You Shall Be as Gods

“It’s awesome”: A young relative of mine loves the word and uses it profusely.  Since she applies it to a restaurant or a vacuum cleaner she finds extraordinary, I doubt she realizes its real meaning.  This is a typical instance of the degeneracy of a word caused by the search for quick superlatives, and mainly by the loss of the idea it used to convey.

Awe is nothing new to mankind.  I would venture to say it is one of the most primeval feelings that mankind has known.  “The eternal silence of infinity frightens me,” wrote Pascal: Homo sapiens was born an animal fully aware of his frailty as opposed to the mysterious might lying within the world around him, the obvious disproportion between that speck which is the individual and the foreboding infinity of the unknown which constitutes the universe.  But the more man became interested in ordering his thoughts, the more his terrors must have become mingled with admiration and reverence.  In spite of the apparent chaos to which he so often fell victim, he could not but observe the order prevailing above his head, the apparently immutable harmony of the stars’ movements—indicative of a universal order underlying the world around him.  How could reverence not have accompanied dread, as he had only to raise his eyes to observe great bodies whose overwhelming masses seemed...

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