Religion and/or insanity

If you cry because you did not understand other people’s feelings, it may be repentance. If you cry because other people don’t understand your feelings, it is more likely depression.

My only curious reader (I can see on my bandwidth log that the rest of you are out there, but evidently not curious enough to comment or mail me) has another question worthy of a small essay.

How do you tell the difference between a religious/spiritual experience and insanity or a hallucination?

First off, hallucinations are optional. There are certainly people who see lights or shapes or hear voices from beyond, but these are just the form their revelation clothes itself in. You just said it was a spiritual experience, right? Our senses are not our spirit, even in ordinary life. The blind is no less spiritual than the seeing, and old people may gradually lose their hearing but their spirit is unchanged. So the form in which the revelation imparts itself is not important. In fact, having high-resolution visions can scare people or puff them up, neither of which is the purpose of revelation.

What is important is a change of heart. And in that regard, I have to say that there is no objective distinction between the outbreak of religion and insanity, except that they have opposite direction.  In fact, there is every year in every western country (and probably elsewhere too) numerous people who go insane and who personally believe that their insanity is religion.

It is necessary that you see yourself objectively from outside in order to establish whether your experience is spiritual or just insane.

First off, insanity is incoherent. This is more or less its calling card. Religion, on the other hand, should be coherent. It should make the pieces come together and increase the sense of meaning and purpose.

Next, religion causes the will to serve. You may remember the famous line from Milton, where he lets Lucifer say that it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven. So if your spiritual experience causes you to think that others should serve you, then you may have had a meeting with an evil spirit, I suppose. Or you may just be insane.  In either case, it is certainly not a glimpse of Heaven you have had. For if you had, you would know the value of serving, of helping others, that it is its own reward and needs no other.

Generally, someone who knows of Heaven only from hearsay may think that if he is good and humble here on Earth, he will get his reward in Heaven. This reward, whatever it is, should then consist of something else than being good and humble.  But someone who has glimpsed Heaven in some way will know that to serve (which is the combination of goodness and humility) is actually Heaven itself.

But certainly it can look like insanity for people around you. The old way of hoarding stuff, seeking status, and using others for our own pleasure is pretty much the norm, so you will look strange and your old friends may shun you.

And of course, for most of us, the spiritual experience is a pretty brief thing. So we will be left in a kind of in-between state of mind, where the old nature, the small self, tries to reassert itself. In most cases it succeeds, at least to some degree and for some time. Few are those who turn suddenly from sinner to saint, although it has certainly happened.

So in short, the religious or spiritual experience is not measured by its intensity or its display of visions or voices, but by its ability to turn our life toward a much higher purpose. If that does not happen, there is every reason to question it.