Basing Beliefs Only on Emotions and Subjective Experiences Can Be Dangerous!

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend who shared how his mom claims to hear messages from God and sometimes these individual specific messages have been related to him and she shares them with him and expects him to respond as if it is God’s Word to him.  He of course questions such revelations.  He asks her how she can confirm such words from God?  Her response is you can’t invalidate my experience; I know what I heard; I know what I have received from God!

My friend’s response to her, “How is that any different from Joseph Smith [founder of Mormonism]?  Everyone has their own experiences, based on how you are confirming your own beliefs?”

Let’s be honest, most of our beliefs are lived in accordance to what we have experienced.  I trust the chair I am sitting in right now won’t break.  I haven’t inspected it all; I have just sat down in it because it’s in front of a table.  I do this based on past experiences, I’ve never had a chair break on me before, and I have only seen a chair break for one other person and that person was much larger than me.  However, the sturdiness of a chair can be confirmed apart from individual experience; I do not know the proper formulas and processes, but I trust the people who do whose jobs are to design safe chairs for sitting, so I base my decisions on my experiences in this situation, however such testing can be confirmed and tested objectively by anyone.

When I was very young, I believed Santa Claus traveled the whole world and gave presents to good kids and I also believed that Jesus was God and that he died for the sins of the world.  I believed these based on my experiences; my parents were trustworthy from what I had experienced.  But as I grew older I began to see objective evidence that this couldn’t be true (the presents I received on Christmas were already in the house weeks before Dec. 25th), so I rejected my beliefs in Santa Claus, but I still held to my beliefs concerning Jesus because I hadn’t found any objective evidence to dissuade that conviction despite learning that my parents weren’t as trustworthy as I had thought.  So I must admit my beliefs in Jesus began from experiences only; I had no evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead, besides being able to say, “The Bible tells me so.”

Saying the Bible is the Word of God because it tells me so, gets me back to my friend’s argument with his mom; if that’s all the evidence you have to make that claim, it’s no different than saying the Qur’an is the word of God because it says it is.  How can we invalidate such arguments, if a person just “feels” they are true?  This is in fact the arguments that Mormons make.  They believe in Mormonism because of the “burning in their bosom.”  But what if the feelings change?  Or the previous feelings aren’t felt any longer?  It’s a dangerous way to justify a belief as worldview impacting as a religious truth-claim.  I wonder if it’s why so many kids raised in the church leave the church and the faith when they leave their parents’ homes to go to college.

The problem with many religious truth-claims is that they aren’t falsifiable because they are wrapped up solely in internal, emotions, or subjective experiences.

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Andy Wrasman

I live in Lilburn, GA, with my wife and two young kids. I am a pastor at Oak Road Lutheran Church. I've written a book called, Contradict - They Can't All Be True. Be sure to visit my other website:

2 thoughts on “Basing Beliefs Only on Emotions and Subjective Experiences Can Be Dangerous!

  1. 1. Question. If Ia person believes Jesus is Lord and savior because of a “feeling” and nothing else are they saved? (personally I think they are)
    2. Question. A women in the south who has been a Christian their whole life because,”that is how they their were raised and that’s what they believe”. Is this women being irrational because they do not know how to use the kalam cosmological argument or discuss the finer points in defending her faith? Her best response is, because I get a feeling when I read god’s word. In other words, are we saying she may believe in the right thing but for bad reasons? and If that is the case, honestly, so what?

  2. 1. I think so too, David. Experiential belief is very strong and convincing. If a Christian beliefs solely based on intellect and never experiences Christ in their lives, and the theology they know in their head never gets to their heart that can be rough too if they ever encounter an argument they can’t counter. Feelings can just be tough because what if you have “lost that loving feeling?” Do the doubts creep in, does a new feeling take its place and become what you place your trust in.

    2. No. And to be honest the Kalam argument doesn’t have to do with Jesus, it just has to do with God. Correct me if I am wrong David, because I know you know a lot more about the Kalam argument than me, but didn’t the Kalam argument arise from the Muslim community?

    And that feeling, to be honest, is likely the Holy Spirit. I feel the Spirit! I know I have been touched by God. But you may not feel the same thing, and if you don’t feel what I feel, would that mean you aren’t a Christian, or you don’t have the Holy Spirit? No! Feelings aren’t universal, and neither are experiences, so it’s good to get beyond those and ground faith in objectivity, not just for the individual Christian but for sharing the faith with others who are not Christian. At least that is my thought on the subject. I’d love to hear from others, and I don’t mean to put down experiences or feelings as the basis for belief, the title of the post was about “only” using emotions and experiences to base a belief.

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