A reader e-mailed me saying that he’s been going to church and enjoying the euphoric experiences of worship, and wants to know whether this is sufficient to be baptized and self-identify as a Christian. The church he’s attending encourages him to be baptized so that “the Holy Spirit can witness itself through epiphany”, and I’ve discouraged this because baptism is representative of belief and he’s not a believer. Here is my latest answer.
Euphoria is always emotionally true because it indicates fulfillment of a basic desire which had been neglected. The easiest example to understand is the overwhelming feeling of wellness after eating something with a nutrient in which your body is deficient. However, euphoria does not tell you whether everything in the food was good for you, or whether there will be deleterious long-term effects–there could be poison in your bone broth, and it’s a bad idea for depressed people to take cocaine to meet their dopamine needs. So the general answer to your question is that euphoria is a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation, and the witness of the Holy Spirit ought to include euphoria (though it may also produce stress, if it’s asking you to do something hard). Euphoria indicates the presence of truth but does not detect the possible presence of lies.
Geniuses are familiar with this distinction because we experience many epiphanies, which produce euphoria. An epiphany is a sudden realization of a truth which produces clarity for the solution of an emotionally important problem. A pedestrian example is when (if) a man realizes what he should do with his life–to suddenly have clarity on this problem produces euphoria. Generally, an epiphany produces perfect confidence in the solution at the beginning, and then this confidence erodes as the intellect chips away at the edge cases to restrict the truth to its proper domain. The genius then, if he is emotionally stable, admits his new idea is only, say, 60% true. A good modern example is utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham probably thought it would usher in utopia, but with the benefit of hindsight and intellectual criticism he would have to admit that moral action is more complicated than mere considerations of happiness and suffering. For example, there is also the purity/degradation axis to consider.
The way to know whether you’re on the right track is to judge whether your epiphanies produce a change in behavior that is *good*. In Christian lingo, we refer to this as “faith” and “works”, where salvation is produced by the Big Epiphany and the evidence/proof of this salvation comes from the change in the way a person acts afterward. Faith = the emotional response to the immensity of Jesus’ love, Works = the behavior of a person who is driven by gratitude to God to act as righteously as possible. The question of what is “good” can be analyzed separately, and it’s good to do so, but it is not necessary for action because we have a pretty reliable sense for what’s the right thing to do (although I’ll admit confusion on this point is increasing as the culture becomes chaotic). A robust sense of joy in the midst of suffering is a pretty reliable indicator because it can’t be produced any other way.
If you found this interesting, you may be interested in the more general topic of experientialism-as-evidence.