist; 16. Mormon; 17. Universal Unitarian; 18. Catholic; 19. Hindu; 20. Protestant; 21. Atheist
I am deeply interested in religion, politics, current events, history, musical theater and books! I left the LDS church a couple years ago and have spent a lot of time since then thinking and considering various religious influences in my life and in the lives of those around me. For more information on why I left the LDS church, look here. I also love to sing, act, dance (tap preferably) and perform on stage whenever possible.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Finding Truth in Religion
I pulled the following from the blog, www.theamateurthinker.com. (All footnotes/sources can be found on the original blog). Can you determine which quote describes your religion?