Yup, we’ve got that one

And more than one million more. Become a member today and read free for two weeks.

Read free for two weeks
In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be . . . going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days or weeks. When the tried oldster drew near to his last hour, having fought the good fight and kept the faith, his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten that fear and trembling which chastened the youth, which the man indeed held in check, but which no man quite outgrows. . . except as he might succeed at the earliest opportunity in going further. Where these revered figures arrived, that is the point where everybody in our day begins to go further.
Published: Start Publishing LLC an imprint of NBN Books on Nov 1, 1941
ISBN: 9781625584021
List price: $1.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
Availability for Fear and Trembling
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.
Clear rating

Over the Abyss

This book reminded me of a close call I had many years ago. It was on a sunny Saturday. I was cruising on the highway, enjoying the scenery, music playing in the background, and a gentle breeze in my face. All of a sudden, a spider started crawling across the steering wheel. I tried to gently wipe it off, but lost control of the wheel. My car swerved and flew off the edge of the highway! I remember vividly, at the very moment when the car went over the edge, I thought to myself, "Wonder how deep is this abyss I'm falling into."

Faith, the subject of this book, in a sense to me, is like stepping over the abyss and expecting to fly.
Many people are familiar with the painting by Michelangelo, "The Creation of Adam", in which the hand of Adam reaching out almost touching the outstretched finger of God. Imagine in your mind's eye that the right half of the painting is missing, i.e., if God were not in the picture, Adam would be staring and groping into the Abyss.

Contemplating Abraham's Faith

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." Hebrews 11:17-19

I've read the biblical story of Abraham in Genesis 22 many times, and memorized the definition of "faith" in Hebrews 11. I thought I understood Abraham, that he was a friend of God and the father of faith, the same faith that I possess, albeit to a much smaller measure.

Kierkegaard showed me how little I knew Abraham and the true nature of faith. Abraham sacrificing his beloved son Isaac to God, is not unlike throwing Isaac into the abyss. Was he a murderer, a madman or a saint? We understand and admire the tragic heroes, who sacrifice their own lives and their loved ones for a higher and just cause. But who would understand Abraham if he killed his own son for no apparent justifiable purpose? How could he even know what he was doing was right when the ethics of society plainly condemned murder?

Abraham Gave Up His All

If Abraham had not loved Isaac, sacrificing Isaac would have been a selfish act. But Isaac was his only son, one born in his old age by the promise of God. He loved Isaac more than his own life. All his passions, hopes and the future of the entire race were bound up in Isaac. To give him up was to give up all.

One can not understand Abraham unless he too has an all-consuming, undying passion in his own life, and is deprived of the object of his passion either of his own volition or by the circumstances.

Abraham Was Damned to Isolation

Kierkegaard proclaims, "Isn't it true that those who God blesses He damns  in the same breath?" The Scripture confirms, "For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God", and vice versa.

Virgin Mary was blessed by God, and yet despised by the people, for she bore the Child miraculously; Abraham was a friend of God, and yet what he intended to do was condemned by society. He could not explain nor justify his apparently unethical action, for he believed the impossible, the absurd, and therefore was isolated from society.

There is no safety net, i.e., the support and sympathy of other people, underneath him as he stepped over the abyss. He could not fall back and take comfort in the strength of the multitude. He believed in God alone, in his own conviction of what God asked of him; He walked and bore his burden alone.

Abraham Was Elevated as an Individual Above Universal

"Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Not because of his philanthropic or heroic deeds, but because of his own faith. However, he would have been regarded as demon-possessed if he had killed Isaac. Therein lies the paradox.

Many individuals isolated themselves from and elevated themselves above the Universal, being led stray by demonic passions and pride, some thinking that "he offers God service", and they perished in the Abyss. Could he have been one of them?

It's unfathomable what is contained in these three words, "Abraham believed God". And yet paradoxically, it is also very simple, all he (and any of us) had to do was to take the step, the leap of faith.

Kierkegaard's Passion

Kierkegaard was known for his keen intellect, and I find his wit and pithy style very refreshing among philosophical writings. He gave a thorough, insightful analysis of Abraham, describing the doubt, the fear, the distress and the agony he must have gone through, and demonstrating how his faith is similar and yet different from all the other historical, mythical and fictional figures we're familiar with, such as Agamemnon, Socrates, Richard III and Faust.

