Monday, May 13, 2019


What most people call "religion" is institutional bureaucracy enforcing its own ends.  The dimension that is totally missing is the "Mysterium Tremendum and Fascinans."  The Bundle ceremonies should be about that.

This is the idea I've been working on for decades.  I explain and explain and explain.

We are a culture that is always craving "feelings" and being scared.  Check out the advertising for movies and books.  But they don't really mean anything that will shake you like a rat in the jaws of a terrier.  They don't mean life-changing or moral uprooting.  They don't mean something that leaves you speechless.  They mean something containable that you can tell your friends about.  Like a totally safe roller coaster.

What we call "religion" is bureaucratic organizations with mission statements and familiar ceremonies that build friendships.  One pays taxes/dues and recognizes people who are specialists, whether by academic achievement or by enthusiastic inspiration.  There are buildings.

A truly intense experience or a deep realization can be so disconcerting that we reduce it with familiarity, sentimentality, littleness.  Remember your dead mother with a really nice fresh rose.

This is true of the continent's autochthonous people, people of the "humus," particularly humans on the prairie.  I mean the indigenous people who have been here a very long time without changing things by planting wheat and pumping oil and herding cattle.  If one truly realizes what it meant for Europeans to come onto a continent populated from the East and to infect people so widely that it changed the climate because the activities of the people meant a change in emissions and plant cover and all the other aspects of a broad ecosystem.  If one truly grasps what it meant to have people die as though from ebola in great numbers, families and villages, it shakes a person.  It did again in the Spanish flu epidemic, once again wrongly attributed to another country.

In our times we don't want to look again at Hiroshima and Fukuyama.  We deny the Holocaust.  We want to ring that big bell and talk about recovery.  But ironically there is still one medium that goes for the mysterious, the terrifying, the unaccountable:  Gaming cartoons.

Darran Anderson, writing for "", has a firm grip on this.  Here's a sample of what he's talking about, a game called "Sable" -- which is a sort of combination of "Star Wars," child's play, and Smash Street Boys.  It will be out sometime in 2019 -- not yet.  The article is an impenetrable thicket of references to other artists' work, but in the end what Anderson is saying is that humans still hunger for the "mysterium tremendum et fascinans" even if they have to find it in silly places.  I mean, it's not available in church.  A version is always around in literature.  Remember C.S.Lewis' "sublime"?   How about Keats?  He said, “I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Churches should remember that Anderson said "those which combine the allure or dread of the unknown with traces of iconography from the real past" have the real power.  Notre-Dame burning.

Following links are a sample of "Sable", which is the heroine's name, and the article by Anderson.

I've been reading "Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert." (1996) by William Langewiesche.  I consider him one of the finest writers I know, quite apart from taking real life adventure risks in classic 19th century style.  In chapters the length of blog posts, he describes moments, retells stories, gives us a gunsight view of a place that will kill you without noticing, much less caring.  Time passes.  Modern technology changes cities and less dry country.  Despite every attempted mitigation, it persists.  The people make compromises in order to survive -- to the point where one must wonder if the strategies make life worth living.

"The Sahara is the earth stripped of its gentleness, a place that consumes the careless and the unlucky.  But all you need to navigate it is a suitcase, a bit of cash, an occasional bus ticket, the intention to move on.  Such simplicity appeals to me."

Rudolph Otto's book, "The Idea of the Holy", is the source of the phrase, "mysterium tremendum and fascinans."  The book is free as audio on Amazon.  This paragraph is from a reviewer there.

"Before religion became morality touched with emotion it was the emotion itself, or a group of emotions, and it still is. These emotions are, in the translator's summary; the feeling of the uncanny, the thrill of awe or reverence, the sense of dependence, of impotence, or of nothingness, or again, the feelings of religious rapture and exaltation. The author of the present book calls them the non-rational feelings, the sense of the tremendous, the awful, the mysterious, or, in a word of his choosing, the numinous. Both author and translator make it clear that religion must accommodate both the numinous and the ethical, The Idea of the Holy (Das Heitige), which is fundamentally an inquiry into the non-rational, is a book which has established itself, since the English translation first appeared in 1923, as a classic in the field of religious philosophy."

The most dependable and numinous source of this more-than-emotion that combines terror with belonging is nature.  The phrase came up when I looked at Terrill Tailfeathers' photographs of the Rocky Mountains, esp. Chief Mountain, as seen from the prairie.  He posts some on Twitter where even the city-bound can look and wonder.

Now that the humanities have been revealed as persisting in the industrial desert, our compromises are also revealed and we grieve.  I would include a Tailfeathers' photo, but due to copyright law and him being across the border in another country, you'll have to Google.

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