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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.
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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.
more
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.more
"... 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."more
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.more
Read all 10 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.
more
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.more
"... 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."more
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.more
Fear and Trembling is Søren Kierkegaard's musings on Abraham and the nature of faith. Kierkegaard was a Danish author whose controversial works on Christianity, philosophy, and psychology are widely studied today. This was my first foray into his work, and I'm still thinking. Sometimes he's right on and other times I wonder how anyone could make sense of him, and if he even understood what he was saying! In this book, Kierkegaard attempts to understand the incredible trial of Abraham's faith that is recorded in Genesis 22. Most people are familiar with the story: God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac — the same son that God had promised would found a nation. Abraham obeys up to the moment of taking up the knife, when God tells him to stop and sacrifice a ram instead. Through all this, Abraham's faith did not waver (Hebrews 11). The more we think about this story, the more profound it becomes. Kierkegaard takes issue with the pat platitudes often delivered on this story, delving into Abraham's struggle and the movement of faith within the soul.In some ways I really didn't really get this book. Often the language became so technical in its philosophical terms that I lost sight of the actual point altogether. I was able to piece together a few bits: Kierkegaard asks if there is such a thing as a "teleological suspension of the ethical," and what he means by this, in practical terms, is that sometimes one may have to perform immoral acts that are not considered immoral because of the circumstances (because normal morality doesn't apply). God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, to tie Isaac to the altar and take his life. Normally this would be murder, but because God defines morality, the universal ethical standard is suspended because this is God's command. Kierkegaard the individualist concludes that the teleological suspension of the ethical does exist. But I am afraid to poke the implications dormant here; they are terrible.One thing that Kierkegaard never really touches on, at least not in any clear or sustained way, is how Abraham's agony over sacrificing his son prefigures that of God Himself. Abraham is a picture of agony that we can almost understand, and by looking at Abraham we can catch a tiny glimpse of the Heavenly Father's pain. I think this is the most profound meaning of Abraham's trial, and one that we will never fully comprehend. But Kierkegaard doesn't even go there.Another concept I thought was interesting was the notion that Abraham believed "on the strength of the absurd," and that that is the definition of faith. Faith is not the same as "immense resignation," because when one is resigned one has accepted the loss of the beloved person or object. But immense resignation is not necessarily a bad thing; it is "that shirt in the fable. The thread is spun with tears, bleached by tears, the shirt sewn in tears, but then it also gives better protection than iron and steel" (74).But in contrast, faith believes what appears irrational and impossible: it is the absurd conviction that even if you sacrifice your son, he will be restored alive to you. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead — and Isaac was, in a sense, delivered from death. Again, on so many levels this is a parallel to God's crushing of His Son. We are Isaac, spared the knife because a substitution is made. Christ is Isaac, the son to be sacrificed by his own father.Kierkegaard discusses figures whom he calls the knight of faith and the tragic hero. He is also very concerned about making the movement of faith in one's soul properly. I have to confess he lost me a bit in all this. I'm not sure making the movement of faith is so complicated as he wants to believe: either you do it or you don't.Maybe I picked up more from this book than I thought. But I was constantly confused by oft-repeated statements like, "Faith has never existed just because it has existed always" (109). It's the sort of thing that sounds profound but I have a suspicion it's nonsense at bottom.Kierkegaard definitely makes for an interesting read. I do not trust his theology and so I hold him carefully at arms' length. He may say some good things, but there doesn't seem to be much you can really build on.more
Here's the thing with philosophy: if you agree with all of it you either haven't read enough philosophy or you weren't paying close enough attention.While Kierkegaard presents some very well considered thoughts about what faith is, how one comes by it and how one acts when one has it his other arguments here stand on unchecked foundations.He never questions or even addresses whether or not Abraham's (or anyone else's) faith is well founded. Instead he assumes that all faith in God is well founded. This is a rather glaring hole since even if one assumes the Abrahamic God is real one can still have faulty assumptions about him and his will. Kierkegaard assumes faith is automatically justified by virtue of its own existence. In doing so he removes an ethical question from the equation. Is my faith justified? Ie, is this really the will of God? But including this simple question would undermine the veracity of one of his competing sources of ethics, the idea that the will of God (as we perceive it) is intrinsically ethical.This whole book is of course meant to address whether or not Abraham's decision to execute Isaac was ethical. Once you call into question the authenticity of God's command to sacrifice Isaac you lose a lot of ground in defending Abraham's actions.Kierkegaard goes on to discuss a variety of fictional stories with negligible relations to the story of Abraham. The only thing they do uniformly include is an element of faith or sacrifice (though none of them include a sacrifice even remotely as extreme as Isaac). He seems to think that fiction, some specifically written with a moral agenda *coughfaustcough* provide justification for unquestioning faith and prove the veracity of his claims to the real world. In reality they only show that his philosophy was instep with the fictional world of some hand picked literature.In the bits where he is actually addressing the story of Abraham the closest he comes to justifying Abraham's actions still fall far short of any modern standard of ethics. He argues that Abraham sacrifices Isaac in absolute faith believing that God will restore his son to him. It is explained that it must be Isaac that is sacrificed because he is the best thing that Abraham has. While I certainly wouldn't doubt that Abraham cherished Isaac above all things, this assumes that Isaac's relationship with Abraham is not just as a cherished son but as a valued possession who is completely subject to the will of his father. He is a possession that can be given away, Isaac's life may belong to his father or to God but it was never his own. Hardly instep with a world that has disavowed one mans ability to own another.So what of the fundamental question at hand? Can the Abrahamic God make and unethical act ethical, simply by commanding it? I would have said no before reading this book, and I still feel that way. Kierkegaard's arguments for God's ethical "get out off jail free card" are simply too desultory, fragmentary and lacking in foundation to convince me.I'm not sure if I'll read Kierkegaard again. I was impressed with his early analysis of faith here and I suspect he has other ideas that would have merit. But I'm leery that his other works may also start making conclusions before establishing a viable foundation.I think Spinoza's thought's on ethics and behavior in Ethics (Penguin Classics) are much more viable. He's also much more readable which is saying something since he wrote it 200 years before Kierkegaard.more
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