Halfway through the book, however, it dawned on me that Kierkegaard was not only writing a philosophical or psychological treatise, but a love letter not addressed to the beloved. He could relate to Abraham and understand him in part, because he shared the same passion. He too dedicated himself to the love of God and gave up the love of his life, his fiance Regine. In describing the agonies of Abraham, he was also relating his own struggles with faith and sacrificed love.

Anyone with a spark of passion in his soul would see his own reflection in this book.
read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I haven't read much yet, but I absolutely adore Kierkegaard. I look forward to reading the rest of it.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
"... faith begins precisely where thinking leaves off" declares Johannes de Silencio (Kierkegaard's voice-over character in this work). It is precisely here that readers of "Fear and Trembling" will part into two camps: one that responds to this statement with derision, and one that responds with affirmation.What I love about Kierkegaard is the uncontained originality of his thought. He grabs a thought, or perhaps the thought grabs him, and he pursues it where ever it leads him. He does not restrict himself to the well-worn reliable paths of philosophy, he freely careens over fields of theology or psychology, if that is where his pursuit takes him. This work in particular goes beyond philosophy (particularly Hegel's system of ethics) to explore the paradox of faith in the context of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.Kierkegaard devotes many lines to exploring what faith is not: resignation to a more powerful deity, courage in the face of adversity, out-come based hedging of your bets. Faith is the act of an individual struggling with God. If faith is reduced to the right and wrong of ethics, then we have no need to go beyond the Greeks. Abraham's act defies ethics, what he is doing goes against all ethical systems and human nature. In this solitary path, Abraham converses with no one. He does not bounce this idea off Sarah, or anyone else. There are no external referents to validate his thinking. This also happens to be a good definition of psychosis. I happen to be reading "The Three Christs of Ypsilanti" concurrently with this book. This shutting off of external referents is precisely why schizophrenics are so hard to treat. They see and speak to their hallucinations and simply don't believe anyone who says they are not real: it is real in their experience. Kierkegaard does address the tragic scenario of someone trying to be an Abraham by murdering their child, and acknowledges the apparent closeness of genius and madness in some individuals. How does the individual assure himself that he is justified and not delusional? "Whether the individual is now really in a state of temptation or a knight of faith, only the individual can decide." This is the most terrifying aspect of faith. Kierkegaard asserts that it cannot be outcome-based. Even heroic actions (as opposed to acts of faith) are not assured of the outcome beforehand -- that is what makes the act heroic. The hero can be advised, encouraged, applauded, the "knight of faith" has none of these. As Kierkegaard states, "those whom God blesses he damns in the same breath." When Kierkegaard finds the language of philosophy inadequate to his task he turns to more poetic language in his attempt to describe the ineffable. This is another reason his book is worth reading: he has the soul of a poet as well as the mind of a solitary sage. Yet, I can't help wondering as I am reading: how would all of this sound to one raised outside of the three Abrahamic faiths? How would the story of Abraham sound to a visiting anthropologist from Mars? Could this story be seen as nothing more than a fable intending to describe how one culture departed from the near-universal custom of human sacrifice (yes, if you go back far enough in most cultures, it is there) to replace it with a symbolic animal sacrifice? Having said that, perhaps that possibility would not diminish Kierkegaard's work here. This story is simply the springboard for exploring the issues of the individual's duty to society verses their duty to a higher power. Kierkegaard distinguishes between Abraham's sacrifice and other stories of heroic sacrifice in our collective human experience. This was no attempt to appease an angry god, or save the village by sacrificing one, or even to fulfill a sacred vow. An ethical system could sanction the sacrifice of one for the good of the whole. Here, in contrast, Abraham is giving up the certainty of the ethical system for something that he cannot even articulate. Abraham rose higher than the ethical in this "teleological suspension of the ethical." Kierkegaard defines the ethical as the universal and, consequently, as the divine. He does acknowledge that engagement with God does not need to be part of this ethical system. God can remain as an abstracted and remote principle. In ethics, the individual must choose the collective good over his individual needs and desires. In contrast, the man of faith puts his individual faith above all considerations, both personal and universal. This is his "absolute duty to God." An ethical act should be open and transparent. An act of faith, in contrast, is necessarily closed and opaque according to Kierkegaard.In exploring the solitary path of faith, Kierkegaard also mentions Mary: her distress, fear and agony living in the paradox. To a lesser degree, I would assert that any person struggling with faith has their own experience of this. The challenge for a modern person seeking to follow the ancient path of faith is this: what can I believe and what must I relegate to the primitive understanding of my spiritual ancestors living in an ancient context? The set of "beliefs" one individual may hold on to may be different from the set of the person sitting next to them in the church/mosque/synagogue/temple yet I think we can say that they are united in their faith. For Kierkegaard, "that in which all human life is united is passion" and "the highest passion in a human being is faith."If Kierkegaard himself states that he can revere but not understand or emulate Abraham, what are we to gain from reading this work? Only a reminder of the urgency of the central passion of human life, which is faith, and a warning that most of us won't get there in the fullest sense of "faith."read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

