Some of the smartest people ask the simplest questions. For example, when he wasn’t inventing friggin’ calculus or the binary arithmetic system upon which all modern computer technology is based, Gottfried Leibniz asked the perfectly natural question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It’s about as practical of a question as a conscious agent can ask. But at the same time, it’s a ludicrous one to even have to ask. Yet I cannot recall a day that has passed in my life that this inquiry has not irked me. Literally every day, waking up like, “Dude, seriously?” “What is going on?”, “Where am I?”, “What is this and what am I supposed to do about it?”.
These questions, in my humble (or maybe not as humble as it should be) opinion, should bother everyone. I’m so confident that it should be asked daily by everyone, or at least thought in flash form, that I am willing to make the claim that those who don’t ask this question are mentally deficient (that’s right, stupid). Tell me why I shouldn’t think this way. We go about our ways, earning college degrees so we can get jobs, houses, vacations, etc. We have this innate desire for relationships and approval of others, this odd draw towards a sense of purpose. I just look at it and ask “Why?” To be happy? Happy with what? Where is the end to this exercise? If you don’t at least wonder “why”, then literally what in the world are you doing here? What are any of us doing here? Ah, I digress.
Anyways, if you’re reading this, then you most likely know that I am a Christian apologist. This, as I have defined in previous blogs, means that I go around defending Christianity as a logical and sound worldview. But if you’re reading this, then you’ve probably gathered that I’m pretty into existentialism. However, I, as a Christian apologist in a classical setting, have to kind of keep this a secret. That’s because as an apologist, there is a type of herd mentality that coerces us into rationalizing our human experience into simplicity. Yet like Leibniz, I am confident that God is, by miles and miles, the best explanation for why anything whatsoever exists.
But while existence can be sufficiently explained by God, I’m not sure if it can ever be sufficiently understood merely by belief in God. There is an existential element that must be addressed.
I’m not saying that classical apologetics is wrong headed. There are a lot of arguments for the existence of God and I think that many of them are important and sound arguments. I’m not saying than an atheistic universe is not, in a hands-down fashion, the most absurd possible outlook on reality. I am, however, saying that life in a universe where God exists is still rather absurd.
Granted that God exists, then there is an actual point to our being here, but it still seems to be a pretty bizarre point. I mean, why God? I want to clarify that I am NOT asking “Who made God?” (which is the worst objection to God EVER), but instead, why does this necessary being we call God exist? Any explanation just seems odd.
I have spent years trying to avoid this notion and it has nearly destroyed my ability to have an intimate and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.
At some point in time, I am going to have to take my faith in God beyond the pure definition of simple trust and dive out of the proverbial plane as if I have no parachute. Is it rational or not? What’s the point, so on and so forth, I don’t know, man, FML, here’s some Kierkengaard . . .
Soren Kierkengaard was a pretty gnarly philosopher. He is deemed to be the father of existentialism (even though I think the title should go to King Solomon for writing Ecclesiastes), and he was a die-hard Christian. I also think that he was a very misunderstood thinker. He is famous for a few different quotes, but mostly for his term “leap of faith”. This has widely been misunderstood to mean that Kierkengaard had no good reason to believe in God, when, in fact, he was not talking about the belief that God exists, but the belief in the God that exists. Big difference, people. In “Fear and Trembling” he, under the pseudonym Johannes De Silentio, breaks down what he called the “double movement” that every “knight of faith” has to make in order to find a relationship with the Creator.
So what do these terms mean? In order to explain, further description of his philosophy will most certainly be required.
A large piece of Kierkengaard’s philosophy, at least in “Fear and Trembling”, was broken down and prioritized into three sections: the aesthetical, the ethical, and the religious. The aesthetical was on the bottom and it was pretty much whatever you make out of your own experience. It’s what you find beautiful or what you have found useful for happiness inside your own experience, but it can never be found to be useful by anyone except for you. It comes from a purely subjective point of view. We can come to know it for ourselves, but applying it to contexts outside of ourselves is a separate section of experience: the ethical.
The ethical is the collective understandings of individuals that make up the wisdom of the world. It’s what we ought to do or understand. It is “rational” and where we spend most of our time. Kierkengaard places this above the aesthetic section and treats it differently than the aesthetic, while still distinct from any particular religious faith. It involves “acts of resignation ” by which you grasp “eternal consciousness”.
