The thought that God is love contains all the joy in the world

celloOne last passage from Christopher Ben Simpson’s survey of Kierkegaard’s thought – just to close out on a note of joy, as Kierkegaard would have it.

For Kierkegaard, joy in the midst of suffering is evidence in the present temporal world of something other than this world (BoA 186) Such joy does not make sense within a finite frame – it is ordered beyond it. This joy is paradoxical – ‘the Christian is poor, yet not poor but rich’ and ‘“Life begins at death,” says the lowly Christian’ (CD 22, 46). It is a higher joy that seems absurd to the lower because ‘God’s thoughts are eternally higher than the thoughts of a human being, and therefore every human conception of happiness and unhappiness, of what is joyful and what is sorrowful, is faulty thinking’ (UDVS, 284). It is to be ‘happy’, to be ‘joyful’ ‘out on 70,000 fathoms of water’ – where suffering ‘is the 70,000 fathoms of water’ (SLW 470; CUP 140, 288). It is to be suspended over nothing, suspended from the higher.

There is joy in the Christian life that comes from one’s being with God, from one’s relationship with God. For Kierkegaard, different qualities of joy can be discerned relative to the central characteristics of God – relative to God as eternal, as the good, and as loving. The Christian has the joy of resting in God’s changelessness. To him, the changelessness of God is ‘sheer joy and gladness’ (MLW 269). Here, one enjoys God’s eternity as the ground of one’s existential security. To rest in God’s changelessness as an ‘eternally safeguarded’ and ‘happy home’ (MLW 279) as a beloved spring’s ‘faithful coolness’ that ‘is not subject to change’ is to find security in God’s availability; God for the Christian is ‘everything to be found’, ‘always to be found and always to be found unchanged’ (MLW 280-1). The Christian also has the joy of relating to God as the good end that they desire as their ‘happiness’, or ‘blessedness’ (CD 222) – the blessing that is ‘the good in itself; it is the one thing needful, is infinitely more glorious and blessed than all success’ (CD 297). Finally, the Christian has joy in God’s love for them. ‘The thought that God is love’, Kierkegaard writes, ‘contains all the joy in the world’ (UDVS 282, emphasis mine). Our ‘unconditional joy’ is ‘worshipfully to dare to believe “that God cares for you”’ (LFBA 43). God’s love to us is joy as light from the one sun radiating.

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BoA The Book on Adler
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
LFBA The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air
MLW The Moment and Late Writings
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

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Infinite resignation

sk4

Still meandering about in Christopher Ben Simpson’s introduction to Kierkegaard, that genius of a Christian (Kierkegaard that is).

In 1972 Hal Lindsey (still alive today at 89) wrote Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, having published two years earlier The Late, Great Planet Earth which the NY Times called the No. 1 non-fiction of the decade. It’s hard to over-emphasize how big a deal Lindsey and these two books where in the 70’s. I cut my teeth as a new believer on Lindsey, and I remember first running across the name of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (SK) in Lindsey’s Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Lindsey argued there that SK (the “third bomb” after Kant and Hegel) was evidence that Satan was alive and well. Kierkegaard’s writings, he claimed, were “contrary to biblical principles,” were a “denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith,” and they “launched a system of though in which despair was the underlying current.” Lindsey explained that one finds purpose in life by taking a leap which “has no rationality behind it at all” and suggested that SK introduced Hegel’s thoughts into the stream of Christian thought (not true, SK deplored Hegel). In the end SK’s account of the Christian faith amounted to “the doctrines of demons.” It’s no surprise that my first thoughts of SK were negative. SK was an evil enemy of Christianity.

Time corrects some mistakes, thankfully, and I’m only mentioning Lindsey as the context in which I first read the name of Kierkegaard whose account of Christianity is genius. In one, two, or five hundred years from now people will be still reading and discussing SK who will still be rescuing the faith of the truly hungry from the cheap subterfuge that Lindsey, whose writings no one will know in two or five hundred years, got famous selling.

Here’s a third and final clip from Simpson’s summary of SK. Enjoy!

For Kierkegaard, one relates to God as the eternal, transcendent other in faith. Our subjectively being true to our relationship with the transcendent God is to see him as ‘the eternal being, who is the object of faith (FT 51). The eternal, the absolute, is always ‘an occasion for offense’ for finite humans and our relation to the eternal God happens in the ‘supreme passion’ and ‘divine madness’ of faith (in the first movement of the double-movement of faith), we are faced with an ‘either/or’ decision to choose God over the finite, either to be devoted to God or to despise him, to seek God’s kingdom first, for ‘the person who does not seek God’s kingdom first is not seeking it at all’ (LFBA 19-22; MLW 233-6). This is faith difficult beginning, its leap – as dying to or ‘losing the temporal temporally’ in order to gain or grasp the eternal (UDVS 209; CD 72; 141-2). The resolution of faith – as the only way ‘in which God will involve himself with a human being’ – ‘joins a person with the eternal (EUD 347; TDIO 63). It is the relation to the eternal God in faith that then (in the second movement of faith) comes to structure and orient one’s existence in finitude, ‘express[ing] the sublime in the pedestrian’ (FT 41). Faith – as constantly, daily being acquired and repeated – works to join all of one’s life together with the eternal and so establish a continuity, a constancy in life given stability with the ballast of the unconditional (EUD 14; CUP 55, 535; SUD 105; PoV 19-2). The eternal grounds repetition. At the same time, as in the process of becoming, we encounter the eternal with fear and trembling; faith so challenges all our relative stabilities – as Anti-Climacus writes, ‘fear and trembling signify that there is a God – something every human being and every established order ought not to forget for a moment’ (PIC 88).

