Visions and other intense experiences are a part of the religious landscape. In some religions, some level of experiences are fairly common. In others, they are rare, granted only to important figures such as leaders or founders.
When a person claims such an experience, there are three common reactions of those who hear of it. The first is to believe. This most often happens with members of the same faith, although sometimes convincing description of the experience attracts converts.
The second is to accept the person is being honest, but that they are wrong on the nature of the experience. Drugs and illness are commonly suggested mundane causes for the supposed religion experience.
The third reaction is to accuse the supposed visionary of outright dishonesty. The person is accused of inventing the tale, usually to gain attention, standing within a religious community, or sources of income.
Historical vs. Modern ExperiencesMany people are willing to accept miraculous experiences have happened in the past even though they are much less likely to believe such a thing could happen now. Christians can believe in the prophets of the Old Testament while decrying modern prophets as fakes, for example.
Likewise, all Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets who repeated the wishes of God word for word, but they will not accept the existence of a prophet since Muhammad. The Baha'i are seen as heretics by Muslims because the Baha'i believe that Muhammad was a prophet but that Baha'u'llah superseded Muhammad. The Baha'i, in turn, do not believe another prophet will appear for more than a thousand years.
The Nature of Religious ExperienceIn conventional thinking, judging a religious experience is fairly Boolean: it either happened, or it didn't, and it either represents exactly what the person experienced, or it was the result of some sort of corruption, such as illness or chemical. Either God talked to the person, or he didn't.
But what if true religious experience was more complicated than that? Many religious people consider the spiritual world – whether it be populated by a single god, many gods, spirits, energy, or whatever – to be something greater than human comprehension. Thus, whatever one experiences in a vision or trance might be the brain's best interpretation of whatever power to which it has connected.
As such, Christians might see an angel or saint, while non-Christians do not. Moses heard God speak through a burning bush. Shamans enter a shifting dreamworld during trance because that is the cultural expectation.
Followers of modern religions therefore might experience particularly modern encounters. Rael, prophet, founder and messiah of the Raelian Movement, has professed multiple meetings with our creators – the Elohim – on board a spaceship. While we aren't used to religious revelation coming from aliens, the messages of the Elohim were quite in line with religious revelations: their expectations for humanity, a warning of what might befall us if we do not comply, the promise of a new age if we do, the choosing of a messenger, and so forth.
Critics generally feel Rael's credibility hinges on one of two facts: either a spaceship really landed and aliens spoke to Rael, or they did not and Rael is inventing the entire story. But what if there is a third version, where Rael had a genuine religious experience, and his brain best comprehended the experience as an alien encounter? Rael was raised an atheist in a culture fascinated with UFO studies. It is a context that makes sense to him, whereas an angel, saint or god would not.