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Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling
What is a human person? How do human beings relate to God? Who am I? Why do I exist?
Soeren Kierkegaard, a famous theologian of the 19th Century, wrote Fear and Trembling in 1843 in response to Hegelianism. Kierkegaard takes on the pseudonymous role of Jonannes de Silentio and speaks on modern peoples’ attitudes toward doubt and faith. He believes humans are creatures entrenched in reason and doubt but not in the same sense as Descartes, a French mathematician, scientist and philosopher. Descartes doubted everything he had ever learned; his way of thinking is called hyperbolic or Cartesian doubt. According to his philosophy, within the world of ideas there is clearance sale; everybody has a shop (their mind) and everything in one’s head is one’s ideas and beliefs. Reaching a point where one doubts everything is not easy to attain, yet humanity, on the whole, believes this is the starting point. Descartes denied himself of many things in order to reach such a state of being. He believed he had knowledge, whilst everyone else had beliefs. A belief only became knowledge when one had reasonable proved it via logical thought. Kierkegaard argued that knowledge is “understandable” whereas faith is “absurd.” This knowledge is useless unless one can make the “leap of faith.” When one is bound by knowledge and rational thinking, he/she is said to embody the universal because one’s individuality is made void for the sake of societal good. On the other hand, the individual characterizes a relationship with oneself in the case of the aesthetic and a relationship with God in the religious. The latter is highest relationship; therefore, humans will receive the most pleasure from it.
Most men during Kierkegaard’s time followed Hegelianism; Kierkegaard believed that there were “stages on life’s way”: “the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.” Hegel believed everyone should strive to be universal and embody the ethical. The ethical lifestyle is one of selflessness and commitment to the betterment of society. The universal is the enactment of the ethical. Man should strive to do the common good or that which benefits the most people. The ethical encompasses the laws that govern society (e.g. do not murder an innocent person). Although, Kierkegaard recognizes the inherent good in an ethical way of living, he still maintains that the religious should always take precedence. For example, people admire Abraham’s story because very few people would have had enough faith to sacrifice their own son in terms of a religious outlook; with the ethical outlook it would be considered murder. With that in mind, God could ask one to contradict the ethical at anytime. Hence, men of faith, according to Kierkegaard, live a life of fear and trembling.
Abraham represents perfectly how human beings should relate to God. The relationship between human beings and God is characterized by blind faith (sola fide). Abraham effaced his worldly understanding to adopt faith. Whether Abraham suffered or not is irrelevant because he did it for God. If God had asked one of us to do what Abraham had done, we would have runaway but he always said, “Here I am.” He was a “knight of faith;” he had completed the stage of infinite resignation and had made the leap of faith into the absurd. What gives him faith is not his movement to the infinite but rather his extra step back to finitude. He symbolizes the spiritual/religious way of life. Humans also relate to God with obedience and reverence. This makes God sound like a despot, because man is forever subject to his will but ultimately a person of faith is a friend of God.
Kierkegaard would consider himself more of the aesthetic lifestyle because he is ruled by his feelings and emotions. In fact he calls himself a poet (i.e. a romantic). During humanity’s time of suffering God gave us heroes (e.g. Abraham) and poets (e.g. Kierkegaard). Abraham “was great he believed the absurd;” he left behind the understanding; he did something no on else would dare to do (pg. 50). Poets immortalize heroes such as he. Kierkegaard would also regard himself as a voice of truth in a time where insular Hegelianism was the dominant philosophy. Abraham represents perfectly how human beings should relate to God.
Faith is the highest passion of man. When faith is enacted, one has reached the pinnacle of his/her potential. Humans exist to praise and serve God; humans exists to one day achieve faith. Kierkegaard exists for that reason.
I sat in my room in Hardey Hall on Newton Campus for forty-five minutes trying to answer the questions in part one (What is a human person? How do human beings relate to God? Who am I? Why do I exist?), which I found very difficult to answer. I never forced myself to answer such difficult questions. Plus, after about ten minutes boredom began to set in, so I did not feel as though it was a very enjoyable experience.
