Fear and Trembling

kiekeI have a love/hate relationship with philosophy.  I love existentialism and modern philosophy – and certain political philosophy texts are still of great importance, like The Prince.  However, when it comes to classic thought… I start to wane in my enthusiasm.  I mean, can’t you just… say what you’re trying to say?  We understand that you’re brilliant, smartest guy in the room, can beat me in chess without even looking at the board… but don’t you also want me to understand and enjoy what you’re thinking?  Or is it too good for me?  This is what I hate about being smart – I fall prey to this trap sometimes too and I hate myself for it.

Søren Kierkegaard is one of the first philosophers who I start to be able to truly get into (chronologically).  Yes, he’s guilty of liking the sound of his own voice but I can get past that.  In my studies, Kierkegaard has been the first one to bring up the notion of “the absurd” and this is where I really start to get going.  Out of this springs Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, etc.  Brilliant stuff.  But what about old Søren?

I read parts of Fear and Trembling sophomore year, in a class devoted to Existentialism.  Now, returning to the topic in Philosophy of the Person II, I opted to read the entire text.  Plus, those Penguin “Great Ideas” books are so snappy, you can’t help but just want to collect and read them.  So, having decided to dance with Søren completely, how did I come away from it?

Ambivalent, at best, I guess.  My problem (and the problem of many of my classmates, surprisingly enough) is that Kierkegaard deals far too much with religion.  He bases about 3/4 of the text on working around the story of Abraham.  That’s fine, in a sense, because his main goal is to determine a basis in reality for “faith.”  However, as an atheist… well, no, that’s unfair.  Kierkegaard was working from the basis of a believer and so I cannot judge him for that.  I can judge my own reactions, but not HIS text.  So, then, does he make a complete case?

Yes – and here’s where we can both agree (we being me and Søren.  My buddy).  The idea is that true faith – to become a “knight of faith” as he calls it – one must engage in a paradox of placing the individual over the universal.  An act of irrationality founded in a belief that the result will have been worth it.  Abraham literally has the knife raised, ready to cut his son’s throat, because he believes that this is what must happen.  He does not love his son any less – but he simply believes that God will see him through.  Most people might call this insanity but there is a fine line between faith and madness.  Kierkegaard even talks about it – if someone recognizes the madness, then are they really mad?  I argue no and so does he.  Somewhat mad?  Maybe – but not totally.

The 1/4 of the text that doesn’t really deal with Abraham comes mostly in “Problema III” – and its here that I was struck by the tack Kierkegaard takes.  Namely, he discusses the poets and tragic heroes and the arts quite a lot.  He seems to be, in one sense, attacking the arts for providing us with such examples of ‘heroes’ when there is a higher calling to be had.  Yet he also seems to relish in the arts and the way tragic heroes are presented.  He seems to understand that there is enjoyment to be had as well as lessons to be learned – but then he comes back to the concept that the tragic hero is someone we can see ourselves as while the knight of faith is someone who confuses us but who we still look up to.

I believe that Kierkegaard’s central idea is a valid one – that true faith requires a leap into irrationality that people may not understand but that we firmly believe will bring about a positive result.  This is, in a sense, what happens when we love – among other things, of course.  This faith is in not God or religion, though – but in the absurd.  In the irrational.  In the forces beyond our control.  This is where I leave Kierkegaard and strain to move forward.  Where he is bound by the notion of God and religion, I am not and so my mind already moves forward to something like Camus’ Sisyphus and how we must imagine him happy.  Of course, we’ll get there.  For now, I see Kierkegaard’s point and will strive to make that movement of faith with a firm belief that no matter how absurd, how irrational, how insane the movement seems… that I will be rewarded in the end.

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