Is personal experience enough?

A question for Wiccans and NeoPagans:

I hear a lot of you criticizing Christians for the trust we place in mediated experience, ie in ancient sacred texts and the teachings of a guy who lived 2000 years ago.

I have a question: Have you ever experienced doubt in the course of your journey? Gone through that dark night of the soul? A down time when spirit seemed illusive?

How do you deal with the experience of doubt given your pathway is so reliant on direct experience? Do you trust such doubt experiences and take them to their ultimate conclusion? Or do you sometimes doubt your doubts? Can you concede that sometimes we lack sufficient experience, that sometimes we need to move beyond personal experience?

Can you appreciate that sometimes others, wise ones of great depth perhaps, have gone way beyond us and sometimes we need to trust their experience more than our own? Who are the wisest and most trustworthy ones you know? Is it really so objectionable that Christians like myself place great trust in the experiences of Christ?

I have no problem with personal experience. I treasure it. But is it enough? I'd be interested in your honest response.

3 thoughts on “Is personal experience enough?

  1. I think this is a legitimate question to ask, Matt. Experience of the divine is important, particularly as a reaction against the intellectual and dogmatic elements found in much of evangelical Christianity, but has the emphasis on experience gone to the other extreme in Paganism and Wicca? How do we find the spiritual balance in experiencing the divine, recognizing that we need to make greater room for mystery and immanence, and yet still involve the mind in our spirituality?

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  2. I’ve got another question – how can an emphasis on direct, presonal experience be reconciled with communitarianism – ie. perhaps trusting the experiences of others is an exercise in community-building??

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  3. There are polar positions that operate in tension with one another, namely experiential at one end and the intellectual at the other; and, another vector of individual at one end and community at the other.
    I see this as an issue where one must exercise “both/and”, and eschew “either/or”. So it is both experience and intellect; it is both individual and communal. Finding the mid-point between these poles is the trick.
    For example, Bec raises the communal issue, which is important. That is, the individual being held accountable to a wider group. This is valuable as a check against the individual exalting self over against the community, and wandering off on the basis of subjective experiences. Subjective experiences may be valid, and may be open to mutuality. But they can also be prone to misperception or self-deception. To avoid self-aggrandizement and creating “misbeliefs”, the individual needs the communal element.
    The flip side though is that the communal group is also prone to collective error. That is, an individual may have a specific, indeed unique experience, and that experience shows the communal setting to be astray. In that context, the individual may be a prophet to an errant group.
    So, to take cases, Jim Jones of the Peoples’ Temple led a large group of people into Guyana in the late 1970s, and his own subjective experiences became somewhat delusional but beyond the reach of the community to act decisively in bringing him into stasis. Instead, this was a case of an individual astray who then destroyed an entire group.
    Ancient Israel in the monarchy went astray collectively, and prophets arose as the nation’s conscience. A case of community astray, and the lone individual calling for correction.
    I feel that if we look to a “both/and”, we might look at the reconciliation of intellect and feeling, and come to the point of “the feeling intellect”, because God is the author of both emotions and ratiocination.
    The difficulty is that in the pathway Jesus presents is that we are finite, and sullied somewhat from being fully functional in both feeling and intellect. And the temptation is to try to overcome the categories on our own effort, and that always has the potential for warping.
    Perhaps the great frontier for today’s footstep followers of Jesus’ way is to consider in reflections a theological topic not spoken of enough: the “noetic effects of grace”. In theology the impact of humanity’s “fall” is technically referred to as the “noetic effect of sin” — the impact of sin on the soul, and the impairment of the human to function properly in mind, body and spirit. There’s a lot of ink on that. But, with the in-breaking of Jesus’ grace, and grace is to abound and sin is to be eradicated; then, what sort of rolling back starts now with grace operating? Perfectionism has to be eschewed as yet another form of self-deceit. However, if grace begins to operate then what are the noetic effects of grace on the emotions/subjective/feelings and on reasoning/ratiocination — and how do the two operate in sync?
    Perhaps just another way of looking through the glass darkly?

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