sk5We are lovingly created (as good, glorious, free) and sustained (in God’s presence) by God. We live as if this is true – we are religious – when we gratefully affirm and strive to be what we are created to be. We should relate to ourselves as we are in relation to God. In that we, for Kierkegaard, as human beings are created by God, this understanding should affect our self-understanding; it should found our way of existing (EUD 32; CUP 249). When one comes to understand and to choose oneself in God – ‘when’, as Judge Vilhelm writes, ‘in an eternal and unfailing sense one become aware of oneself as the person one is’ – ‘one receives oneself’ (EO 509). This is to choose oneself, to take possession of oneself, ‘in one’s eternal validity’ (EO 515). In this process – in which ‘it is as if his self is outside him and is to be taken possession of’ – a person comes ‘to relate himself to himself in his religious idea’ (EO 519; SLW 428). In choosing oneself as originated – in relation to ‘the originality that was his eternal source’ (CUP 153; EO 518) – one seeks to attain a ‘religious transparency’ in which ‘he has seen his self over against the eternal power, whose fire has permeated it without consuming it (SLW 428; EO 529). One ‘rests transparently in God’, in the changelessness of God’s love (SUD 30; UDVS 212; MLW 278). This transparency is a sober coming to oneself, to be oneself before God (UDVS 137; SUD 5; LFBA 17)…

God is the good that we desire, that we love, that we long to be in communion with in blessedness. We are true to this in our loving God – in our passionate concern, our worship, and our obedience. The God-relationship, for Kierkegaard, is a relating to God with an infinite passion – its ‘how’ is ‘the passion of the infinite’ (CUP 203). Having gone through infinite resignation (in the double-movement of faith), one is assured that what one relates to in truly infinite passion, in a desire for one’s eternal end beyond finite, is God (CUP 201). ‘The inspecting resignation’, Climacus writes, ‘discovers no irregularity, this shows that the individual at the time of inspection is relating himself to an eternal happiness’ (CUP 395). Such is the intimate connection between the form and content of religiousness – that ‘the person who in truth will only one thing can only will the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he will the good can will only the good in truth’ (UDVS 24). God is one’s eternal end, and so the God-relation at once ‘consists precisely in being religiously, infinitely concerned about oneself’ (CUP 200; SLW 486). One desires God as one’s own eternal happiness. One’s ‘eternal happiness’ is the ‘highest telos’ that is ‘willed for its own sake’ in ‘the moment of resignation, of collecting oneself, of choice’ (CUP 394, 400). Religiousness, for Kierkegaard, is for a person so ‘to relate himself with pathos to an eternal happiness’ – ‘simultaneously to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos and relatively to the relative ends’ – that his existence is transformed (CUP 393, 414). Kierkegaard describes this religious ‘pathos-filled transformation of existence’ as a ‘humble, obedient enthusiasm’, as ‘be[ing] shaken’, as being ‘infinitely, unconditionally engaged’ before God (CUP 581; UDVS 62; BoA 112-13; JFY 104). Yet this strenuous, passionate engagement brings ‘a tranquility and a restfulness’ for there is ‘no contradiction…to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos’ – in doing so one is acting in accord with reality, for God is the end of human being. To relate oneself absolutely to God is ‘the absolute reciprocity in like for like’, while it is ‘demented…for a being who is eternally structured to apply all his power to grasp the perishable’ (CUP 422). One God comports with our infinite passion….

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BoA The Book of Adler
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
LFBA The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air
PIC Practice in Christianity
PoV The Point of View
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

Danish pastry anyone?

skA second passage (after the first) from Christopher Ben Simpson’s The Way is the Truth: Kierkegaard’s Theologia Viatorum. It’s a great introduction to Kierkegaard’s vision. When it comes to understanding what faith is and what it means to integrate (“appropriate” is Kierkegaard’s word) the truth of the gospel into and as one’s very life, the nature of the obstacles that must be faced and the costs involved, Kierkegaard captures things best for us.

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Objective and Subjective Truth
The problem with what Kierkegaard calls ‘objectivity’ or ‘objective truth’ in relation to being a Christian is that it shifts the ‘medium’ from ‘existence and the ethical to the intellectual, the metaphysical, the imaginational’ (PoV 130). In making Christianity a matter of intellectual reflection, of abstract imagination, ‘a more or less theatrical relationship has been introduced between thinking Christianity and being a Christian’ (PoV 130). The problem with the ‘objective’ approach to the truth of Christianity is that it ignores existence in favour of something that happens on the level of reflection alone ‘as if having thought about something were identical with existing’, and so committing the error ‘that by coming to know objectively what Christianity is…one becomes a Christian’ 9CUP 253, 570, 577). The problem with ‘objectivity’ is that, in its abstraction and so isolation from existence, it is not in touch with actuality, not in relation to truth (EO 542). The reality that it has lost contact with is that of the existing person. Objectivity is a truth that ‘goes away from the subject’ (CUP 193) – a truth that is impersonal and indifferent: ‘indifferent to the individual’s particular condition…indifferent to its relation to him…indifferent to how the individual receives it…indifferent to whether the truth becomes a blessing or a ruination to him’ (FSE 39; EUD 233-4). A Christianity built around such ‘objective’ truth is a ‘professorial-scholarly Christianity’ in which ‘the professor is the truth Christian’ (JFY 195); the problem is ‘not that what they say is an untruth, since they say what is true, but that true statement has no truth in them’ (UDVS 325) – they are ‘rich in truths and poor in virtues’ (EUD 350). When truth becomes ‘objective’, what is lost is the relation between the existing subject and what is seen to be true – the appropriation – ‘how an existing subject in concreto relates himself to the truth’ (CUP 75, 192-3)…

