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Numen – The Most Powerful Nod On Earth

While looking through my specialized news topics I’m beginning to see stories distinguishing between the words luminosity and numinosity. Generally speaking, the one means observable light and the other the inner light and power described by religious and non-religious mystics.

I’ve written a lot about numinosity over the years, here and in academic essays. But I thought it would be interesting to post an addendum about the word numen, from which numinosity springs.

Numen is a Latin noun variously translated as nod, command, will, consent, inspiration, divine will, divine power, divinity, deity, godhead, divine majesty, god, or goddess.

Robert Schilling maintains that numen is based on the Greek neuma, which “signifies the manifestation, will or power of a divinity.” Schilling cites Festus’ (1913) definition: “The numen is, as it were, the nod or power of a god” and argues that some scholars “have tried to give a completely different orientation to the Latin term by identifying numen with a Melanesian word, mana.”

Schilling adds that R. H. Coddington defined mana in 1891 as an “autonomous, impersonal force,” likening numen and mana to “an impersonal active power.”¹

We don’t know for sure how numen became numinosity, as popularized by thinkers like Carl G. Jung. Websters dictionary gives a simplified answer but I suspect the true linkages are a bit more complicated:

How did numen, a Latin term meaning “nod of the head,” come to be associated with spiritual power? The answer lies in the fact that the ancient Romans saw divine force and power operating in the inanimate objects and nonhuman phenomena around them. They believed that the gods had the power to command events and to consent to actions, and the idea of a god nodding suggested his or her awesome abilities-divine power. Eventually, Latin speakers began using numen to describe the special divine force of any object, place, or phenomenon that inspired awe (a mystical-seeming wooded grove, for example, or the movement of the sun), and numen made the semantic leap from “nod” to “divine will or power.” English speakers adopted the word during the 1600s.²

The German Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto describes the numinous as conveying a strong sense of power. He says the numinous is an experience containing elements of “Awefulness,” “Overpoweringness” and “Energy” or “Urgency.” Otto also says that numinosity has dark and inferior elements which perhaps are not holy but nonetheless numinous.

More recently, some have suggested that numinosity may mingle with sensuality and other alleged phenomena like extraterrestrial contact. Religious fundamentalists tend to balk at these recent developments. However, if Catholic mysticism is to be any standard of excellence, some of the Catholic saints hint at a link between spirituality and sensuality.

The Catholic Church also endorses the inquiry into ETs. In that sense, the Catholics might be a step ahead of the Biblical fundamentalists who arguably project everything they do not experience on to the figure of Satan.

We’ll probably find out what’s what sooner or later, in this life or the next. In the meantime, I think it’s good to consider the numen with an open mind. Too many people are deemed nuts or crazy if they talk about it. And this could be a tragic mistake.

¹ Robert Schilling, “Numen” in Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 11. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987, pp. 21-22.


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What is the New Age?

New Age Dolphin Rainbow via Wikipedia

What is the New Age?

Some say the New Age arose as a marketing category in the 1980s, with New Age ideas bubbling up in the ’60s and ’70s.

Scholars point out that the media also uses the term, along with individual seekers and noncommercial organizations.

Whatever its origins, the New Age refers to almost anything relating to contemporary spiritual discourse and practice—at least, those not getting an official stamp of approval from organized religion.

New Age beliefs either sell or sink into oblivion. Unlike churches, the call for cash usually isn’t couched in soft, pious sounding language.

New Age practitioners tend to be up-front about what they claim to offer and what you’ll pay. That doesn’t necessarily mean that their claims are true or that they are not shameless scammers.

New Age books, music, lectures, workshops, podcasts, videos and websites focus on humanity’s development, usually with goals like self-actualization, natural healing, eco-friendly living, and global transformation.

At the outset of the 20th-century, the American psychologist and philosopher William James outlined in his The Varieties of Religious Experience several spiritual trends remarkably similar to today’s concept of the New Age:

…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give [it] the title of the ‘Mind-Cure movement.’ There are various sects of this ‘New Thought,’ to use another of the names by which it calls itself.¹

Portrait de William James

Portrait de William James (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 1980s some Christian fundamentalists denounced the New Age as the workings of Satan.

