Where The Stories Come From

The accounts in the The Kindness of God, came from four sources: from the Religious Experience Research Center (RERC), from solicitations posted on the Internet, from various books, and from personal connections.

The Religious Experience Research Center

The RERC had its beginning at Manchester College, Oxford in 1969, where it was known as the Religious Experience Research Unit (RERU). The RERU was the idea of Sir Alister Hardy. Hardy, born in Nottingham, England in 1896, was a renowned zoologist, who had received a knighthood in recognition of his oceanographic work that allowed England's fisheries to prosper. His career as a scientist reached a pinnacle of prestige when he became the Linacre Professor of Zoology at Oxford University.

Hardy's interest in the spiritual nature of man began in 1925, when he read a description of a religious experience in the newspaper. But for a variety of reasons, he only got started seriously in 1968, when Manchester College provided office space for him to begin his researches.

A renowned scientist, his decision to research the character of religious experience was personally expensive. A few members of the scientific and religious communities were intrigued by his decision; but quite a large number thought otherwise. Some scientists were of the opinion that Hardy could think anything he wanted to about religion, but was a fool to announce this new research direction. Some religious leaders were of the opinion that science is the opposite of religion and scientists should stick to their own business and leave religion alone.

The upshot of all this was that Hardy resigned his position as Professor of Zoology, causing him to lose the fund raising connections he had developed over the years. So, he began lecture tours in England and America, and raised enough funds to begin a modest start. He published an appeal, as part of a newspaper interview:

"Professor Hardy proposes, if readers will kindly cooperate, to study and compare as many personal records of such experiences as possible. He invites all who have been conscious of, and perhaps influenced by, some such power, whether they call it the power of God or not, to write a simple and brief account of these feelings and their effects."

Appeals appeared in more newspapers, and by the time his book The Spiritual Nature of Man was published in 1979, over 3000 accounts had been received and catalogued; and by 2003, the number had grown to 6000. The RERU was renamed the Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) and moved to the University of Wales, Lampeter, where it now resides.

Skeptics may complain about the unverifiable nature of these experiences. To them I point out that a criterion for assessing the reality of an experience would be that if it enhances life and leaves the person "better" or more whole, it must be considered real. These experiences happen to real people, people living at the some time as the rest of us, and a comment so often made is that it is difficult to express what happened in words. I think the best answer to the skeptics is the quote Jesus, "By their fruits you shall know them." In other words, the results speak for themselves.

Internet Solicitations

The Internet provided access to people worldwide. A solicitation for personal stories was posted on the web site "KindnessofGod.com", and also through postings on bulletin boards, especially Craig's List. Requests were sent to schools of theology, the Association for Research and Enlightenment, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and to spiritual guidance counselors. More than 100 stories were collected, and about one-third of the accounts included in The Kindness of God are from this source.

How Common Is This, Anyway?

The reader may wonder how common, or uncommon, these experiences are among people like you and I. Who has these experiences, anyway? The answer may surprise you, it certainly surprised me. The answer is that they are actually rather common. Surveys were taken in England by the National Opinion Polls, Ltd, and in the United States by Gallup. The question asked was:
"Have you ever been aware of or influenced by a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday self?"
Incredibly, as it turned out, somewhat more than 36% of those questioned responded positively to this question.  The experience is more common in women (41%) than in men (31%), and is more common in older people (47% for those aged 65 and up, compared with 29% for those aged 16-24 years).

In an early survey, David Hay, a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, developed a random sample of 100 students in his department, and sent out a questionnaire asking the same question as above.  He found that 65% answered "Yes", 29% answered "No", and 6% were unsure. A few years later, David Hay and Ann Morisy, armed with clipboards, surveyed 172 randomly selected people in Nottingham, England, and an astounding 107, or 62%, responded positively to the same question.

The surveys also showed that the more education people have, the more likely they are to have had a religious experience:  56% of those who had gone through some form of higher education reported it, while only 29% of those who had left school at fifteen did so. With regard to church attendance, only 26% of those who avoid church if they can reported positively, while 56% of those who attend church regularly did so.

So, the experience is common; but few of us talk about it. These figures certainly highlight the hesitation against even discussing such experiences.

Why should this be the case? I think people don't talk about these things for fear of being considered "crazy" "barmy" "nuts" "menopausal" and so forth. Many, perhaps most, of those who have these experiences find it difficult to speak about them. And certainly, none of us wants to expose ourselves to ridicule. Here are some of the reasons given by the respondents:

- The experience is very personal.
- The experience is holy. It is something that should not be exposed.
- The experience is so totally different from everyday life and realities that they   fear being considered crazy. Many have written as strongly as they could that     they are just ordinary people and not given to visions or hallucinations.
-Some have spoken of their experiences to one or two trusted people and were    rebuffed, and therefore never again mentioned it. This was particularly             painful if the person spoken to was a minister of the Church.
- The experience is so special that the person who recounts it must feel that it is   acceptable to the listener.

Books

  1. Sir Alister Hardy, The Spiritual Nature of Man, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979.
  2. Med Maxwell and Verena Tschudin, Seeing the Invisible, Religious Experience Research Center, 2005
  3. Timothy Beardsworth, A Sense of Presence, The Religious Experience Research Unit, 1977.
  4. Edward Robinson, The Original Vision, The Seabury Press, 1983.
  5. David Hay, Exploring Inner Space, Penguin Books, 1982.
  6. William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, The Modern Library, 1936.
  7. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Pass It On, New York, 1984.
  8. Mark Fox, Religion, Spirituality, and the Near-Death Experience, Routledge, London, 2003.
  9. Donna Piccoli-Fletcher, J.D., Lessons of Love - Straight from God to you, Cantage Press, New York, 2004.
  10. Raymond Moody, Life after Life, Harper Collins, New York, 1975-2001.

Websites


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