Numinous experiences and God

So I read this excellent blog post by Gene Veith from Patheos:

So I was wondering about counter-arguments. Is there a potential scientific explanation for why we are afraid of the supernatural? My concern is that this fear may be merely an extension of the fear of the unknown.

1 Like

Interesting article (though it looks like there is more to it that is no longer available). I guess experience is a very personal thing and so it’s hard to really argue about it, but it does make sense that this fear would be tied in to the fear of the unknown.

For example, If you saw a ghost, you would feel fear and dread. Like C. S. Lewis observed, that fear would not be grounded in natural, physical danger, since no one is primarily scared of what a ghost is going to do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost!

I guess it’s hard to say since I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a ghost, but culturally based fears of “haunted” things seem to be very concerned with physical welfare. Fear of the unknown is a fear of physical danger – at least, I’m not sure what we’d be afraid of if it wasn’t tied in to that pretty strongly.

The most frequent mandate in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid” or one of its several variations – “Be anxious for nothing”, “Fret not”, …

That Father is in control is at the heart of my religious experience, so I cannot identify with this at all, unless you count a plentitude of providences as numinous. They are definitely wonderful. It was providence that convinced Maggie and was certainly at the beginning of her spiritual experience.

My current thoughts are that there are things out there that we get irrationally afraid of, without them being supernatural. I am terrified of moths, even though I know full well that they can’t hurt me

Scientific reason? I don’t think numinous experiences have anything to do with science. If it were just something you could sort into categories it wouldn’t be the numinous. But we’ve all experienced it, especially while growing up. Leastwise that, I think, is what Robert Pirsig would have said in his book Lila*.

I was just reading this passage in chapter nine before turning in last night:

One can imagine how an infant in the womb acquires awareness of simple distinctions such as pressure and sound, and then at birth of acquires more complex ones of light and warmth and hunger. We know these distinctions are pressure and sound and light and warmth and hunger and so on but the baby doesn’t. We could call them stimuli but the baby doesn’t identify them as that. From the baby’s point of view, something, he knows not what, compels attention. This generalized “something”, Whitehead’s “dim apprehension”, is Dynamic Quality. When he is a few months old the baby studies his hand or a rattle, not knowing it is a hand or a rattle, with the same sense of wonder and mystery and excitement created by the …

… and then he refers back to a couple other examples of what he called Dynamic Quality. He contrasts this with Static Quality which is essentially the already familiar qualities of phenomena previously experienced. As babies we live in a world which is filled with the numinous experience which we steadily convert into categories of the familiar. But the point is we all have or at least have had the experience of being in awe at encountering the numinous. Calling the numinous the supernatural seems to me like jumping the gun in converting an entire mode of being into merely a category, an object of Static Quality. The experience of feeling our hackles raised is associated with fear but it is also associated with having all our senses raised in intensity to face the unknown. It needn’t be experienced as fear. Those are the moments I feel most alive.

*With the library closed, I scoured the house for unread books and came across this again. After having devoured Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. I picked this up long ago at a used book store but forgot all about it.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.