Saturday, July 11, 2009

Comments on Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling"

Kierkegaard, in idealizing his "knights of faith," of whom Abraham is the chief example, exalts faith to such a pitch that it is impossible for the common man. We are left with an absolute relationship to the universal ethos at best, but cannot move infinitely toward a particular's absolute relationship to the absolute. In other words, we're screwed. We need a counter-Kierkegaard who celebrates the sheep.

Kierkegaard thus creates a double standard for faith; the truly chosen, like Abraham, David, Jesus, Paul, Mary and others--and the rest of us who are told to do as they say, not as they do. They can do outlandish things because they have an absolute relation to the absolute, while we have only, at best, an absolute relationship to the universal. But the universal breaks down precisely where faith's deeds violate it

If I celebrated the simple faith of the sheep, those believers who do not exceed a vision of the universal ethos wedded to the numinous, but do the acts of faith faithfully, Kierkegaard would accuse me of elevating the bourgeois to the level of believer. He could find no true believer in his society but had to imagine one. In all, he repeats the psalmist: "Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever he pleases."

If then the common believer cannot exceed the universal ethos without the burden of sin, he is condemned to a less than intimate relationship with God, the same that Kierkegaard achieved. The tragic hero discloses the universal ethos; the knight of faith exceeds it by special dispensation. In creating "the knight of faith" Kierkegaard comes dangerously close to Nietzsche's "Ubermensch." Both despised the average man, the bourgeoisie.

Kierkegaard exalts those who violate God's "law" in the name of a higher vision of God, just as God violates his own laws by raising Christ from the dead--though one can presume a higher law. If there is a higher law, it is the unpredictable aspect of God's nature. Thus God can conscript a man like Abraham into immoral ventures because the first necessary attribute of God is omnipotence, hence free will.

In summary, rather than a democratic existentialist, Kierkegaard becomes a spiritual elitist, holding us all to a standard of a special revelation of God--particularly a revelation that conflicts with the real ethos--as proof of our absolute relation to the absolute. In all this he ignores Christ, who is the absolute relation to the absolute, who in fact embodies the absolute. It is through Christ that we find the faith of sheep and the giants of the faith. One should not be dismissed by the other; prophets need followers, gods need disciples. We are Christ's hands and feet. For the foot to say to the hand, "you are above me," or "I don't need you" (as Paul instructed), denies the body of Christ.

Sure, Dante painted a picture of heaven where each soul rose to the highest sphere of what love it could receive, with Mary at the top because she could receive all of God's love. Each of us is filled to our capacity with love. That some have greater capacities is understandable, and is no reason for jealousy.

Kierkegaard, in essence, makes faith impossible by holding up impossible examples. It's the sorrow of the unattainable that runs through his work. He should have been a poet.




  1. Anonymous6:34 AM PDT

    I've read your blog off and on over the past several years and have truly felt great empathy for you...wanting to help you somehow, someway, but of course never really thinking it was possible given this context. Still, if you take a few minutes and explore the url below, paying particular attention to James Dolan's brief essay, "The Way of Depression" then I think you might begin to come to a better least I really hope so. You've suffered much.

    Namaste', Poet Chaffin.


  2. Thanks for your kind intent. In actuality I've been out of depression for more than a year now, thanks to a new combination of medications.

    Prayer and meditation
    avail only through medication.

    At least in my experience.

    It has been clinically proven that therapy is virtually of no use in bipolar I. I can testify to the truth of this. Talking and prayer and exercise and everything else don't help when you're six feet under emotionally.

    So rejoice with me that science has come to my rescue.

    As for religion, it gives you a framework for suffering but does not relieve the suffering.



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