Friday, February 22, 2013

The Top Ten Definitions of God - Honorable Mention 3

The Mysterium Tremendum
—Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), German Lutheran theologian, in The Idea of the Holy

I wept when I pulled this one from the top ten, but I felt many of its concepts were found in other definitions. Indeed, Otto had a great influence over theologians and others, including Martin Heidegger, Carl Jung, and C. S. Lewis. “God is the mysterium tremendum that appears and overthrows, but he is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I.” wrote Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965).

Otto coined the term 'numinous' to describe the "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self". Ironically the four horsemen of 'New Atheism' embraced the term without realizing it was fashioned by a Lutheran theologian. 
(I have long suspected those four were religious, but they insist religion must be unchangeable, repressive rules and beliefs.)

Otto calls the numinous reality "Wholly Other"—totally different from anything in this world. The experience of the numinous is the mysterium tremendum.

Here's a favorite Otto quote: "The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide . . . It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering."

Other terms used to describe the mysterium tremendum are: beyond rational and ethical conceptions, non-empirical, non-utilitarian, simultaneously attractive and repugnant, monstrous and sublime, creative, urging humility and simultaneously exaltation, outside space and time, bi-polar, terror and attraction, horror and fascination, daemonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, creature-consciousness and the simultaneous experiencing of the self as nothing, a need for covering.

This is not God for the aloof or the timid. Many definitions of God are comforting; the mysterium tremendum confesses to the paroxysm as we peer over the existential abyss. Dominican Meister Eckhart, a fascinating German medieval philosopher, theologian and mystic captured the feeling long before Otto when he wrote, "Let us pray to God to be free of 'God'." Among the many implications of the mysterium tremendum, I get the feeling that the truly religious should make great sexual partners.


Big Myk said...

I would have placed this one in the top 10. I don't know all what's coming, but I would have been tempted to place this one as Number 1.

James R said...

I feel your pain—as I stated. Perhaps I should have kept it in there. I hope you are not disappointed in the final results. Of course, controversy, second-guessing, and speculation never hurt in boosting the ratings.