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Kierkegaard

Given the spiritual disorder of our age, the ever-present pneumopathology of consciousness, we might be forgiven for being bit confused, anxious, and just a little depressed. Consequently, it falls to each of us to ignore the “autonomous” philosophers, who are in reality the closed system philodoxers (sophists) demanding the end to the quest and search those dusty old tomes wherein we might stumble across order, truth, and a suggestion or two on just how to address the “reflective action” inherent in the concrete human being. To be sure the quest is a formidable challenge, but  no one  said life is easy, after all Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates had to contend with their own Sophists!

So, if you are inclined to engage in the act of philosophizing, you should  understand  that a real philosopher is one “whose  psychic sensorium responds to  eternal being.”[2]  And,  to make a finer point, Ellis Sandoz of Louisiana State University, wrote, “A (second) consequence is plainly a substantial, even revolutionary redefinition of the meaning of philosophy itself, especially in the decisive points of: (a) underling the loving tension toward the divine Reality in open existence as central; (b) attenuating or abandoning the Scholastic convention separating faith and reason as supernatural and natural, respectively;  and (c) discarding as egophany (defiant self assertion claiming independence from a   transcendent ground) the arrogant pretense of autonomous reason as its originator in self-sufficient human speculators.”[3]

One philosopher who adheres in many ways to Sandoz’s revolutionary definition, is Soren Kirkegaard, often identified as the “father of existentialism.”  And, a book that  both broadly  and deeply explores  the philosophy and theology of Soren Kierkegaard is Baylor University Professor of Philosophy, C. Stephen Evans’s Kierkegaard: On Faith and the Self, Collected Essays (Baylor University Press, 2006).

Evans tells us that Kierkegaard’s project was to challenge not only the Danish government  in its establishment of a national religion, thereby de-emphasizing personal responsibility for one’s own soul, and “to legitimize the status quo of an emerging bourgeois culture,”[4] but also to challenge the notion that Europeans of his era were intellectual giants rather  than “imaginative midgets, lacking the deep ‘‘passions’’ that make human life worth living.”[5]

Significantly, the “challenge” in which Kierkegaard engaged was a critical response to the formidable Enlightenment  philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel and his claim of developing a “system” that had the deleterious effect of bringing philosophical discourse to “finality.” Kierkegaard vehemently denied not only Hegel’s systemic pomposity but also his hubristic efforts to defend Christianity in an objective language.

Evans has segregated his book into six parts of three to five essays each. The “parts” each develop a pertinent theme: Part One is the Introduction, Part Two: Kierkegaard the Philosopher, Part Three: Kierkegaard on Faith, Reason, and Reformed Epistemology, Part Four: Kierkegaard on Ethics and Authority, Part Five: Kierkegaard on SelfPhilosophical Psychology, and Part Six: the Conclusion.

The critical argument that the author puts forth is that Kierkegaard has, by and  large, been misread. That our assumed understanding of the philosopher’s project are, in fact, “misinterpretations,” caused in large measure by the French existentialist, Albert Camus. Evans’s project is to examine the notion that Kierkegaard is an “irrationalist” both in terms of beliefs and choice. “At the same time that I dispel the myths about Kierkegaard the irrationalist,” Evans writes, “I must clear the way to hear the Kierkegaard who demands that we reject the view that human reason is a timeless godlike faculty.  Instead of talking about Reason, we need to focus on the actual reasoning of historically situated, subjectively conditioned, finite human beings.”[6]

Evans describes Kierkegaard as “perhaps the greatest Christian thinker since the Middle Ages.”[7] One example is Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel’s response to Kantian skepticism, where he argues that human beings are indeed capable of “knowledge of the external world”[8] but only by incorporating “faith or belief.” The author explains that Kierkegaard shows that the only objective truth the person may know “as actual” is his own reality, that “the actuality of those other realities that is believed”[9] is described by Kierkegaard as an “approximative’’ type of knowledge.”[10]

It is here Kierkegaard brilliantly establishes the boundary of noetic consciousness as the person moves into a mode of pneumatic differentiation in his search for the divine. Kierkegaard has shown that even at the extreme pole of the immanent world-reality the truth of existence requires fides and that fundamental requirement points us toward the transcendent. Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel’s response to Kantian skepticism illuminates the  flaws in Hegel’s closed system which inevitably collapses under the weight of what in reality is a egophanic revolt.

