Part of growing up is to widen your mind, and my mind widening involved realizing that there were there people who disagreed with me, which I knew already, but that they did not see much weight in my arguments, a view that was reinforced by my experience of the school discussion group. To even things out, I saw little weight in theirs. At theological college I soon became aware that even within the supposed monolith of Catholicism there were serious differences of opinion. I argued much during that period, and have not really changed much since then! So my faith has had to grow in an encounter with intellectual opposition, which has tested its muscles and honed them. My faith survived.
Over the years I began to develop an interest in religious experience, which is one of my specialist academic areas.I began to realize that at the root of all genuine religion is what Beardsmore calls a sense of presence, and what Martin Buber calls presence/power. This is not the spectacular religious experience of the vision or mystical experience, though I once at twenty three underwent one of the latter, a few moments of nature mysticism when sitting atop Pen yr Oleu Wen one fine summer day in the Welsh mountains. For me religious experience is a sense that one is being empowered and/or guided in the direction of the good, it is a sense that there is more to the world than the material reality that we see and hear.
But religious experience alone does not suffice,for it is too vague and elusive and can let you down in moments of darkness and emptiness. . All human growth of mind occurs in community, and our thoughts are shaped by the ideas of the community to which we belong. My religious experience was mainly within the community of the church, which provided the conceptual framework for its formulation and use. The church allows us to share the religious experience off others, for alone our religious experience is not enough.
Valuing the church does not mean that everything in the Christian church is rosy and that any church, including mine, is right on everything,but that the main ideas are right.Right as far as they go, for only a simplistic person would think that we have done anything but sip at the divine mysteries which fascinate us. Realizing that our faith is just a tiny taste of a great mystery empowers us to grow in times of difficulty and darkness rather than give up.
Being saved is an important part of the Christian experience. For some the experience of being saved is a bombshell that erupts into consciousness at a Bible meeting. But I have always insisted to my charismatic and evangelical brethren that the path to God contains many ways, and for me the experience of being saved was not found in a single moment, but in an awareness that my nature and individual personality contain a dark side that can only be overcome by God.