Last night, I watched this very interesting video from Derren Brown‘s Fear and Faith series:
I won’t spoil the video for you, as it’s well worth a watch. But the idea is simply that with the administration of the right techniques, a skilled person is able to give another person a seemingly genuine spiritual experience.
I think it goes without saying that many or most church leaders have good motives (they are, after all, trying to “save the lost”). However, they still employ many of the techniques shown in the video, albeit much more subtly – even if they are not doing so deliberately or deviously. (There are some who are devious, of course.)
Brown achieved a great deal in a very intense 15 minute conversation, so it is no surprise that so many people have religious experiences after attending churches for many years – especially if they began as children.
People who have spent a great deal of time in church know what religious experiences are “meant to be like”, as they have witnessed them and heard stories about them. This makes it easier to have the “right kind” of religious experience.
Hindus experience the Hindu gods. Muslims experience Allah. Jews experience Yahweh. Christians experience Jesus. A long time member of a Mormon church is unlikely to have an experience of a Bahai god. A long time member of a High Anglican church is unlikely to have a “spirit filled” experience of uncontrollable laughing or speaking in tongues.
People have precisely the kinds of religious experiences they have seen others have. And people from all religions have such experiences, regarding them as authentic encounters with a deity. Since these religions teach that the deities of other religions don’t really exist, members of these religions must accept that most (if not all) religious experiences are not authentic. And this means that personal religious experiences should not be trusted. There are plenty of people who have experiences that seem just as authentic as yours, but are mistaken. Simply having an experience that seems authentic does not entail that it is.