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Rudolf Otto

“I am once again in the wagon, traveling on the dusty road along the side of the mountain. The sun has vanished behind the summit…

Down below the broad, roaring waves of the sea break against the deep foundation of the rock. But high above the mountain, the sea, and the peaks of rock the eternal ornamentation blooms silently from the dark depths of the universe.

Is it not obvious that when primitive peoples, with their childish and impressionable minds, viewed such magnificence, they would intuit and discern the divine, that they would worship and pray to it as manifested on the towering heights of this mountain, in the powerful cleft of this ravine and rock? Do we not find here the root of religion?

No. We do not find the root of religion here. Maybe those primitives were children. But then again, listen to the children outside. They are interested in little dogs and our chocolate bonbons, in the traps with which they catch the gray-green canary birds, and their musical tops. But they are indifferent to the divine splendor that surrounds them. A child does not notice the greatness and the beauty of nature and the splendor of God in his works. Human beings do not experience these things at the beginning but at the end of their lives, when they have become mature and deep in the course of their personal histories. Furthermore, there are probably a thousand different ways in which the aesthetic experience of nature modulates into religious experience, for it is related to religious experience in its very depths. But aesthetics is not religion, and the origins of religion lie somewhere completely different. They lie… — anyway, these blooms smell too sweet and the deep roar of the breaking waves is too splendid, to do justice to such weighty matters now.”

__________

German theologian Rudolf Otto, writing in his journal while traveling in a cart (wagen) across Morocco on a night in early May, 1911.

Read on:

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  • A twenty-something George Kennan’s deep journals on the confusion of maturity