Figures like C. G. Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Fritjof Capra were caricatured as Satanic hostiles to apparently true fundamentalist renderings of the Christian faith. Funny thing about rigid, narrow-minded fundamentalists is that most seem unaware that they are interpreting.

Recently, fundamentalist attacks have shifted from targeting perceived demonic threats to countering secular and scientific worldviews. Believers in evolution sans God are the new devils in the flesh to be opposed by fundamentalists believing they have a privileged interpretation of scripture.

This shift is probably due to advances in sequencing genomes. The possibilities of this technology are staggering, and new developments are often frightening to those deeply entrenched in centuries of cultural bias.

Image –

To me, a lot of the debate I see between science and religion seems about as informed as a Mutt and Jeff comic. Both camps – science and religion – can be extremists and dialog between them often misses the mark.

The solution, I think, is to avoid either/or situations and look at science, religion and the New Age in terms of what helps us and what doesn’t.

¹ William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin, 1985 [1902], p. 94.

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Q – It’s okay to be uncertain

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve – Wikipedia

The Catholic Monk Thomas Merton once said that the Bible is a difficult, perplexing work. It doesn’t make sense. It has contradictions. And its Old Testament often portrays God as an immature, violent ogre. But with his hallmark Christian optimism, Merton says that’s exactly why he likes the Bible. It’s not fake or flaky. It portrays life as it really is.

Warts Exposed

I admit that some New Age websites telling us that “love is all around” give me the feeling that something not too loving is brewing underneath the surface of all that sugary sweetness. So I tend to agree with Merton. The Bible doesn’t cover up but exposes warts. Its compilers didn’t edit out apparent inconsistencies but left them in. Note the two different accounts of Creation in Genesis, for instance. Or Jesus saying we need to hate our parents, spouse, kids and siblings to follow him (Luke 14:26).

In the New Testament you’d think these difficulties and contentious scenarios would have disappeared. After all, many years had passed since Old Testament times and the relatively modern people around Jesus’ day could have edited everything into a nice, neat package. A package without contradictions.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

What about Q?

Most scholars agree that the New Testament was formed from an oral tradition. Christ lived his life, sometimes solitary, other times with his followers. People told stories about Christ and the Gospel writers collected those tales, probably according to their political and pastoral needs.

Some Gospel writers likely borrowed from existing texts. The words didn’t enter directly into their minds as some fundamentalists would say. At least, that is how it seems from the textual evidence.

10th century CE Byzantine illustration of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia

No one can say for sure. It is possible that the Gospel writers were divinely inspired to say the same things the same way. I considered that perspective soon after my conversion to Christianity. But years of study have tempered my thinking… for better or for worse.

One obvious feature of the Gospels is the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent in Mark.

Different theories try to explain this.

A prevailing idea is Q theory. Q sounds hip and cool but I doubt that’s why religious scholars chose it. The theory cropped up in the early 1900s and, as far I know, marketing wasn’t a burning academic issue at that time.

Johannes Weiss was a German Protestant scholar who first coined the name “Q.” He used Q to refer to some of that shared material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. For decades most scholars assumed that Q alluded to the German word quelle, meaning “source.” But recent studies indicate that “Q” might have been chosen on a whim.

So maybe Weiss and his followers were trying to be trendy. Who knows. Before the word Q caught fire, researchers called this material the logia, calling to mind images of stony faced scholars sifting through weighty volumes in dusty old libraries.

What is most important to remember about Q is that it is a purely hypothetical document. Archaeologists have never discovered evidence that it actually exists. Not even a scrap or fragment. Despite this, some scholars carry on as if it were fact.

For and Against

Elaine Pagels is a religion writer who rose to prominence with her 1979 bestseller, The Gnostic Gospels. Pagels believes in Q because, as she points out, Jesus spoke in Aramaic. He, himself, wrote nothing. So Jesus’ actual sayings come to us through translated sources. But not only that. Our earliest existing sources are in Greek

New Testament apocrypha – Wikipedia

Whatever Jesus did say, our version has been translated at least once by somebody else. The fact that Jesus’ sayings are so strikingly similar in Matthew and Luke points to the existence of a textual source from which they were copied—namely, Q.²

Opponents of Q theory say the early Christians would have revered such an immediate record of their savior’s sayings, not allowing it to be misplaced or destroyed.