Evans shows that at the core of Kierkegaard’s theology is a rejection of the idea that we may objectively “know” God. Faith, or belief, is another matter. “But  note,” Evans writes, “that the recognition of the “subjective” grounds of the belief in no way entails that the content of the belief must be subjective.”[11]

Therefore,  the  process  of  belief in God  has  its beginnings  in the noetic exegesis that may be partially constituted by objectivity. However, it is within the pneumatic differentiation that the spiritual irruption occurs where the individual begins to develop a consciousness that is attracted to and seeks the metaleptic reality of communion with God. This communion of being and God is achieved by means of prayer or mediation, occurring in the Metaxy, in a state of “ascent through the via negativa”[12]—where one seeks “immunity” from the  collapse  of order  and the distortions  inherent  in the  immanent  world- reality.

Evans provides in-depth explications of Kierkegaard’s use of the role of  irony  and  humor,  as well as a critique  of  the  misuse  of  language, foundationalism, and the role of historical criticism in the examination of the Christian faith. His essays on Kierkegaard that include a comparative examination of the project of the reform theologian/philosopher Alvin Plantinga, were my personal favorites and clearly illustrates the author’s talent at relating complex ideas for the lay reader.

The penultimate Part Five, Kierkegaard on the Self: Philosophical Psychology, present four essays that brilliantly examine and explicate the human person in terms of “neighborly love,” Kierkegaard’s  famous “leap of  faith,” the difficulties inherent in skepticism, and  the  will as it is predicated on our “desires and passions.”

Kierkegaard tells us that God initiates this communion between being and God  within the psyche. “It is the experience of meeting God,”  Evans writes, “which produces the passion of faith…Such an encounter may properly be said to be the ground of faith without constituting evidence for faith.”[13] Thus, we have the Kierkegaardian “leap of faith,” which in reality is no leap at all because as Evans writes, “The believer both knows what he is leaping to, and why he is leaping.”[14]

In the experience of meeting God  the human person must consider the “truth” of his life prior to the theophanic event.  Evans argues that, “The encounter with the God in time makes it possible for an individual to recognize the bankruptcy of autonomous reason, but it does not make it necessary. What is necessary is the relinquishment of pride and the acquisition of humility.”[15]  This “relinquishment of pride” is the voluntary surrender of self, as an act of will, to the Creator. It is being rejecting the libido dominandi in order to do God’s Will and it constitutes one of two essential transcendent acts required of man in order to move beyond the structure of the immanent world-reality to a “state of aphtharsia or imperishing.”[16]

For Kierkegaard the most radical expression of human experience is the Incarnation—God made man. The Incarnation is the ultimate act of God’s healing, where as Catholic University philosophy professor, Msgr. Robert Sokolowski wrote, “the divine Logos assumes a full human nature that was not diminished in any way through its union with the Word. Human nature, as well as human reason, is healed, not replaced or overcome, by its union with the word of God.”[17]

Kierkegaard referred to the Incarnation as both an “absolute paradox” and an “offense” to  those whose existence lay only in the spatio-temporal reality dominated as it is by ideological distortion. However, the Incarnation, symbolizing  a  pneumatic differentiation within the psyche-the place of actualization for the human/divine relationship-represents, “truth emerging in the process of history,”[18] coming into existence in both the immanent-world reality and the theophanic process.

The fides experienced in the truth in reality of the Incarnation-the most singular event in history—can generate additional insights that transcend the experience of the initial pneumatic differentiation, dependent of course on the will and pneumatic  acuity of the  person participating. This experience, of loving God and being loved by God, knows no boundaries in time or eternity; it exists in time and the timeless. It is the existence of being in grace.

Evans argues that Kierkegaard’s concern was not to defend the “reasonableness” or unreasonableness of Christianity but rather “to  argue the impossibility of neutrality. When reason encounters the paradox, faith and offense are both possible; what is not possible is indifference.”[19]

Evan’s Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self: Collected Essays is an erudite and provocative examination of the philosopher’s project that rejects those modern critiques that have   distorted Kierkegaard’s work. Evans  shows that Kierkegaard successfully challenged  the   distortions initiated by the Enlightenment project, that he was intimately aware of the limits of human reason, and that he shared with the classical philosophers an understanding of the structure  of  reality as existing in tension  with eristics, the “climate  of opinion,” and Hegelian dialectics. Kierkegaard boldly rejected the death of God demanded  by modernity  and instead explicated the divine purpose of man. In essence he became the “viator in the Christian sense”[20] seeking the truth of reality within an eschatological denouement in communion with God.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreOriginally published in Kritike: An Online Journal of Philosophy and reprinted with the gracious permission of the author.

Notes:

1. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006. 385 pp.

2. See Eric Voegelin, “Eternal Being in Time,” in Anamnesis (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1990).

3. See Ellis Sandoz, “The Philosophers Vocation: The Voegelinian Paradigm,” in Essays from the APSA Annual Meeting, Eric Voegelin Society, (2007), 1.