Subjective truth is a being in relation to, being involved in, the truth. ‘The relation of the subject’, Climacus writes, ‘is precisely the knotty difficulty’ (CUP 37). The subjective, for Kierkegaard, is the personal, is related ‘to a person present’ (FSE 39; UDVS 11). ‘Personal consciousness’, he writes, ‘requires that in my knowledge I also have knowledge of myself and my relation to my knowledge’ (CD 194). Central to this personal involvement is one’s decisions, one’s choices. Choice is, as Judge Vilhelm states, ‘decisive for a personality’s content’ (EO 482). An understanding of truth that includes decision as a necessary component is ‘subjective’, for ‘all decision is rooted in subjectivity’ and ‘only in subjectivity is there decision’ (CUP 33, 129, 203). In resolution one re-engages with actuality (after reflection). The choices one makes in relating to and engaging with the world constitute who one is as a person. Subjective truth is choosing to be in relation to what is. This implies that choosing rightly matters – that the content of the choice matters – for one’s life (EO 483). As deciding, choosing, actively relating to the world (to oneself, to others, to God) the thinking subject is involved in an ongoing process of existence as a continual striving (CUP 91-2)…

What Kierkegaard advocates is a movement from the ‘objective’ to the ‘subjective’, from reflection to resolution, from abstraction to action. One of Kierkegaard’s characteristic ways of describing this movement…is as appropriation. Appropriation is the movement of incarnating a truth that is not initially your own. It is a receiving that, as a genuine receiving, is a producing; appropriation…is literally: making something one’s own (CUP 21). In appropriation, a thesis, an objective truth to be known, becomes a task – ‘something quite different from knowing’ (CUP 297; JC 131) – or rather, the ethical and religious ‘theses’ are given their proper existential resonance as something more than propositions to be affirmed (JC 152-3). Subjective truth is then ‘the truth of appropriation’ where focus is brought upon ‘the subject’s acceptance of it’ such that, as Climacus famously writes, ‘when subjectivity is truth…a definition of truth [would then be this]: An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person’ (CUP 21, 129, 203)…

truman

Christianity, Christian truth, is at the end of a trajectory that begins with subjective truth and ascends and focuses in ethical and religious truth. Given ‘that subjectivity, inwardness, is truth’, Climacus writes that this ‘at its maximum is Christianity’ (CUP 279). If ‘subjectivity is truth and subjectivity is the existing subjectivity, then, if I may put it this way, Christianity is a perfect fit’ (CUP 230). To truly exist humanly is to exist religiously, and to truly exist religiously is to exist Christianly (CUP 249)…Truth, then, as transcendent, as revealed, should be expected as something transcendent, as something from above challenging and frustrating our merely immanent categories here below, as something paradoxical. The trajectory does not lead to paradox or absurdity as such, to nonsense – as if one’s ‘subjective’ passion and earnestness is all that matters – ‘as a beatifying universal balm’. The trajectory points to a particular paradox…

Johannes Climacus writes in the Postscript: ‘The paradox came into existence through the relating of the eternal, essential truth to the existing person. Let us go further; let us assume that the eternal essential truth is itself a paradox’ (CUP 209). At the heart of Christianity is the paradox that ‘the eternal, essential truth…has come into existence in time’ (CUP 213). Christianity claims to present the eternal truth of human life – the truth of what we are and what we are to be – but this, Climacus writes, ‘is not an eternal truth in the sense of a mathematical or ontological theorem’; rather ‘Christianity is the paradoxical truth; it is the paradox that the eternal one came into existence in time’ – ‘the difficulty and the paradox are that it is actual’ (CUP 580; BoA 37).

This eternal truth come into existence is Christ – ‘Christ’s life upon earth, every moment of this life, was truth’ (PIC 203)…If Christ is this truth, the highest truth that is Christianity, is existing in the reality revealed in Christ. True human being, as living in community with God, with others, and with oneself, is a life ‘defined’ by Christ; it is the life of a disciple, an imitator of Christ…

Climacus presents the Christian way, Christian subjectivity as singular. ‘The appropriation by which a Christian is Christian’, he writes, ‘must be so specific that it cannot be confused with anything else (CUP 609); it is a ‘paradoxical inwardness that is specifically different from all other inwardness’ (CUP 610). The Christian way is based on Christ. Climacus holds that Christianity as paradoxical-religiousness is so unique that one, ‘just by describing the “how” of his inwardness can indirectly indicate that he is a Christian without mentioning Christ’s name’ for ‘this’ “how” fits only one object’ (CUP 613-14)…

