Thursday, December 9, 2010

Religious experience as cure for inhibition

Religious experiences are so powerful and positive a moral force, [William] James argues, because they have an ability to overcome the inhibitions that prevent most from behaving in morally exemplary ways. "Few people who have not expressly reflected on the matter realise how constantly this factor of inhibition is upon us, how it contains and molds us by its restrictive pressure almost as if we were fluids pent within the cavity of a jar." Moreover, inhibition is typically a subconscious force. So counterbalancing subconscious forces, such as those that are religious, are required to release the individual from their withholding impulses.

Religious experiences are not alone in being able to do this. A soldier will perform extraordinary acts of bravery on account of the training that leaves them closely identified with comrades. However, religious experiences are different. They release subconscious forces that are involuntary. A soldier decides to join the army and submit to the training. James' study of religious conversion has led him to conclude that they are experiences that radically change someone. "The man who lives in his religious center of energy, and is actuated by spiritual enthusiasms, differs from his previous carnal self in perfectly definite ways." - Mark Vernon

1 comment:

  1. Terrific piece. Here are some words also to live by:

    “Regardless of whether one is a writer or a reader, one’s task consists first of all in mastering a life that is one’s own, not imposed or prescribed from without, no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends.”

    —Joseph Brodsky
    from Nobel Lecture 1987

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