4.  Evans, op cit., 4.

5.  Ibid., 5

6.  Ibid., 8.

7.  Ibid., 9.

8.  Ibid., 40-1.

9.  Ibid., 41.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., 62.

12. See Stefan Rossbach, “Understanding in Quest of Faith: The Central Problem in Eric Voegelin’s  Philosophy,”  in Essays from the APSA Annual Meeting, Eric Voegelin Society (2007), 10.

13. Evans, op cit., 128.

14. Ibid., 129.

15. Ibid., 130.

16.  See Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 34 (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 151.

17. Robert Sokolowski, “Philosophy and the Christian Act of Faith,” in Christian Faith and Human Understanding (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2006), 36.

18. See “Truth and History,” in Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 17 (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 316-21.

19. Evans, op cit., 131.

20. See ““Eschatology and the Philosophy: The Practice of Dying,”” in Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 34 (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 147.

References:

Evans, C. Stephen, Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self: Collected Essays (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006).

RossbachStefan, “Understanding in Quest of Faith: The Central Problem in Eric Voegelin’’s Philosophy,” in Essays from the APSA Annual Meeting, Eric Voegelin Society (2007).

Sandoz, Ellis, “The  Philosophers  Vocation: The Voegelinian Paradigm,” in Essays from the APSA Annual Meeting, Eric Voegelin Society, (2007).

Sokolowski, Robert, “Philosophy and the Christian Act of Faith,” in Christian Faith and  Human Understanding  (Washington:  Catholic University of America Press, 2006).

Voegelin, Eric, “Eschatology and the Philosophy: The Practice of Dying,” in Collected  Works  of  Eric Voegelin,  Vol.  34  (Missouri:  University  of Missouri Press, 2006).

“Eternal Being in Time,” in Anamnesis (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1990).

“Truth and History,” in Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 17 (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2000).

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8 replies to this post
  1. Reformed epistomology is the question of what one chooses to believe in, as foundational. It is easy to assert the paradox “of loosing one’s life to find one’s life”, in doing “God’s Will”, as an existential answer to the questions in life, but, there are other ways to approach life, than “incarnating the Word of God” and having “faith” in the “Word of God” as one’s foundation of epistomology. It fits nicely with those that want to promote a “worldview” of the Church and ministry within the Church….

    • Reason has to be absolute for the person, if the person values the intellect, but these are “lesser” to those that want to promote, manipulate social/political action within the Church auspices for the Church’s purposes. I think each person should be valued to find their own purpose, not the purpose of the Church, or “God’s Will”.

  2. Protestant or evangelical “faith” is based on epistology of “the bible”. But, theology is the “governing” interpetive lens that these use to defend and support “faith”. Covenant theology is that lens based on a Platonic view of reality.

    In Catholic circles, “faith” is based on and epistomology of the Church, and the theology is based in the philosophy of Arisotle.

    Today, theology/philosophy is being re-defined based on scientific discoveries.

    • The “self” is found within the Protestant movement in re-creating the “mind” after “the Bible”, while the “self” is found within Catholicism as the social teaching of the Church. Science understands the “self” as innate and contextual elements.

    • The problem, of course, lie in the nature of an empirical ‘scientific’ differentiation of the phenomenon. Modernity, always and every time, interjects the possibility of a derailment brought about by the extirpation of the transcendent in the tension of existence, the sundry gnostic distortions inherent in the modern ‘political religions’, not to mention the ever popular apocalyptic tradition found in the Jewish and Christian revelatory documents. I

      • Very well summarized! And doesn’t it fit with the Wesleyan Quadralateral? Experience can bring about such cognitive dissonance that there is no resolution of faith, but the rejection of it. The Politicized Religions are those that bring Tradition to bear upon the State. Apcolyptic “hope” is a rejection of the State, while Reason supports the State through the citizens responsible choices.

  3. Perhaps we can say that parousiastic gnosticism has succeeded in, if not in destroying the order of being, then certainly corrupted that order to the point where reason and reality have become opaque. Our challenge then, is to recapture reason, reality, and order both existentially and in the polity. And, as difficult as that may appear the historical truth is, that’s what man has always been about. Tell me about the Wesleyan Quad. and how does, if it does, relate to Von Schelling’s work (freedom, love, free will)?

  4. As a staunch Kierkegaardian Catholic I totally agree with Mr Evans, to say Kierkegaard was an irrationalist is ill informed at best. Kierkegaard simply believed faith was rational but you cannot grasp God objectively. He referred to finding God as a leap to Faith because it lead you to God very different from a leap of faith where you do not know where you will land.

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