The German Lutheran scholar Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) describes The Holy in terms of a personal experience.
In The Idea of the Holy (1917) he borrows from the Latin word numen when introducing the term numinous, which refers to “deeply felt religious experience.”
Experience of the numinous may derive from a monotheistic God or from many pagan gods. When originating from God, Otto says the numinous is endowed with “rationality, purpose, personality and morality.” Pagan numinosity, he suggests, is somehow inferior.
Otto makes a similar distinction between magic and religion. Not trying to be non-judgmental or politically correct, he says magic manifests a “dimmed” numinous, in contrast to the experience of God, which he describes as an awe-filled encounter, a mysterium tremendum and a majestus.
For Otto, the experience of God is the highest type of numinosity. It’s a personal experience of an omnipotent, omniscient power that’s worthy of utmost respect and which inspires not just awe, but also a healthy kind of fear.
The individual is urgently attracted to this power, but the experience of the Godhead may also frighten, humble and purify.
In addition, Otto notes that one would experience a sense of creaturely unworthiness and perhaps wretchedness, standing naked, as it were, in the face of such a great, powerful and “wholly other” Godhead.
- An Outline of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy (epages.wordpress.com)
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