And essential part of the particularly Christian understanding of truth for Kierkegaard – that the truth is ‘transcendent’, that it comes to us, from beyond us, in Christ – is our state as untruth. Untruth, for Kierkegaard, is the ordinary state for humans, is the ‘preceding state’ (EO 599; PF 13-14). While, for Christianity, subjectivity is truth, our subjectivity ‘at first’ is untruth (CUP 213)—that subjectivity is truth, Climacus states, ‘begins in which way: “Subjectivity is untruth”’ (CUP 207). This untruth is a state of isolation or estrangement – of not being in community, in communion with reality – ‘inclosed’ in one’s own false world, at a ‘painful distance from the truth’ (CA 128; CUP 269). One is self-deceived, not relating to what one is and the way things are as one is and as the way things are, in actuality (TDIO 35). One despairingly misrelates to the self either being tricked out of the self by becoming a finite thing bound to necessity without possibility of freedom (SUD 33) or by becoming something ‘fantastic’ (SUD 31), ‘a mirage’ (SUD 36) of infinite possibilities – lacking, not being constrained by actuality and so becoming unreal (SUD 35). This untruth is a despair, an unhappiness, that can manifest itself in a sense of disjunction, a sense that something is wrong with oneself. This despairing untruth, as Kierkegaard’s later pseudonym Anti-Climacus describes it in The Sickness Unto Death, is not willing to be the self that one is – or (what amounts to the same thing) willing to be a self one is not (SUD 52-3). This misrelation to the self is also a misrelation to God insofar as the self is fundamentally related to God – the self ‘is’ a set of relations with the relation to God being the most fundamental, as the power that establishes the self—as the one that made the self as it is an against which one rebels in rejecting oneself (SUD 60). The state of untruth is a loss of this God-relationship. As Climacus writes: ‘It is really the God-relationship that makes a human being into a human being, but this is what he would lack’ (CUP 244). It is being in a state of sin, or rebellion, of mutiny against God (CUP 208) – even to the extreme of the most self-conscious and willful misrelation to oneself in ‘demonic despair’ that, ‘in hatred toward existence…wills to be itself, wills to be itself in accordance with its misery (SUD 73).

skstampTruth for Kierkegaard is a matter of being true to one’s being. The self has a reality that is independent of one’s thoughts and desires – ‘the self he is is a very definite something’, writes Anti-Climacus, ‘it remains itself from first to last;…it becomes neither more nor less than itself’ (SUD 36, 69). There is something that is ‘the original text of individual human existence-relationships, the old familiar text handed down from the fathers’ (CUP 629-30). One can either affirm and enter into one’s nature, one’s actuality or deny it. Truth is a matter of being (becoming) true to the actuality, that one is, ‘the only actuality there is for an existing person’ (CUP 316). Because there is a reality to the self there is a standard for a proper relation to oneself. Thus Climacus writes: ‘That subjectivity, inwardness, is truth…but, please note, not every inwardness’ (CUP 282-3). One becomes true, becomes more fully actual, when one exists in relation to what one is. One’s being, one’s actuality, is that of an active relation, an ‘existing in’, and interestedness – a being-between, ‘an inter-esse’ (CUP 340, 314). ‘Subjectivity is truth; subjectivity is actuality’ when one subjectively lives in accord with (one enters into the actuality of) one’s actuality as a subject – which is itself a being-in-relation—and so becomes subjective, actual, true (CUP 343)…

The self, for Kierkegaard…is ‘a relation that relates itself to itself’ (SUD 13). As such, it is, among other things, a synthesis of the necessary and the possible. Anti-Climacus writes: ‘Insofar as it is itself, it is the necessary, and insofar as it has the task of becoming itself, it is a possibility’ (SUD 35). The necessary is the reality of the self, that cannot be otherwise – ‘the self he is is a very definite something, and thus the necessary’ (SUD 36). The necessary aspect of the self is ‘that place’ (SUD 36) that one is in which one becomes – chooses to relate to the self – possibly rightly, possibly wrongly. The possible is one’s possible relation to one’s necessary reality. With one’s reflective consciousness (with the ‘mirror of possibility’), one has freedom with regard to how one relates to oneself (SUD 37). Thus, one can ‘become lost in possibility’ (SUD 37) – one can conceive of and relate to oneself as other than one is (e.g. not in a fundamental relationship with God as one’s origin and end). The proper (possible) relation to one’s (necessary) self, the true relation is that of ‘taking possibility back into necessity’ – living as (for one could live otherwise) what one is – of ‘submit[ting] to the necessity in one’s life’, for this is what enables one to become a ‘concrete’ and actual self (as opposed to an unreal/illusory one) (SUD 36-7). By choosing the possible way of existing that is in accord with our necessary being, one becomes actual – thus, as Anti-Climacus writes, actuality is the unity of possibility and necessity’ (SUD 36)…

Kierkegaard sees the more profound ‘truth’ of human existence as a correspondence between one’s existing and one’s being – between one’s existence and one’s essence, perhaps (CUP 190-3). Truth is an honest – in ‘that your life expresses what you say’ (CD 167). It is a process of becoming sober – as Kierkegaard writes, ‘to come so close to oneself in one’s understanding , in one’s knowing, that all one’s understanding becomes action‘ (JFY 115). ‘Christianly understood’, the goal is ‘to be the truth’ – and this is achieved when the truth ‘becomes a life in me’ (PIC 205-6). The truth is incarnated in the way one lives. Bringing all of this together powerfully, Anti-Climacus writes that ‘to be the truth is the only true explanation of what truth is’ (PIC 205). I quote at length:

The being of truth is not the  direct redoubling of being in relation to thinking, which gives only thought-being, safeguards thinking against being a brain-figment that is not, guarantees validity to thinking, that what is thought it – that is, has validity. No, the being of truth is the redoubling of truth within yourself, within me, within him, that your life, my life, his life expresses he truth approximately in the striving for it, that your life, my life, his life is approximately the being of the truth in the striving for for it, just as the truth was in Christ a life, for he was the truth. (PIC 205)

This lived truth is its own best demonstration. Kierkegaard writes that ‘the highest a person is capable of is to make an eternal truth true, to make it true that it is true – by doing it, by being oneself the demonstration, by a life that perhaps will also be able to convince others’ (CD 98). Those who seek to show that Christianity is true in a purely intellectual manner are ‘busy in a strange way in the wrong place’ (CD 189) – for Christianity is to be true in life and should be shown forth as such, much in the  way that ‘the resolution of marriage is its own best recommendation’ (SLW 156). Christian ‘being true’ is a making manifest, a concrete showing, of the truth of Christianity in life.