So where is Q? If Q did exist, how could the early Church have lost a document so important and essential to its formation?

Detractors have a simple answer. The early Christians would not have lost it. Q never existed.

For me it doesn’t really matter if Q existed or not. It is a compelling idea but as Pagels suggests, quite a few links were forged over the centuries from the era of Jesus and the occupying Romans to current, 21st century versions of the Bible. With much uncertainty accrued over two millennia, it would be unwise to fixate on any particular explanation without hard proof. Proof we may never discover.

It’s okay to not know everything

In a way, uncertainty is good. It can help to deflect the kind of fundamentalism that fuses zealous patriotism with a specific, dogmatic take on religion.³

Normally, I wouldn’t care about fundamentalists too much. But the visibility of some sectarians and their facile claims can make it more difficult for the rest of us thoughtful Christians, especially when trying to convey the beauty of Christ. Most caring, sensible people react adversely to fundamentalism. And if they haven’t really explored Christian religious differences, some otherwise good people lump all Christians together into one narrow-minded, authoritarian group.

Trying to explain the difference between the goodness of Christ and religious zealotry isn’t always easy. One has to get the listener past the image of aggressive, finger-wagging individuals.4

Worldly people, on the other hand, sometimes say that Christian religious experience is generated by body chemistry. For them, the Christian cannot discern the difference between an endorphin rush, sugar high or caffeine hit as opposed to the indwelling of spiritual graces.

To me, that only serves to tell me something about the mindset of the spiritually ignorant. Hard-boiled skeptics often don’t realize that while they’re looking at us, we’re looking at them.

At the other end of the spectrum, some fundamentalists say mysticism is nothing more than a devilish deception. There’s no talking to these people. They love to cherry pick Bible verses to support – while ignoring anything that challenges – their particular outlook.5

When folks, be they worldly or religious, are so entrenched in a limiting worldview my proverbial b.s. detector often goes from yellow to red. It may be a pastor. A blogger. A doctor. It doesn’t matter who. At those times I find the best thing is to politely withdraw and later on, when the time is right, redirect my thoughts into action.

¹ Some even believe in an original Aramaic New Testament that has been lost in the sands of time.

² See From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, online at Most agree that we have no original New Testament documents. So this would make our present version of Jesus’ sayings third-hand, at best. » 1 » Original Aramaic »  2 »  First but now lost transcriptions into Greek »  3 »  Surviving copies.

³ To me this is like the old Roman Empire championing its state gods.

4 We’ve probably all lived through or heard a story about offensive, overbearing Christians.

5 See Religious people have a brain so why don’t some use it?

For more on Q, see my highlights at LINER.

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Fundamentalism – Can we escape interpretation?

English: William Jennings Bryan, full-length v...

William Jennings Bryan, full-length view standing on stage, delivering campaign speech, another unidentified man seated to the rear of the stage. A portrait of Bryan from some years earlier is seen at bottom left. c. 3 July 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea of Fundamentalism refers to religious or political groups adhering to a rigid, traditional interpretation of their particular belief system.

In Christianity, some fundamentalists seem to believe that they take the Bible literally. But as human beings it is arguably impossible for any religious person to escape the interpretive process.

It seems reasonable to say then, that fundamentalists adhere to an interpretation of scripture that they suppose is literal but which is selective and slanted to suit a particular psychosocial agenda.

A similar critique could be leveled against Christian liberals and other denominations.

The current split between Fundamentalism and science has deep roots, going back to the Scopes trial of 1925 in which Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan argued for a Biblical view over Darwin’s theory of evolution. Bryan’s campaign fought for banning evolutionary theory from American classrooms.

