Sunday, January 7, 2007

Mysterium Tremendum

Have you read The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto? I like Otto’s explication of the human sense of mysterium tremendum – of the ineffable, unapproachable, awe-inspiring, sometimes terrifying Other. Some would describe it as the sense that God is near.

The Idea of the Holy was one of C.S. Lewis' ten favorite books; he also wrote about mysterium tremendum.

Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, in recent books, are doing serious work to reduce religious phenomena to natural causes. They are brilliant men. Still, for me, the reductiveness still leaves something to be desired: our imagination, both intellectual and fantastical, moves not from the great things to the small things, but from the small things to the great things, as if we know there's something meaningful beyond us. Isn't imagination itself meaningful, just the fact that imagination is possible?

It was way back in the 1600s when the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, but still, something about his take on reason makes intuitive sense. Pascal argued, “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things beyond it.”

When we sense something of the infinite number of things beyond reason, we call it mystery.

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