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CA The Concept of Anxiety
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FSE For Self-Examination
JFY Judge for Yourself!
PoV The Point of View
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

Not that Fear and Trembling

ftFrom Christopher Ben Simpson’s The Way is the Truth: Kierkegaard’s Theologia Viatorum, a summary of Kiekegaard’s thought. I’ve removed the Danish equivalents for certain words but kept his references (cf. the key at the end).

Religious Faith: The Double-Movement
Religious faith, for Kierkegaard, has the structure of a double-movement. This, as we have seen, is reflected in Kierkegaard’s mode of communication (PoV 6-9). The general schedule is one of a redoubling in which a given position ‘is first of all its opposite (JFY 98). There is first the negative then the positive, first renouncing and then receiving, first emptying and then filling, first death and then life.

The first moment, the first movement of the double-movement of faith, is a negative one – an initial ‘wounding’ that has, nevertheless, a constructive end (TDIO 9; EUD 130; UDVS 279). Throughout his authorship, Kierkegaard names this first negative moment, the ‘first element’ of faith, as ‘despair’ (CUP 225-6; SUD 78, 116). Despair, strangely, is a way forward – ‘a man’ true salvation’ – ‘a hidden trapdoor – to ascent’ (EO 522; CD 114). This first, negative movement is also described as ‘infinite resignation’ (FT 36-8, 46), such that one has ‘resigned everything infinitely’ (FT 40). This infinite resignation is the ‘movement of infinity’ whereby one negates, resigns, gives up the finite such that one is left with the infinite (FT 38) – whereby one ‘practic[es] the absolute relation or infinite through renunciation…of relative ends’ (CUP 431-2). Despair or infinite resignation is a benefit in that with them one renounces, abandons, gives up the finite, the lower, in favour of the infinite, for the higher (FT 18, 48) – one ‘renounce[s] the whole temporal realm in order to gain eternity’ (FT 49) – one turns from Mammon to seek first the kingdom of God. With this, one gives up on all finite possibility. It is a ‘dying to’ – a ‘middle term’ in which one ‘die[s] to the world’, ‘’breaking…with that which he naturally has his life’ – and so has ‘emptied himself in the infinite (FSE 76; JFY 98; MLW 177, 214; FT 69). This renunciation, this despair extends to the whole personality (EO 515) – surrendering, losing, even hating the self (EO 522; SUD 67; MLW 335) – wresting away self-love in a movement of repentance that dies to the self and to the world (WL 17; FT 99, 101).

In all of the negation and giving up and ‘dying to’ of infinite resignation, one ends up affirming or choosing one thing: oneself ‘in one’s eternal validity’ as having an ‘eternal consciousness’ – as being in relation to the infinite, the eternal – as loving God alone (EO 515, 520; FT 46). After one renounces all that is finite one is left with God, with oneself before God – even if before God one is always in the wrong – even if in loving him one is nothing before him (EO 601-6; R 212). For such a one has renounced even being in the right; God is their only desire.

For Kierkegaard, the second movement of religious faith is that of ‘faith’. ‘Only when he individual has emptied himself in the infinite’, Johannes de Silentio writes, ‘only then has the point been reached where faith can break through’ (FT 69). After the either/or decision of infinite resignation – choosing the higher and dying to the lower – faith then returns to the lower, for ‘it is great to give up one’s desire, but it is greater to hold fast to it after having given it up; it is great to lay hold of the eternal, ,but it is greater to hold fast to the temporal after having given it up’ (FT 18). In the double-movement of faith one resigns the lower for the higher (in infinite resignation) and then regains the lower (in ‘faith’) – this is because the lower is nothing without the higher, for the lower only is in relation to the higher – one rightly renounces it as nothing (on its own, as self-existing) in the first movement.

the-scream

This winning back of the finite that was lost and dead happens, as Johannes de Silentio (alone among the pseudonyms) writes, ‘by virtue of the absurd’ (FT 36, 40, 46-7, 115). This mans that faith makes an affirmation in the midst of despair – when there is no human possibility. It believes (notice de Silentio’s gloss) ‘by virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the fact that for God all things are possible’ (FT 46). For, as Constantius writes, ‘when every thinkable human certainty and probability were impossible [and] from the point of view of immediacy, everything is lost’ one can come into relation to something other than the human frame of possibility, probability, certainty ‘thunderstorm’ (R 212). So are the movements of faith the ‘movements of finitude’ (FT 38) in which one comes to receive, to regain (as a ‘repetition’) the finite – to ‘receive everything’ (FT 49), ‘to grasp the whole temporal realm’ (FT 49), to affirm temporal actuality as divine gift. Faith (re)gains ‘everything’, the finite ‘whole and intact’ (CD 146; FT 37) – more fully whole and intact than before in the light of its divine origin – including one’s self ‘whole in every respect’ (CA 106) – regains these as a ‘new creation’ (FT 40).

