Archive for the ‘religious experience not a final authority’ Category

For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me

September 24, 2009

[Bertrand Russell was present when the wife of his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead was undergoing an unusually severe bout of pain due to heart trouble. He was 29 at the time, and in the following excerpt from his autobiography he described the effect this experience had on him.]

She seemed cut off from everyone and everything by walls of agony, and the sense of the solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me. Every since my marriage, my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues, and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region…
At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me. I felt that I knew the inmost thoughts of everybody that I met in the street, and though this was, no doubt, a delusion, I did in actual fact find myself in far closer touch than previously with all my friends, and many of my acquaintances. Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis, I found myself filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty, with an intense interest in children, and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable. A strange excitement possessed me, containing intense pain but also some element of triumph through the fact that I could dominate pain, and make it, as I thought, a gateway to wisdom. The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded, and the habit of analysis has reasserted itself. But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me, causing my attitude during the first war, my interest in children, my indifference to minor misfortunes, and a certain emotional tone in all my human relations.

In other place he says:

Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated…

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, vol.1, p.135

So for all his rationalism, basically his pacifism was based on this five minute religious experience. If he was ‘deluded’ about seeing into people’s souls, how did he know he wasn’t deluded about being pro-Boer and pacifist – sentiments that he fought for (not literally of course – that would be inconsistent!) the rest of his life.

He also said that he learned in this experience that, ‘strife is the root of all evil and gentleness the only balm. I became infinitely gentle for a time.’

So he learned that gentleness is good not through reason but through an experience. And it didn’t last.

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Waiting upon ane inward light

September 23, 2009

Anne Blacklyn, a Quakeress, was fined for disturbing the minister at Haverhill Church calling him a hireling priest and deceiver, and to remain in prison till the fine was paid.

John Gilpin listened to a speaker denounce all ministerial teaching and all knowledge gained therein, in order to, ‘lay a new ground work vis. to be taught of God within ourselves by waiting upon ane inward light.’ After the third meeting Gilpin himself was seized, trembled and quaked extermely, fell on his bed, howled and cried to the astonishment of his family. After five meetings he was grabbibng a bass viol and playing on it, dancing (things never before done by him) and finally running through the streets of the town proclaiming, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. And the devil as he put it, did not leave him before he had believed two swallows in the chimney to be angels, had nearly knifed himself in the throat, and had fallen on the floor to lick the dust.

Antonia Fraser, Cromwell, pp.570-571

Without the authority of Scripture, a doctrinal standard and only experience to go on – this is the potential consequence.

Dogma blamed for wars

September 14, 2009

How unjustly, therefore, do you reproach religion with loving persecution, with being malignant, with overturning society, and making blood flow like water. Blame those who corrupt religion, who flood it with an army of formulas and definitions, and seek to cast it into the fetters of a so-called system. What is it in religion about which men have quarrelled and made parties and kindled wars? About definitions, the practical sometimes, the theoretical always, both of which belong elsewhere…But religion does not, even once, desire to bring those who believe and feel to one belief and one feeling. Its endeavour is to open in those who are not yet capable of religious emotions, the sense for the unity of the original source of life. But just because each seer is a new priest, a new mediator, a new organ, he flees with repugnance the bald uniformity which would again destroy this divine abundance.

Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, Second Speech, THE NATURE OF RELIGION

Doctrine causes wars – those who feel religious emotions are, of course, the good guys. How postmodern, even though he said it 200 years before postmodernism.

But Scheiermacher was wrong to lump all ‘doctrine’ together: to lump the ‘hope’ of paradise through Jihad with the beatitudes or the money-grubbing ideas of penance that lead to indulgences to build St Peter’s with the true faith once for all delivered to the saints is daft. It’s a daft as when Boris Johnson equated the ‘fanaticism’ of Christians willing to die for their faith in ancient Rome with those who kill in the name of religion today.

Russell’s Mysticism

September 14, 2009

Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region… At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me… Having been an imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a pacifist.

Bertrand Russell, 1901, aged 28

It’s amazing that a man who would say that we should follow reason, not tradition or religious experience, should have changed his beliefs so radically in a mystical experience.

Quite why pro-Boer means pacifist, given they fought to defend their land, I’m not sure – except it was an anti-(British)Imperialist position

The danger of subjective religious experience

September 10, 2009
Preacher says God wanted him to hijack Mexican jet

By MARK STEVENSON (AP) 10/9/9

MEXICO CITY — It was 1 p.m. when the control tower at the Mexico City airport got the first word of a bizarre drama that would play out over the next two hours: The pilot of Aeromexico Flight 576 radioed that a man aboard claimed to have a bomb and wanted to talk with President Felipe Calderon.

Jose Flores, a 44-year-old Bolivian preacher who lives in Mexico, had gotten the word from God that he had to warn Mexicans of an impending disaster — an earthquake “like none there has ever been,” he told reporters after being hustled off the plane by police without anyone being injured.

Unsuspecting passengers, including Americans and French tourists traveling from the beach resort of Cancun to Mexico City, sat not fully aware of what was happening as the pilot negotiated with Flores, bringing the plane to a smooth landing and after an hour or so of talking winning an agreement to end the standoff.

The crisis began when Flores told a flight attendant that a juice can he had was a bomb. The flight attendant notified the plane’s captain over the intercom, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna told reporters.

Flores kept the 103 passengers and crew on the tarmac for more than an hour, the plane sitting surrounded by heavily armed police at the end of a runway in an area designed for emergencies. The airport remained open.

Pilot Ricardo Rios told the Televisa television network that Flores requested that the Boeing 737 be flown around Mexico City seven times, but there wasn’t enough fuel to do that. The hijacker also asked that women reporters and Calderon be at the airport to talk to him, Rios said.

“He said he had tried to speak to the president for three months and since there hadn’t been an answer he decided to use these type of threats with an airline,” the pilot said.

Eventually, Flores agreed to release women and children. Minutes later, masked police stormed onto the aircraft with guns drawn and soon escorted several handcuffed men away without firing a shot.

Police later said there was only one hijacker, and the other men were briefly detained because the suspect had told a flight attendant he had three accomplices.

Flores told police his three companions were “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

He said he hijacked the plane after a divine revelation. Flores told authorities Wednesday’s date — 9-9-09 — is the satanic number 666 turned upside down.

Speaking to reporters after he was detained, Flores said he took control of the aircraft with “a juice can … with some little lights I attached.”

“Christ is coming soon,” he added, smiling.

His wife, Elizabeth Melgar, told W Radio that Flores “always told me that he was looking for a way to attract the attention of the media … he always told me that he was waiting for a signal from God to do something.”

“Don’t worry if they put me in jail; (it will be) glory to God,” she quoted him as saying.

The suspect’s mother, Mary Pereyra de Flores, told PAT television in his native Bolivia that “I knew that my son had this revelation a year ago, I knew he was going to try to talk to the president of Mexico.”

She also said she knew that the 9-9-09 date had significance. “There was a revelation for that date … today there is a promise for the people of God and retribution for everything that the enemy has stolen,” she said.

Garcia Luna said Flores is a drug addict who was convicted of armed robbery in Bolivia and has lived in Mexico for 17 years. Flores described himself as a former drug user and a pastor in southern Oaxaca state who had gone to Cancun to preach.

He is also a Christian music singer who in videos posted on YouTube sings of leaving drugs and finding God. “I was in jail, I was a despicable drug addict, but Christ freed me a few years ago,” he sings along with recorded music at a crowded stadium.

Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.