As for Islamic fundamentalism, the Oxtord Dictionary has this to say:

Islamic fundamentalism appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries as a reaction to the disintegration of Islamic political and economic power, asserting that Islam is central to both state and society and advocating strict adherence to the Koran (Qur’an) and to Islamic law (sharia)

Skip O’Neill, a leader of the fundamentalist Church of Bible Understanding’s branch here. November 12, 1976. (Photo by Jerry Engel/New York Post Archives / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)

More recently, the term fundamentalism loosely refers to any kind of strict cultural preference. So we have Hindu fundamentalists who insist on the historicity of their sacred myth, Star Trek fundamentalists who accept nothing after TOS, Disney fundamentalists who maintain that anything after hand-drawn cartoons are bogus, and so on. These types of fundamentalists hearken back to a supposed “original” or “golden age” within whatever activity inspires them.


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Pluralism – Winds of change that will not change

Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, New Orleans....

Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, New Orleans. Satrizing the Religious Fundamentalists who come to picket the celebrations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pluralism is the belief that society is best composed of different ethnic, cultural, political and religious groups, or it is the term describing a society constituted as such.

While some bigots and religious fundamentalists seem to oppose the idea of pluralism, it is clearly the way the world is going. Living in Toronto, one of the most multicultural places on Earth, one can see the great benefit and also challenges which face any society brave enough to venture forward towards true pluralism.

Although some see Canada as ‘slightly behind’ in the worlds of business, technology and perhaps commercial entertainment, we are world leaders in pluralism. And again, regardless of what the bigots and religious zealots may say, that is the way things are headed.

Better to adapt than to fall behind the global trend, because adapting isn’t automatic. It’s easy to love and uphold token minorities who fit into a cookie cutter, “melting pot” view of reality, as we see in some countries. But when treasured customs, values, job opportunities and even laws could be irrevocably altered due to new populations, embracing this kind of change in a loving way is a completely different story.

I should add that part of the challenge is realizing that not only religious fanatics and warped political titans can be bigots. Racism and bigotry seems to run through most if not all populations. Maybe it is the fear of change, the fear of the “other” or some other inherited, territorial trait. But again, humanity’s march toward a unified, peaceful future must include overcoming these primitive, tribal mindsets.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The cover of the soundtrack of Buffy the Vampi...

The cover of the soundtrack of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an American film (1992) usually seen as a “B-movie.” The movie spawned a successful TV series (1997-2003) that gained a kind of cult following among forward thinkers and academics alike. Both incarnations of Buffy were created by Joss Whedon.

In the TV version of Buffy, the lesbian character Willow originally uses witchcraft for the good but becomes consumed by her quest for magical power. She eventually allows evil to dominate her.

Many religious fundamentalists might deplore such an apparently ‘evil’ program, but the TV series closes with Willow regaining her humility (and humanity) by allowing love to enter into her life again.

The TV Buffy was lauded by some professors of Cultural Studies as the “new thing,” some of whom went to great lengths analyzing its every detail. This enthusiasm was arguably more than just bored academics being titillated by nubiles, same-sex relationships and eerie violence. The TV show was, indeed, innovative and the characters arguably represent basic archetypes.

More recently, a Canadian TV program, Lost Girl, has gained an international cult following, especially among lesbians and liberal thinkers. Lost Girl arguably owes much to Buffy and probably couldn’t exist if Whedon hadn’t paved the way for gay and bisexual cultic characters.

Related Posts » Fundamentalism, Projection, Vampire, Witch

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Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as...

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine via Wikipedia

Justification is a pivotal theological concept in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It has to do with the idea that a sinner can be redeemed or saved in the eyes of God.

In Christianity justification has been the focus of much debate and controversy within the traditional Christian circles.

For the Protestant Reformers, justification refers to the idea that sinful human beings may be saved by God’s grace alone. The shortened phrase “justification through faith,” which we often hear in religious debates, more completely means “justification by grace through faith.”

The Catholic interpretation of justification emphasizes a total conversion of the sinner who comes to receive sanctifying grace, this being conferred and increased by the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Some Protestants and Christian fundamentalists regard most of the Catholic sacraments as human fabrications, possibly leaning towards superstition, magic, paganism and the devil. For Catholics, however, the Protestant notion that one may be certain of one’s personal salvation is misguided and, technically speaking, heretical.

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