With the second movement of religious faith, there is a teleological suspension – suspending one’s bonds to the lower and being suspended from the higher (as an inverted foundation, like a suspension bridge). As such a double-movement (negative and then positive) ordered to an end, faith is a foresight than anticipates an arrival, a joyous sight, a fuller understanding that is to come (FT 21, 52, 65). One lives, with divine assistance, in the light of a right relation to God and to oneself (MLW 215). In faith, the self ‘rests transparently’ in God (SUD 30, 49) and has learned ‘the proper self-love’ (WL 18). This life is one of security, comfort, harmony and joy (FT 40, 50; EUD 330).

As seen in the second movement above, the higher from the perspective of the lower is seen as absurd. Faith can only be thought, be understood, on the higher plane, in a theological frame. It is seen as ‘absurd’ because it does not fit within the comprehensive frame of the lower sphere – this is a signal that either I am right and this is wrong (the absurd if false) or I am wrong (my perspective is false). The one in the lower must endure the difficult, te trial, the either/or, the ‘absurd’ to attain the higher (and regain the lower) (FT 27). The lower (without faith) cannot understand the higher – it cannot ‘get a perspective’ (FT 33). The absurd is a negative sign that something cannot be narrated from a given perspective. This makes perfect sense from the perspective of the higher (FT 261-3). As Kierkegaard writes in an unpublished reply to a review of Fear and Trembling, the paradox marks a ‘higher rationality’: ‘When I believe, then assuredly neither faith nor the context of faith is absurd. Oh, no, no – but I understand very well that for the person who does not believe, faith and the content of faith are absurd’ (FT 262 sup).

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CA The Concept of Anxiety
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
FSE For Self-Examination
JFY Judge for Yourself!
MLW The Moment and Late Writings
PoV The Point of View
R Repetition
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits
WL Works of Love

Leap of faith

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…Kierkegaard set forth…the “stages along life’s way”…. These stages appear throughout Kierkegaard’s dialectical writings and, though there are sometimes more than four, the most prominent designations are: the Aesthetic Stage, the Ethical Stage, Religiousness A, and Religiousness B. Since these stages are cumulative, the later stages include the features of the previous stages transformed by “the leap” that moves the individual from one stage to the next. Since the decisive turning point for Kierkegaard is between Religiousness A and Religiousness B (Christianity), we will focus this discussion on these two stages and “the leap of faith” that makes the transition from A to B.

Before proceeding further, we should remember that Kierkegaard’s dialectic…is not the Hegelian version in which thesis and antithesis move systematically into a synthesis of a higher order, including but transcending both foregoing thesis and antithesis. Kierkegaard recognizes the existential power of opposites in tension, but he insists that smooth transition to a high-order synthesis not only is a violation of the ontology of human nature, but is fundamentally contrary to Christianity. The opposites, in his view, must be held passionately in tension; indeed, authentic self-understanding short of faith—Religiousness A—consists in full recognition that the tension has broken and given way to a deep dichotomous condition which is pervasive throughout human nature. The French existentialists, such as J. P. Sartre and the early Camus, and to some extent the German philosopher Heidegger, have recognized the power of Kierkegaard’s claim and made this human anguish descriptive of all human existence. The French especially have elaborated the absurdity of existence (apart from Christ) very effectively. In and by itself, human existence is indeed absurd and full of despair. Even if one seeks an “eternal happiness” in this broken form of existence and posits a God, the only God that despair will allow is totally inaccessible. This aspect of Kierkegaard recognized in the early works of Barth led to Barth’s description of God as “wholly other.” Thus, for Kierkegaard, passionate unresolvable dialectical opposition is the given human condition. Furthermore, for one to become fully conscious of this condition before the radically inaccessible God generates the intense passion and profound humor of Religiousness A.

Only from the standpoint of this stage is the full import of the contradiction which the God-man poses for human nature evident. The contradiction is that, given the dialectical opposition between existence and eternity, it is a major offense to the anguish of this assumption that God, the eternal One, should take on the fullness of human nature and yet remain fully God. The offense is maximized when it is further claimed that this God-man not only exposes the dichotomy between eternity and existence (Religiousness A) as an ontological error about what it means to be human, but also proposes to bestow his nature upon the believer, if the believer would so choose or take “the leap of faith.” In Kierkegaard’s words, the contradiction is that one’s eternal blessedness in time may be based upon a relationship to something else in time that is simultaneously eternal.

Thus, for Kierkegaard, the fundamental issue in what it means to be human is drawn out clearly in the ultimate dichotomy between A and B. This issue is precisely the core of the relationship between human existence and the eternal when they are mutually distorting, as in despair (A), and when both are fully real and simultaneously present in a singular location (B). This later condition refers first to the historical singularity of the incarnation in Jesus Christ and, second, to the singularity of an individual when by faith the tensive unity between the existential and the eternal is restored.

(James Loder, The Knight’s Move, p. 92f)

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And this, friends, is the contradiction (which just is the space over which faith must leap) that open theists, while laying claim to a proposition about God’s ‘knowledge of the world’ which in itself is defensible and probably right, will not embrace, and in not embracing reject a far more consequential truth – the Christological nature (or better, the Christological content) of that contradiction which defines Christianity as faith. It is too “offensive” a leap (in the Kierkegaardian sense).

A theology of fragments

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a helpful passage* from David Tracy that ties in to what I’ve been exploring with others about Paul Hessert’s book Christ and the End of Meaning, the second chapter of which contrasts (1Cor 1.22-25) human ways of meaning-making through the use of ‘power’ (Jews demand signs) and ‘rational systems that seek total explanations’ (Greeks seek wisdom) with the abandonment of this structure of meaning that faith calls us to in Christ.

