Here is an email I received in response to one of my essays.
Nearly everyone claims to have found God when they feel something inside very pleasant and very different from anything they have felt before. There are three problems relying totally on this approach.
I think more reliable signs would be how you had changed for the better or how your life had turned around. These effects may take years to become apparent. Other people would probably tell you they thought your life was touched by God.
Thanks for sending me the link to Dick Sutphen’s excellent article about the techniques some preachers use to get people to have a bogus born again experience. Like Sutphen says, many ministers use those techniques without even being aware of it. But there are some honest preachers who are aware of it. I once attended a Southern tent revival (as an ;outside observer) and afterwards saw about fifty people approach the speaker and profess their newfound faith. Later, when I spoke to the minister about it, he lamented that he would be lucky if one or two of those people were actually sincere — and he cited some of the same things Sutphen did: the passion of the moment, getting caught up in the words, the emotion, the group hysteria etc. But while this preacher openly acknowledged the ;problem of group hypnosis, other ministers (as we all know) take advantage of it — usually for monetary reasons. I can’t tell you how frustrating this is to those who sincerely believe the Bible. It’s just like the serious gay rights activists who are constantly having to fight the negative image projected by those they, themselves, call flaming gays — the ones who dress up and behave obscenely in public parades. Corrupt ministers have been a thorn in Christains’ sides since the dawn of Christianity. That’s why, for the most part, attacks on Christianity for having such preachers are frustratingly ineffective; Christians, themselves, hate them.
But aside from that, Sutphen’s reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to those people who have religious experiences while alone, or to those whose conversion is a gradual process, or to those who are convinced on a supposedly intellectual level, or to those who believe they have witnessed a miracle.
But that is quite another class of people. We were discussing the vast majority of people who claim to have been touched by God. The intensity of the emotion is what convinced them something big happened. I converted to Islam at one point and experienced a delightful lightness of being quite unlike anything I had experienced before.
Although I don’t believe I’ve ever had a born again experience, I have had a couple of moments in my life where I was suddenly very much aware of some sort of God--either within me or without me--and I’ve never been able to find the words to describe it, let alone explain it or, harder still, justify it. Like Lew Wallace (Ben Hur), I once had such an experience while writing a story — alone.
Because the born again experience is a feeling, it’s difficult--and even ridiculous--for us to point our fingers at someone and say, No, you didn’t feel anything--and even if you did, it wasn’t what you think it was. Those who have had it claim it is as real as feeling the earth under your feet. When I was a little girl, someone described the sex act to me. Simply because I had not had the feeling I thought two people would have to be crazy to do that! But now I know what they were talking about. Being born again might be the same sort of thing.
At the same time, when someone claims a special relationship with God, and they are rude, intolerant and utterly convinced of the righteousness of all their opinions, I have some serious doubts. Just because they once felt something yummy means little. I get a sicky feeling every time I hear Christians emit their saccharine insincere messages. Is this God warning me to stay away from them?
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