Can You Trust Your Personal Religious Experience?
Here’s a story for you: When I was younger, say the beginning of high school, I used to tell my friends the woods behind my house was haunted. They all obviously wanted to see this, I was ok with that. They would all come over and stay the night. Around midnight we would all go out into the forest and I would take them on a “guided tour” through the haunted area. I would instruct them all to be very quiet and walk in a straight line, for safety reasons. No flash lights, only the light from the moon would guide us.
As we trekked through the woods I would tell my friends that we were being followed by shadow creatures and then I would point out where they were, jumping from tree to tree or just off in the distance of the brush. When the wind blew I would tell them the creatures were moving and ask them to look for trees that swayed too much, where it was obvious something was jumping to or from. They would tell me they saw something to left running alongside us and I’d say “Good, keep track of it, tell me if it gets too close.” I’d lead them out pretty far into the woods until we got to a certain point in this field, where there was a large odd looking knoll, the only one in the area. I’d have them sit there and discuss what they’ve seen so far and people would claim to see shadow things out in the field moving around, trying to get closer to us.
Then I would take them back out of the woods the same way, still one by one, still pointing out monsters hiding in the darkness. Everyone was scared and excited when we got back to the house and couldn’t sleep for hours. I even took my step-brothers out there once and they refused to come back out with me because of how intense it felt for them. Every one of my friends swore there was something wrong with the woods behind my house. One friend even described it as a “religious” experience for him. He explained that he believed the creatures to be demons.
Here’s another one: A few years back, while I was still in the Air Force, I had a “religious” experience at work. I was fairly addicted to caffeine and I consumed a large amount it. That particular day, I had likely used to caffeinated soap to wake up in the morning, chewed caffeinated gum all day and I know I had just drank about three Red Bulls in a row for my own personal amusement. I’d first like to state that “coder + caffeine = code”. That’s my pathetic excuse for level of caffeine I was on. I was standing at the other end of a large cubicle talking with a coworker about something when I glanced over at my corner of the large cube. Sitting in my seat was a four armed, half-naked, dark blue woman with a large golden headdress. Then she waved at me.
My speaking paused for about a second while my highly caffeinated brain processed what had just happened at rapid speed. “Did I really see what I just saw? Must have been a hallucination. Dismiss it for now and finish making your point to Ryan.” And so I did. After the conversation was over I explained why I paused and what I had seen. All parties present agreed I should probably cut back on the caffeine rather dramatically and start drinking some water right then. After a Google search by a friend of mine it was determined that I had had a vision of Kali, the goddess of destruction.
Here’s the point of both of these stories. I knew nothing was in those woods. I directed the experience from the beginning. I used their fear of the dark and of the unknown to convince them something was there, just beyond the edge of their senses. I did that all in good fun and my friends did enjoy it, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened very often. I did not see Kali the Destroyer; I had a caffeine induced hallucination. Neither of those experiences was actually religious. You can’t always trust personal experiences. You may think a god has spoken to you, but maybe you just had too much caffeine. You might think you’ve seen demons but maybe someone was just playing on your fears, or maybe you’ve even gotten yourself worked up over those fears of yours.
You can’t live your life based on a personal experience that could have had no basis in reality, but only in your mind. Can you be 100% sure that shadow you saw was a creature following you in the woods, or are you just scared and let that fear get the best of you? If what you experienced can’t be explained rationally then it can’t be trusted. It could be confirmation bias, a hallucination, or maybe even paradoilla. If you can’t explain what happened then you don’t really understand what happened and you shouldn’t make any decisions based on that experience. Just let it go, don’t pray to it.