Over the Abyss

This book reminded me of a close call I had many years ago. It was on a sunny Saturday. I was cruising on the highway, enjoying the scenery, music playing in the background, and a gentle breeze in my face. All of a sudden, a spider started crawling across the steering wheel. I tried to gently wipe it off, but lost control of the wheel. My car swerved and flew off the edge of the highway! I remember vividly, at the very moment when the car went over the edge, I thought to myself, "Wonder how deep is this abyss I'm falling into."

Faith, the subject of this book, in a sense to me, is like stepping over the abyss and expecting to fly.
Many people are familiar with the painting by Michelangelo, "The Creation of Adam", in which the hand of Adam reaching out almost touching the outstretched finger of God. Imagine in your mind's eye that the right half of the painting is missing, i.e., if God were not in the picture, Adam would be staring and groping into the Abyss.

Contemplating Abraham's Faith

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." Hebrews 11:17-19

I've read the biblical story of Abraham in Genesis 22 many times, and memorized the definition of "faith" in Hebrews 11. I thought I understood Abraham, that he was a friend of God and the father of faith, the same faith that I possess, albeit to a much smaller measure.

Kierkegaard showed me how little I knew Abraham and the true nature of faith. Abraham sacrificing his beloved son Isaac to God, is not unlike throwing Isaac into the abyss. Was he a murderer, a madman or a saint? We understand and admire the tragic heroes, who sacrifice their own lives and their loved ones for a higher and just cause. But who would understand Abraham if he killed his own son for no apparent justifiable purpose? How could he even know what he was doing was right when the ethics of society plainly condemned murder?

Abraham Gave Up His All

If Abraham had not loved Isaac, sacrificing Isaac would have been a selfish act. But Isaac was his only son, one born in his old age by the promise of God. He loved Isaac more than his own life. All his passions, hopes and the future of the entire race were bound up in Isaac. To give him up was to give up all.

One can not understand Abraham unless he too has an all-consuming, undying passion in his own life, and is deprived of the object of his passion either of his own volition or by the circumstances.

Abraham Was Damned to Isolation

Kierkegaard proclaims, "Isn't it true that those who God blesses He damns  in the same breath?" The Scripture confirms, "For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God", and vice versa.

Virgin Mary was blessed by God, and yet despised by the people, for she bore the Child miraculously; Abraham was a friend of God, and yet what he intended to do was condemned by society. He could not explain nor justify his apparently unethical action, for he believed the impossible, the absurd, and therefore was isolated from society.

There is no safety net, i.e., the support and sympathy of other people, underneath him as he stepped over the abyss. He could not fall back and take comfort in the strength of the multitude. He believed in God alone, in his own conviction of what God asked of him; He walked and bore his burden alone.

Abraham Was Elevated as an Individual Above Universal

"Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Not because of his philanthropic or heroic deeds, but because of his own faith. However, he would have been regarded as demon-possessed if he had killed Isaac. Therein lies the paradox.

Many individuals isolated themselves from and elevated themselves above the Universal, being led stray by demonic passions and pride, some thinking that "he offers God service", and they perished in the Abyss. Could he have been one of them?

It's unfathomable what is contained in these three words, "Abraham believed God". And yet paradoxically, it is also very simple, all he (and any of us) had to do was to take the step, the leap of faith.