Beyond this early Romantic groping after ‘fragments’ which helped to challenge the stranglehold of the Enlightenment system lay the two greatest unveilers of modernity’s secret dream to be the logos of its own secret, ontotheology – Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Is there anyone, even today, better than Kierkegaard at exposing the bizarre drive to totality of almost all modern rationalist, idealist systems including Christianity become Christendom? What Kierkegaard showed is that Christendom, not Christianity, is an attempted triumphalism, a triumphant totality system that could not and cannot survive any experiment with authentic Christian living. Philosophy should abjure its modern pretensions to a total understanding of life, the individual, art and religion and learn to think anew from the new forms for dialectical though invented by Kierkegaard in two of his greatest works; the works by Johannes Climacus, entitled Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. He left us what? Fragments and inconclusive postscripts. Both are fine forms indeed to challenge Hegelianism, the then reigning totality system of Kierkegaard’s culture. As several post-modern thinkers now argue, Kierkegaard’s fragments smashed not only Hegelianism with its temptations to totality. It is Kierkegaard, in several of his works, who first begins to use the category of the “Impossible.” He strove, through Johannes Climacus, not for the actual, nor the possible, but for the Impossible. In nearly all his work, on how religion – both religiousness “A” and religiousness “B” (Christian religion for Kierkegaard) – showed how to render what would otherwise be consider Impossible.

Kierkegaard will do almost anything to break the reified ice of what he considers modernity’s hold on all our thinking or Christendom’s hold on Christians…He will forge a new and indirect discourse for the sacred to undo any claim to adequacy of direct discourse in the idealist version of totality…But then what about this breakthrough into a form for the Impossible, into grace?…Kierkegaard did not have the calling to preach…Therefore he invented form after form to render present the one content modernity denied—the reality of the Impossible—grace, Christ, God.

Kierkegaard’s paradoxically anti-Christian double, Nietzsche, plays the same fragmentation role for Christendom and Enlightenment modernity alike, but now with a hammer. When Nietzsche’s hammer becomes too blunt a tool against Christianity as well as against bourgeois modernity, he too, like Kierkegaard will try any form, any genre, any intellectual strategy to try to break out of any totalizing system. He forged style and style just as Kierkegaard forged genre after genre. Form Nietzsche’s early essays to his quasi-gospel genre in his great Thus Spoke Zarathustra to genealogical analysis through aphorisms piled upon aphorisms to fragments juxtaposed to fragments, Nietzsche organized in what seems to me in an increasingly desperate attempt to recover…not merely the controlled rhetoric of Aristotle’s topics but the out of control rhetoric of the tropes, especially the trope of irony careening with joy at the very edge of what he saw as an Abyss or Void opened up once the totality systems collapsed.

For those familiar with Hessert, compare Hessert’s exposition of culture’s false attempt find the world “meaningful” (per the ancient Greek’s search for “wisdom,” 1Cor 1.22) to Kierkegaard’s attack upon modernity’s “systems of totality” and it’s “dream to be the logos of its own secret.” Achieving a single logos, a single, all-embracing system of rational explanation that can reduce the cosmos to a fixed account of the whole is not what Christianity is about. Any truly Christian attempt at a rational account of things will necessarily be ‘fragmentary’. It can be logos. It can never be Logos. And oh how we balk and complain with ‘fragments’. So as Tracy said, faith is necessarily a way to live with fragments, and we need a ‘theology of fragments’. This is not to say faith does not locate all fragments (all logoi, however imperfectly understood) in the One (unfragmented) Logos who is Christ the God-Man. We may have only fragments, but each is a small mirror that reflects, in its limited capacity, Christ who is in all things and in whom are all things.

*“Form and Fragment: The Recovery of the Hidden and Incomprehensible God” in The Concept of God in Global Dialogue, eds. Werner Jeanrond and Aasulv Lande (Orbis Books, 2005).

Spirit as capacity for self-relationality

reflection_card_small_05I had time today to reread Don Alexander’s The Humanity of Christ and the Healing of the Dysfunction of the Human Spirit, a helpful book that focuses on the inherent relational structure of human being as ‘spirit’. He connects to James Loder at various points, and there’s no talking about Loder without exploring Kierkegaard. This is a helpful book that discusses the healing of humanity in ‘relational’ terms. Here’s a portion of Ch. 2, “The Nature and Function of the Human Spirit”:

Characteristics of the Human Spirit
Kierkegaard: The Spiritual Self as a Relational Self

In an opaque passage in his book Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard designates the human person as essentially spirit. As quoted above, Kierkegaard writes,

The human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.

In this complex passage Kierkegaard views the human person as spirit, which is the human dimension that embodies the capacity for self-relational encounters. This self-relational capacity constitutes an essential component of being a human person. The human person, therefore, is not understood simply as an entity independent of relationality; that is, as an isolated being. Rather, the human person by constitution is a relational being right down to the core of human personhood. As a spiritual self, the human person actualizes itself in and through its relational capacity, enabling reflection upon itself both as a subject as well as an object of its own self-reflective thought.

The human self as spirit, however, is not simply a self-interacting being. This self-relational capacity also constitutes the ontological ground for relational interaction outside oneself; that is, with others. Kierkegaard writes, “The human self is…a relation that relates itself to itself and in relating itself to itself relates itself to another.” In a different, yet complementary, context, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, makes a similar observation, “A person cannot be humane [virtuous] apart from his/her neighbor.” In other words, the human person cannot be understood fully in isolation or a lack of interaction with others since the individual self is not a simple entity but entails a complex capacity for relationship between two disparate things. James Loder expresses a complementary understanding of the human spirit when he writes “The human spirit is a quality of relationality; it is a way to conceptualize the dynamic interactive unity by which two disparate things are held together without loss of their diversity.”

