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I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Kierkegaard is The Best Christian.

Thanks. Excellent reading.


"The true knight of faith is a witness, never a teacher"

This line in particular, but the whole post in general, struck me with force of similarity to be seen between all those who have 'found faith', by which one might also say 'found buddha'*. The line itself makes me think of the koan, which is the teaching of the zen monks that transmits itself through invitation to witness*, rather than some didactic. Funnily enough, within the limited domain of a game world, I believe that's how the mechanics of player learning works.

To me, it is another reminder of the recurrence of self-similarity in the human condition, not in the minor detail, but in the more profound qualities - areas, if you like, that might be described as only accessible through insight. If you don't study these things professionally, as I don't, it's a marvellous but slightly frustrating experience to always be seeing half-answers**, as shapes through mist, but never fully understanding their nature. Which is not to say one can ever 'fully understand'.

*(That's how I see it, anyway, although I've never been sure if my grasp of faith-based/religious matters is totally accurate).
**(Half being, not a measurement, but a figure of speech. One percent maybe, if we're measuring!)

Thanks for the comments everyone!

zenBen: One of the aspects of Kierkegaard's thinking that I find most satisfying is that it extends effortlessly to any religion. A Buddha can be seen as a "Buddhist Knight of Faith", for instance.

Are koans an invitation to witness, or an attempt to short circuit rational thinking? In the context of ch'an/zen, the two are arguably one and the same! :)

In many ways, it can be better to see things as 'shapes through mist', since seen in this way there is no temptation to presume one has fully understood anything, nor that there is any hope of ever achieving such perfect comprehension. This humility is what is missing in those who have reached premature certainty, whatever their belief system.

Best wishes!

There's something that I don't understand about Kierkegaard's argument as you've presented it here (though I confess that I haven't read Fear and Trembling, so it may be a result of ignorance.)

You quote Kierkegaard as saying, "For in the world God and I cannot talk together, we have no common language." You then write,

"The infinite – which is God in Christian terms – cannot communicate in words to the individual, so the individual is left to wrestle with their faith – to take a leap of faith on the strength of the absurd which is, after all, what is being asked in faith by definition, for if there is no step to be made here, then what we are dealing with is not that which we call faith."

But if this is the definition of faith, then Abrahab does not seem to have acted in faith. For he acted in response to a direct communication from God. The narrative presents this not a a wordless absurdity from the infinite but as a message in human words and human syntax: a command to do a specific action at a specific place. If the absolute duty to God is predicated upon a wordless, absurd encounter with the infinite, then Abraham did not experience that absolute duty in this situation.

Presuming that Kierkegaard's definition of faith is right, then it would seem that absolute duty is suspended by direct intelligible words from God. There may remain a contingent duty--that is, to obey a specific and particular command--that compels an absolute ethical obligation. This, I think, might count a suspension of the "ethical" in Kierkegaard's sense of the word, meaning a suspension of the subjective sources of moral judgment in one's conscience or one's social morals. But it is not a suspension of the ethical capacity in a more (I think) Aristotelian sense, meaning one's capacity to choose between good and evil actions. It merely relocates the definition of good and evil beyond the subjective and contingent sphere of social and personal morality into the objective and absolute sphere of an infinite command. It doesn't even seem to abolish free will, as the angel's later commendation of Abraham's faith implies that he had the ability to defy the Divine command has he chosen to do so.

But if faith is not so narrowly defined, if it refers to the affirming response to all forms of encountering the divine--whether it be in wordless absurdity or explicit command or any of a number of other possible forms--then Abraham's action could then be considered a form of faith. But I do not think the example fits Kierkegaard's definition.

Forgive the typos in the previous post. I do not think they impair my meaning too badly, though, so I will not offer any errata unless asked.

Ethan: very astutely observed!

"But if this is the definition of faith, then Abraham does not seem to have acted in faith. For he acted in response to a direct communication from God."