Kierkegaard's Passion

Kierkegaard was known for his keen intellect, and I find his wit and pithy style very refreshing among philosophical writings. He gave a thorough, insightful analysis of Abraham, describing the doubt, the fear, the distress and the agony he must have gone through, and demonstrating how his faith is similar and yet different from all the other historical, mythical and fictional figures we're familiar with, such as Agamemnon, Socrates, Richard III and Faust.

Halfway through the book, however, it dawned on me that Kierkegaard was not only writing a philosophical or psychological treatise, but a love letter not addressed to the beloved. He could relate to Abraham and understand him in part, because he shared the same passion. He too dedicated himself to the love of God and gave up the love of his life, his fiance Regine. In describing the agonies of Abraham, he was also relating his own struggles with faith and sacrificed love.

Anyone with a spark of passion in his soul would see his own reflection in this book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I haven't read much yet, but I absolutely adore Kierkegaard. I look forward to reading the rest of it.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
"... faith begins precisely where thinking leaves off" declares Johannes de Silencio (Kierkegaard's voice-over character in this work). It is precisely here that readers of "Fear and Trembling" will part into two camps: one that responds to this statement with derision, and one that responds with affirmation.What I love about Kierkegaard is the uncontained originality of his thought. He grabs a thought, or perhaps the thought grabs him, and he pursues it where ever it leads him. He does not restrict himself to the well-worn reliable paths of philosophy, he freely careens over fields of theology or psychology, if that is where his pursuit takes him. This work in particular goes beyond philosophy (particularly Hegel's system of ethics) to explore the paradox of faith in the context of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.Kierkegaard devotes many lines to exploring what faith is not: resignation to a more powerful deity, courage in the face of adversity, out-come based hedging of your bets. Faith is the act of an individual struggling with God. If faith is reduced to the right and wrong of ethics, then we have no need to go beyond the Greeks. Abraham's act defies ethics, what he is doing goes against all ethical systems and human nature. In this solitary path, Abraham converses with no one. He does not bounce this idea off Sarah, or anyone else. There are no external referents to validate his thinking. This also happens to be a good definition of psychosis. I happen to be reading "The Three Christs of Ypsilanti" concurrently with this book. This shutting off of external referents is precisely why schizophrenics are so hard to treat. They see and speak to their hallucinations and simply don't believe anyone who says they are not real: it is real in their experience. Kierkegaard does address the tragic scenario of someone trying to be an Abraham by murdering their child, and acknowledges the apparent closeness of genius and madness in some individuals. How does the individual assure himself that he is justified and not delusional? "Whether the individual is now really in a state of temptation or a knight of faith, only the individual can decide." This is the most terrifying aspect of faith. Kierkegaard asserts that it cannot be outcome-based. Even heroic actions (as opposed to acts of faith) are not assured of the outcome beforehand -- that is what makes the act heroic. The hero can be advised, encouraged, applauded, the "knight of faith" has none of these. As Kierkegaard states, "those whom God blesses he damns in the same breath." When Kierkegaard finds the language of philosophy inadequate to his task he turns to more poetic language in his attempt to describe the ineffable. This is another reason his book is worth reading: he has the soul of a poet as well as the mind of a solitary sage. Yet, I can't help wondering as I am reading: how would all of this sound to one raised outside of the three Abrahamic faiths? How would the story of Abraham sound to a visiting anthropologist from Mars? Could this story be seen as nothing more than a fable intending to describe how one culture departed from the near-universal custom of human sacrifice (yes, if you go back far enough in most cultures, it is there) to replace it with a symbolic animal sacrifice? Having said that, perhaps that possibility would not diminish Kierkegaard's work here. This story is simply the springboard for exploring the issues of the individual's duty to society verses their duty to a higher power. Kierkegaard distinguishes between Abraham's sacrifice and other stories of heroic sacrifice in our collective human experience. This was no attempt to appease an angry god, or save the village by sacrificing one, or even to fulfill a sacred vow. An ethical system could sanction the sacrifice of one for the good of the whole. Here, in contrast, Abraham is giving up the certainty of the ethical system for something that he cannot even articulate. Abraham rose higher than the ethical in this "teleological suspension of the ethical." Kierkegaard defines the ethical as the universal and, consequently, as the divine. He does acknowledge that engagement with God does not need to be part of this ethical system. God can remain as an abstracted and remote principle. In ethics, the individual must choose the collective