Why Religious Experience and Pragmatic Arguments Aren’t Enough to Defend the Faith

In previous posts, we have discussed the various apologetic methods and systems that have been utilized by many apologists. 

But for many people, God’s existence has little to do with evidence and  arguments. Rather, people claim that belief in God is based on a private religious experience. Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience. While religious experience is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. In my view, personal religious experience doesn’t negate the need for having other good reasons for one’s faith.

What About Our Beliefs and Pragmatic Benefit?

There is some overlap here between what we just discussed about religious experience. Our culture is built on pragmatism. If something doesn’t work, you try something else that gets results. Thus, the idea that “if theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true” are seen in the writings of William James (1842–1910) and recently by neopragmatist Richard Rorty (1931–2007). People want to know if beliefs can be tried and tested out in the reality of life. This does have some merit. After all, if one’s faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. However, what would you say if a person of another religious background said the following: “I follow Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, or another faith because it makes a difference in my life.” Would you consider committing to a different belief system just because it has led to moral and personal transformation? Once again, the lesson here is that the practical difference a belief makes in one’s life should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for what we believe.