A human person is physical, emotional, and psychological. Firstly, man is physical because he is made up of flesh and blood. Emotions are very difficult to describe. The closest definition is a human’s response to stimuli around him/her. The psychological is what sets us apart from the animals. Our ability to develop abstract thought.
Humans are sinful. Sin is an ever-pervasive element in our society. Every year it becomes worse. We constantly do things without thinking of the effects. Everyone wants respect; but no one wants to earn it. Theft, rape, murders inundate our society. Humans are the root of all evil. There are not many genuinely good people left in the world.
Humans relate to God through prayer and reading the bible. Since God is all knowing, He is in our thoughts. We relate to God in everything we do; we are continually under scrutiny, therefore we should praise him as much as possible.
I exist to have fun and live life to the fullest right now but in the future when I grow old and death is upon me, I will probably try and repent all my sins. It is then that I will remember the quote from Gladiator, “What we do now echoes in eternity.” In a nutshell, I am here to please God and exercise free-choice.
I agree with Kierkegaard for the most part. Most of my opinions on religion were formed by Ms Kreis’s lectures. Living by the ethical is a great way to live. Everyone has a common goal which is to better society. This promotes a sense of oneness amongst people. But, in terms of a spiritual relationship giving one the greatest satisfaction is difficult to comprehend unless one has already experienced it.
Faith is not easy to find in this generation of lost souls. What prevents people from having faith? A Christian might answer, “The Fall of Man is where it began.” Corruption, self-centeredness, sloth, lust and an epidemic of amoral behavior has tainted humanity. As I wrote this paper in the study lounge of my Dormitory, I asked an open question to a bunch of freshmen attending Boston College: “What is something you really believe in? It could be anything.” Not one of almost twenty students had an answer. Thus with a waning of faith, ensues a deterioration of religion.
Having a belief does not imply one has faith nor does having faith betoken religion. The relationship between faith and religion is definite but not one of equality. It is possible to have more than one faith, for faith impregnates a believer with individuality. Just as actions can define people, so can their faiths.
To wholeheartedly believe is faith. Faith is characterized by an unconditional trust or confidence in something, whether it is inanimate or animate, abstract or concrete, physical or spiritual. Mark Miller, the author of Experiential Storytelling: Rediscovering Narrative to Communicate God’ Message, explains, “Faith is the eyes of being in love.” When in love, everything looks different, thus being outside of a faith (not in love) induces a lack of understanding. People often claim to believe in something, but, after brief self-analysis they discover that they are ridden with conflicting beliefs (e.g. homosexuality and Catholicism). As each belief is undermined, toppled, or unaffected by the preceding, it becomes apparent that their understanding of themselves is limited. Nevertheless, for every argument there is a counterargument; the key is to find where one stands; that standpoint is a belief. Once a belief is adopted fully, it translates to faith. Humanity uses ‘faith as a shield’ or a defense mechanism to protect the self. In terms of human relationships, trust is a precursor that imbues faith in relationships. For example, if a student continually enters the class late than the professor will have faith that he will be tardy all the time. The professor has no reason to trust the student to be punctual based upon previous attendance record.
In contrast, religion does not prerequisite trust; in fact, it is much more than trust or a belief but a way of life.
Many people today, I would place in the category of the aesthetic because so many of us are driven by our desires. But, in terms of living a life for the betterment of others, I very rarely see that in our society, let alone, a life committed to praising the Lord and attaining faith. Most people just assume that because they believe in God, they have faith. Most people do not give themselves to God entirely; the word ‘believe’ is used very loosely today. They do not feel as though their absolute duty is to God. People are selfish and they normally only love themselves. In such a society, faith is not only difficult but almost quixotic, which means many people do not or cannot relate to God.