good over his individual needs and desires. In contrast, the man of faith puts his individual faith above all considerations, both personal and universal. This is his "absolute duty to God." An ethical act should be open and transparent. An act of faith, in contrast, is necessarily closed and opaque according to Kierkegaard.In exploring the solitary path of faith, Kierkegaard also mentions Mary: her distress, fear and agony living in the paradox. To a lesser degree, I would assert that any person struggling with faith has their own experience of this. The challenge for a modern person seeking to follow the ancient path of faith is this: what can I believe and what must I relegate to the primitive understanding of my spiritual ancestors living in an ancient context? The set of "beliefs" one individual may hold on to may be different from the set of the person sitting next to them in the church/mosque/synagogue/temple yet I think we can say that they are united in their faith. For Kierkegaard, "that in which all human life is united is passion" and "the highest passion in a human being is faith."If Kierkegaard himself states that he can revere but not understand or emulate Abraham, what are we to gain from reading this work? Only a reminder of the urgency of the central passion of human life, which is faith, and a warning that most of us won't get there in the fullest sense of "faith."
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The "Attunement" alone is worthy of much contemplation. This entire work revolves around the story of Abraham as fodder for revealing Kierkegaard's philosophy of ethics and aesthetics. Faith is proven to be reliance on the absurd after having completely resigned from any possible salvation. He uses the story of Abraham as the supreme example of this, telling the story 4 different ways in order to show the alternatives that would invalidate the significance of the tale. He also uses the story of Iphegenia as a secondary example, nicely drawing parallels between Hebrew and Greek law. A third powerful metaphor is that of a knight and maiden seeking a true love. Through these means, Kiekegaard demonstrates the meaning of faith, doubt, and resignation in such a way that simple discussion could never achieve. And this in turn is backed by the explanation of what is true poetic force, the collision of two powerful emotions -- the maiden torn between holiness and a man rather than the hero lamenting his own situation. Finally, at a fundamental level, the truly faithful put the invidual ahead of the universal. It is the absurdity of such a paradox that establishes the meaning of faith. After the "Attunement," a general discussion culminates with the powerful observation that after 130 years, even Abraham got no further than faith. The remainder is divided into three problemata: (i) Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical? (ii) Is there an absolute duty to God? (iii) What is it ethically defensible of Abraham to conceal his purpose from Sarah? from Eleazar? from Isaac? In the role of doubt, Soren notes that Descartes began by doubting everything and then to solve it rationally, whereas the Greeks tried to preserve doubt no matter how much they discovered. The knight becomes heroic when taking on infinite resignation about a tragic situation. At this level, he accepts his position and has nothing to lose. Still, the next level beyond that involves having faith that victory will indeed happen and thus whatever prize is restored. "Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith; for only in infinite resignation doe my eternal validity become transparent to me, and only then can there be talk of grasping on the strength of faith."
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling is an analysis of the Biblical situation in which Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his long awaited son Isaac. Furthermore, he had already been promised by God that his descendents will populate the earth, and is too old to reasonably expect another. Abraham, obedient to God, takes his son up to the appointed mountain, and on the verge of committing the sacrifice is spared by God of his task, and a Ram appears which is sacrificed instead. Kierkegaard discusses the various reactions to the scenario that Abraham could have chosen, his possible thoughts, and then goes on to examine various implications of the story.The main themes of the book are faith, ethics, “the universal”, paradox, and the absurd. Like some of his other books, he published it under a pseudonym. Though it is much shorter than either volume of his Either/Or, it is in places much more difficult to understand. It isn't obvious what he means by “the universal”, or “absolute”, though there seems to be some similarity to what Plotinus described as “the One”. This book will probably not be as interesting to the general readership as Kierkegaard's Either/Or for several reasons. Firstly, it is not written in as entertaining a style, secondly, the subject matter is religious and not of quite a general philosophical interest, and thirdly, the book is just harder work.Nevertheless, this book still deals with big questions, and Kierkegaard does have a good style and is an interesting author to read.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
final essay contemplating the ethical dilemma of Agnete and the Merman rocked my existence and has altered my moral compass for an eternity, the rest is straight K-Gaard doubt, despair, and solution.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Load more
scribd