Okay, your objection here is valid. It comes down to Kierkegaard's observation that he and God do not possess a common language. I then expand this idea to eliminate the possibility of talking to God in language - in doing so, I overreach for precisely the reasons you mention. Clearly, the tale of Abraham as recorded in Genesis involves God speaking to Abraham.

But it is I who am in error, not Kierkegaard. The possibility of communication from God is not eliminated, per se, it is simply rendered as absurd. And faith, in Kierkegaard's view, is to act on the strength of the absurd. What is eliminated in the lack of common language is the possibility of a two-way conversation - a quick chat with God, if you will. But one may pray, and on the strength of the absurd God may hear this, and presumably too God can instruct a person by some means - as is assumed in the story of Abraham (and if not directly, then by some intermediary).

On reflection, therefore, I must soften my position - that any communication from the infinite requires a leap of faith to be understood as such. (And of course, may not take place in words). The possibility is not eliminated, as I originally suggested, but it is not a daily event, it is at most something remarkable and rare - as rare as the faith that Kierkegaard admires in this book.

I hope that this response addresses your shrewdly observed issue!

Many thanks for sharing your perspective!

Chris, you give quite an elegant summary on how existentialism, christian tradition and (some) dharmic religions (and agnostics inspired by all three, I know what I'm talking about :) can be regarded as overlapping sets - if all three are interpreted in the way you propose here.

However, it seems hard to imagine how a "scientific" atheist can reach the relationship to "the infinite" you outline above? Have you met a scientist who felt that his (inifinite) endeavour was "absurd" in the end? (btw, your post begs the question whether you read Camus on "the absurdity of faith"?)

The more tricky question is of course: if Kierkegaard`s observations hold (as many great thinkers after him attested) that any practice of ethics is to be suspended in the face of an "individual's absolute relationship to the infinite" - then how on earth should humans answer the question "What should I and what should We do?"

Chris, in response to both your earlier clarifications and your recent emphasis on an individual's "absolute point of reference" let me ask you this: How is the western-style political process to be reconciled with the ontology you've outlined above? Are "knights of faith" in Kierkegaard's sense condemned to political passivity due to paradoxical paralysis?

translucy: thank you for the kind words and insightful comment!

"Have you met a scientist who felt that his (infinite) endeavour was "absurd" in the end?"

I am a scientist, amongst other things. I believe my scientific endeavours are entirely absurd. I pursue them anyway. Therefore, the answer to this question must be yes! :)

"btw, your post begs the question whether you read Camus on "the absurdity of faith"?"

I've not read Camus yet, but I am definitely interested. Care to recommend a book?

"if Kierkegaard`s observations hold that any practice of ethics is to be suspended in the face of an "individual's absolute relationship to the infinite" - then how on earth should humans answer the question "What should I and what should We do?"

Through communication and empathy we can understand each other's values. Once we understand our values, we can discuss how to proceed.

Remember that the "teleological suspension of the ethical" occurs only when the duty to the infinite interposes; in the absence of this, the ethical duty applies. Therefore I propose we continue to refine Kant's work - it seems to be far and away the best ethical framework we have right now - with the goal as stated to bring about "a merely possible realm of ends" i.e. we co-operate to form consensus and rework society to co-ordinate with this goal.

The key to such a goal is communication and understanding. I do not believe it is out of reach!

Best wishes!

"btw, your post begs the question whether you read Camus on "the absurdity of faith"?"

I've not read Camus yet, but I am definitely interested. Care to recommend a book?

The Myth of Sisyphus is the one to read.

It addresses the paradox of the meaning/lessness of life and argues that both suicide and faith are ways to avoid having to confront reality, and hence the only reasonable position to take is a stoic acceptance of the absurdity of life without recourse to blind faith as a way to avoid the paradox by placing the answer (God) outside the system.

This work is in response to Kierkegaard, so I'm certain you'd find it interesting.

Gareth: thanks Gareth! I'll add this to my reading list. It does sound of interest to me although, once again, it sounds as if Camus only considers religion from the point of view of Christianity, and not from a wider perspective. I suspect this to be a flaw in the whole tradition of Western philosophy.

Thanks again!

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