Our Guiding Questions:
Spirituality & Unlimited Love
What do people mean when they self-report a spiritual experience of Unlimited Love, how common is this, and is this experience objectively associated with emotional healing and expanded benevolence?
The first indication that Unlimited Love is a spiritual reality must be that it is widely self-reported as experienced, and that its active effects are observed behaviorally in amplified benevolent actions.
Not having such a device to measure Unlimited Love, the best we can do is investigate human experience as subjectively reported. One self-report of such an experience comes from the poet W.H. Auden:
“One fine summer night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two woman and one man. We liked each other well enough but we were certainly not intimate friends, nor had anyone of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly – because, thanks to the power, I was doing it – what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. I was also certain, though the conversation continued to be perfectly ordinary, that my three colleagues were having the same experience. (In the case of one of them, I was able later to confirm this.) My personal feelings towards them were unchanged – they were still colleagues, not intimate friends – but I felt their existence as themselves to be of infinite value and rejoiced in it.” (1965, pp. 30-31)
This experience of being “invaded” speaks for itself, and it is not an experience that is terribly uncommon, as we shall see.
Another example is that of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, not previously a believer, who claims he saw and felt a white light that he perceived as the presence of God’s love. This occurred in his hospital room at a New York detox center on his fourth day of treatment: “It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man” (By David Brooks 2010, A31). Bill W. never drank again after that spiritual experience of December 14, 1934.
A scientific survey of randomly selected Americans conducted in 2010 with my two sociological colleagues, Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma is presented in our book entitled The Heart of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2013). The survey respondents were adult (18 years of age or older), and selected regardless of religious background, economic strata, educational level, ethnicity, or any other factor. Thus, the survey was totally random, and designed to provide a scientifically valid portrait of the experience of God’s love and its ramifications.
Almost half (45%) of all Americans feel God’s love at least once a day and eight out of ten have this experience at least “once in a while.” 9% claim that they experience God’s love more than once a day. Only 17% report no experience of God’s love. 83% indicate that they “feel God’s love increasing their compassion for others.” Thus, millions of Americans frequently experience divine love and for them this not only enhances existential well-being, but underlies a sense of personal meaning and purpose and enlivens compassion for others.
So is Unlimited Love Ultimate Reality? Eight out of ten Americans claim to have experienced God’s love, and they consider it to be “the greatest power in the universe.”
Further Writings on Spirituality & Unlimited Love
Rabbi Adam Stein on 6 Steps to Living in the Moment—Living a Life Devoid of Stress, Worry & Anxiety