If Christians are justified by religious experience, what about other religions?

How is it possible that people from other religions have the properly basic belief that their God exists? If there is a god, shouldn’t there be just one religion whose members feel so strongly about his existence?

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We need to clarify what “properly basic beliefs” are. Such beliefs are the product of one’s experience. You have a firsthand experience of ‘X’ and are justified in your beliefs about ‘X’ based on that firsthand experience. If you visit the lake, then you have a firsthand experience of having seen the lake. You are, therefore, justified in your belief in the lake.

The Christian’s belief in God is properly basic because of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. We are justified in believing in God because we know God.

It is the nature of firsthand experiences that we cannot share them. Perhaps I can tell you about the lake I saw, but I cannot make you have had the experience of “seeing the lake.” Because of this, what is properly basic for you may not be properly basic for me. Perhaps I only believe in the lake because of your testimony, in which my belief will be non-basic.

When it comes to religious experiences, we do not have access to adherents’ experiences with other religions. We cannot say, therefore, that they have a religious experience as we do. We would deny that they have such experiences. Since we believe that Shiva does not exist, we would deny that any Hindu has a real firsthand Shiva experience.

Imagine if I told you that I had met the Easter Bunny. You don’t believe the Easter Bunny exists, and so you would deny that I had such an experience (even if you became convinced that I * thought* I had).

In short, the reported religious experiences of others cannot be more persuasive to us than our own firsthand experience of God.


2 thoughts on “If Christians are justified by religious experience, what about other religions?

  1. I think the mistake made here is that the initial claim is that a person is justified in believing in God based on a subjective experience (the holy spirit’s internal witness in this case). However, the latter claim is that other religions are not justified in trying to prove the validity their faiths based on their own religious experiences. The problem being that the former is meant to provide justification to the person having the experience and the latter negated for trying to provide external justification to another in an effort to validate said experience. In short, your conclusion is based on two different scenarios. The former (Christian) is completely justified in believing in God given that it is a properly basic belief. However, so is the latter (non- Christian). Neither can substantiate that claim to another but that’s irrelevant. Now if one were to have a actual religious experience i.e. a god or goddess appears to them metaphysically or physically then they have reinforcement for their properly basic belief but still no external means of arguing for the existence of said god or goddess. Appreciated the article and hope the critiques are welcomed!

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    1. My goal is to discuss how a Christian can navigate these issues.

      In the first place, I want to affirm that the Christian is completely justified in believing in God based on his firsthand experience of God.

      In the second place, I want to deny claims to contradictory firsthand experiences challenge the Christian’s justification.

      The thread that ties these two together is that the same person, the Christian who knows God, is experiencing both scenarios.

      I agree that it is irrelevant to the Christian’s justification that others make contradictory claims to conflicting experiences. Even so, people submit such claims as defeaters of the Christian’s justification. I am responding to these sorts of challenges.

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