While Loder interprets the human spirit as a quality of relationality, I prefer capacity for personal relationality. The change of phrase is intended to reinforce a particular perspective. I want to ascribe an ontological dimension to the human spirit. Perhaps the term ontology is a little too precise. Nevertheless, I want to contend that the human spirit is really something rather than a mere relationship or an emergent property of brain function. The human person is a self that in relating to the self relates to something: namely, the self that is spirit. If the human person is spirit, the human person as spirit, then, understands itself principally, though not exclusively, through relation with others. The human spirit is not simply an independent autonomous self, but is a self-relating self…

To assert, then, that the core of human personhood is essentially spirit means that the human spirit exists ontologically as the ground for relationality and existentially as the experience of self-relatedness with others. It is, however, in the interaction with other that the functional nature of the human person as spirit is revealed.

This interactive-relational capacity of the human spirit, argues Kierkegaard, functions in a context of opposites since the human self is “a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” Consequently, the decisive matter for becoming a self lies in the nature of the opposites. The opposites, argues Kierkegaard, form the ground for relationality in that they provide the context for a potential shift from being negative, i.e., “a relation that exists primarily through opposition,” to a positive one, i.e., “one that has power in its own right to define the polarities and their relationship.” James Loder illustrates the significance of this relational movement between opposites by noting, “The quality of opposition that pertains between male and female and of their love relationship which completes each in, with, and for the other, and is itself transcendent with respect to the opposition [difference] between them.”

At first, notes Loder, the opposition or distance of identity appears, but the opposition changes as male and female come to enjoy other’s company and a love relationship develops. The relationship, states Loder, “which was first established on a premise of opposition becomes positive, even a dominant force in the interaction between the two: each increasingly begins to define him/herself in terms of the relationship, per se. In this relationship the polarities of male and female are not lost; rather mutuality hightens individuality. The point of the illustration is that “mutuality becomes a positive third term, not obliterating but intensifying the polarities.” Here the pattern of relationality governing “the self as spirit,” suggests James Loder, “is perichoretic; that is, inter-penetrating,” a theologicall insightful and helpful concept in grasping the relationality between creaturely existence and the human spirit illustrated by the male/female relationship…

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If I understand Kierkegaard correctly, it is only when “the self-transcendent agency [the human spirit] of the self finds its ground outside and beyond the pattern of self-relatedness can self-relatedness be sustained.” “When the self is ‘transparently grounded in the power that posits it’,” writes Loder, “it is, then, spirit.” What is central here is a relationship of mutual coinherence; that is “opposites are coinherent in and through this relatedness, and the relatedness is coinherent with itself.” This entails the interpretation that “the self cannot be itself without its centered grounding beyond itself, but must be a participant in the ground such that its life is preserved and its integrity as spirit is sustained by that ground.” Kierkegaard, then, will place the self-relationality of the human person in a unique position between the nature of God and the nature of the human person as spirit.

At this juncture an important element in the understanding of the relational nature of human persons as spirit enters; namely, “that the self measures itself by the ideal to which it relates itself.” C. Stephen Evans comments on this Kierkegaardian perspective. To be a self is to be “a being who is striving toward a certain ideal; this ideal provides the measure or criterion for the self that is derived from the conscious relationships that have formed the self.” While many factors contribute to the person we are and will become (parents, friends, social influences, etc.), genuine selfhood, in the Kierkegaardian perspective, “requires that I stand before God, accepting the self I am as a gift from God and the self I should become as a talk God has set for me.” Hence, the person that I become emerges from the relational character of the self as the result of the conscious decisions made with reference to the ideal I choose to follow…

Hence the self is always formed in relation to some ideal. Thus, “the self that lacks God as a conscious ideal will reflect the defective ideal that has replaced God.” “What an infinite accent falls on the self,” writes Kierkegaard, “by having God as the criterion.”

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Couple of quick thoughts—

  • Loder describes the human spirit as a quality of relationality. Alexander prefers to describe it as the capacity for such relationality. Alexander also calls this capacity an agency for self-relationality. These are all good terms. Let’s combine them and view the human spirit as an aesthetic disposition or an aesthetic appetite for personal existence. Sarah Coakley would describe this in terms of desire, which of course introduces desired ends, and that brings me to a second comment.
  • Alexander ends by noting that the self measures itself in terms of some ideal or end. This is the irreducibly teleological orientation of the human spirit. We constitute our spiritual existence as fulfilled desire for transcendent meaning as persons. The self is constituted in relation to this ideal. For Kierkegaard, any end or ideal other than God chosen by the self would only lead to existential despair. “The self that lacks God as a conscious ideal will reflect the defective ideal that has replaced God.” This is the false self. Alexander quotes Kierkegaard, “What an infinite accent falls on the self by having God as the criterion.” Indeed. God is the criterion. And that brings us to the inevitable question (which I never grow tired of mentioning) of what (if not God) constitutes that ideal, the summum bonum, the highest good, the greatest value, that criterion of relational existence by which all experience is measured? A consistent ‘relational theology’ (and what a buzz phrase that is among open theists) has to expound some transcendent ground of personal-relational being, i.e., some notion of the relational ideal for which all desire longs, from which all appetite is fulfilled, and in which the human spirit achieves its end but from which relations this Ideal cannot be thought to fulfill its own dispositional appetite for relationality (thus the asymmetrical nature of uncreated-created relationality).