Thursday, May 12, 2011

The ZigZag Café

We will be convening here at the ZigZag café, Suisse, on Thursdays for conversation and dialogue. I invite you to stop by every Thursday for the question of the day. Your thoughts and participation are most welcome. Pull up a stool, avec un café, un thé, ou un chocolat chaud, et un croissant, and join in here on Thursday at the ZZ café.

For today:

How significant should experience be when it comes to belief or unbelief in God?

14 comments:

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

Does everybody experience the same? Is everybody's reception of these experiences the same? I don't think so. That leads me to the following conclusions: It can not be too important, as experience does not set a standard for everybody. On the other hand the presence of experience sets a framework, in which we think, in everybody's life. So even if it is different, it is there and its influence can not be neglected.

Should we try to separate from experience? Cut ourselves in the middle? Maybe the answer to the original question depends on your view of the human. Two or three parts... As I rather go with "soul" and "body" only, I would say we need not to separate experience from thought.

Nevertheless, I think that we can not separate thought from experience. We live and we experience every day, and need to relate our experience to "self, other and God". And normally we do this relation. Therefore in our considerations about belief, they will play an important role.




And as an aside: I praise God over the fact that my experience is different to others' experiences!

Greg said...

Lukas,
Thanks. You make some excellent points and I really like the way you go about trying to formulate an important place for experience, yet to qualify it as well.

To focus for a moment on the feature of importance of experience for belief. If this is the case, would experience then also be considered important for unbelief? And if so, when someone says, 'I have had no experience of God, so I cannot believe there is one,' how should we respond?

Susan said...

This is a really tricky question. I had hoped by now someone else would have commented. (Perhaps they have been having trouble with Blogger like me.)

Anyway, what are your thoughts Greg?

joy said...

Are you asking for an attempt to quantify the level of significance we give our experiences? If so, I would say that the level of significance will vary case to case (case-dependent, less of a human decision.. if that makes sense). Which could, possibly, leave us with a battle between the 'I will never experience God' people and the 'I've experienced God in this specific way and so should you' people.

If we are talking about 'experiencing God' (which would also be lovely to unpack), I would say it's not possible to exclude experience from belief. It is because of our experiences- our access to knowledge being a part of our experience- that we can form beliefs.

And because we (humans) have a part of this experience, there's a chance we're not interpreting our experiences in a realistic way. Risk involved in interpreting experiences, but a necessity.

Greg said...

Susan,
Thanks. There were a couple of comments, but blogger problems seem to have erased them. Sigh.

My thoughts are that experience is an important feature of belief and unbelief in God, yet experience cannot determinative for either. We should not discount experience, but we shouldn't base the entirety of belief or non-belief on it either.

Greg said...

Joy,
Thanks. So nice to have your comment here on LS. I assume you're back home. Hope things go well.

I was wondering whether readers thought experience was a major/minor factor in their beliefs. Another way: very or not very significant. Your "level of significance" is on target.

There could be experience that is not directly of God, but that leads to belief or unbelief. Agreed that direct experience of God would need unpacking, though this type of experience may not be required for belief - one example of this might be someone like Mother Teresa.

greg laughery said...

Here's a copy of a comment by Lukas that was erased.

Does everybody experience the same? Is everybody's reception of these experiences the same? I don't think so. That leads me to the following conclusions: It can not be too important, as experience does not set a standard for everybody. On the other hand the presence of experience sets a framework, in which we think, in everybody's life. So even if it is different, it is there and its influence can not be neglected.

Should we try to separate from experience? Cut ourselves in the middle? Maybe the answer to the original question depends on your view of the human. Two or three parts... As I rather go with "soul" and "body" only, I would say we need not to separate experience from thought.

Nevertheless, I think that we can not separate thought from experience. We live and we experience every day, and need to relate our experience to "self, other and God". And normally we do this relation. Therefore in our considerations about belief, they will play an important role.


And as an aside: I praise God over the fact that my experience is different to others' experiences!

Greg said...

Problems with blogger these days.

Greg said...

Sorry for the problems.

carter said...

The short answer is "yes."
Sometimes when more self-centered than is the usual case, I think that if I don't FEEL that God is alive or with me, that maybe my claimed relationship is all a pipe dream. I think (when less self-engrossed) that the experience, however, comes from what we DO with our faith. Like the rich young man who comes to Jesus. He had kept all of the commandments, but he had not been involved with the "least of these" who were hungry, thirsty, naked, etc. Without that experience, our faith is suspect (kindly said). Like James said, "show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do."

Greg said...

Carter,
Thanks. Good thoughts on the relevance of feeling and doing our faith.

reneamac said...

I think experience is important, but is largely overemphasized (at the moment). One reason an inordinate weight is place upon experience is because we cling to the familiar.

For example, many who use experience as the main/sole determiner for faith see their faith crumble under seemingly contradictory experiences. Faith communities, sadly, do not often help its members explore and struggle with these seemingly contradictory experiences as they should. Exploring them (perhaps especially in a preemptive strike kind of way) within a framework larger than experience is immensely helpful.

Likewise, many who use experience as the main/sole determiner for their unbelief are unwilling to look with openness for God (experiences), unwilling to consider the differing experiences of others, unwilling to accept (potential "God) experiences" offered to them by others, and/or unable to see their experience as part of a whole.

This is understandable of course. Making ourselves vulnerable to new experiences, especially after being hurt, is not our natural m.o. But I think it's crucial for life.

Greg said...

Renea,
Thanks. Those are good points about the over-emphasis on experience. There needs to be a place to process different and even contradictory experiences, and if one it focused on experience alone, this becomes very difficult to enact.

I often encounter people who complain about a lack of experience, or perhaps better said, a lack of reality in experiencing God. They tend to search for an affirmation of God through an experience, which seems at least partly justifiable. But I agree with you that the 'framework' has to be larger than experience on its own.

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