Now, all that means is that we are constantly coming to understand what is true or right and behaving as such (the act of resignation) and it leads to a further awareness of ourselves (eternal consciousness). This leads into the third and highest section any person can enter: the religious. Once you enter into this stage, you are a full-on “knight of faith”.
But this is a brutal and seemingly insane process that most will never begin to undergo. It involves the “double movement”. The first movement is one of “infinite resignation”, which is when you let go of everything you think that you’ve learned about reality and make peace with the fact that you might never get any of it back. It is the ultimate dive into the unknown or the “absurd”, and by this movement we are able to regain what we lost and gather much, much more: God. This recollection of one’s self in a peaceful state with God is the second movement aka acting upon the “virtue of the absurd”.
So, here’s where my little life lesson comes into play. I have all of these arguments for the existence of the Christian God. These arguments are sound philosophical arguments supported with exceptional scientific and historical evidence. There are so many that I would have to force myself to become fundamentally irrational in order to reject the majority of them. But here’s the dilemma: There is so much evidence for God that I’m almost paradoxically drowning in it.
I’m stuck in the ethical.
Belief in the Christian God is so rational that it is actually hurting me. As I flip through the New Testament, excluding Romans, I’m baffled at how little I personally grasp this personal concept of Christ. I have all this evidence to support my Christian apologetic, but I have so little belief that I am included in this great Gospel message. I can be so confident in God’s general love and power, yet so insecure in his specific desire and ability to heal the active addictions in my own day to day life. I am torn to shreds at the thought of His longing to save and hold this world from condemnation, yet I can be so out of touch with the Holy Spirit as a personal comforter.
These promises to the faithful seem wholly organic to any person I speak with, but when I try to confront God in my own walk of faith, it is nothing short of nonsense. Yet I’ve studied Him like an intriguing stranger, wondered at His great machine without noticing to ask “Where is the engineer so I might speak with him?” I can speak of Him, but not understand prayer; look to Him without looking for Him. I don’t get it. It’s surreal. I feel as if I am watching a film that I cannot play a role in. I can’t seem to finish (or maybe even begin) my double movement.
I can have a mountain of evidence and not a mustard seed of faith.
In “Fear and Trembling”, Kierkengaard describes his willingness to essentially stalk a “Knight of Faith” if he ever found one and “divide my time between watching him and practicing myself, and thus spend all my time admiring him”.
I know that feeling, and I suspect that many of my fellow Christians, especially my fellow apologists, do, too. I would also suspect this is a reason why we lift pastors and popes to such heights, only to be disappointed when they inevitably fall, for surely, there is no man who deserves such honor.
Whether or not that man is to be found, it’s still better to have evidential support for a belief than to not have it, but at this point, my religion borders on old-line evidentialism. I have to get into the absurd; make peace with it. God is not an argument and relationships are not formulas.
So here is a proposition that I can only make to myself: God exists and life is absurd, so I should jump. It would be irrational not to do so. But whoever takes on such an existential task, myself included, should be cautious to remember that it will not look or feel like it “ought” to feel. It would be a trade of comfort for discomfort, only to redefine the word “comfort” itself. This will do fine, for I can’t find a path to anywhere that doesn’t seem to include a paradox within myself.
I’m reminded of Kierkengaard’s question in “Works of Love”, when he asks, “Who has the more difficult task: the teacher who lectures on earnest things a meteor’s distance from everyday life, or the learner who should put it to use?” I think the latter. So from now on, to the best of my ability, I will let go of my haughty certainty, like playing Russian Roulette in hopes of finding a bullet. Because “…to live Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
God exists. Life is absurd. So jump.
So when I feel like this:
“I am at the end of my rope . . . Where am I? What does it mean to say: the world? What is the meaning of that word? Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here? . . . How did I get involved in this enterprise of actuality? . . . where is the manager- I would like to speak with him.” –Soren Kierkengaard, “Repetition”
Maybe I should remember this:
“He (the Knight of Faith) resigned everything infinitely . . . only the knight can do it . . . the act of resignation does not require faith, for what I gain in my resignation is my eternal consciousness. This is a purely philosophical movement . . . but it is faith that is needed in order to renounce everything . . . but a person laments that he has lost his faith, and when a check is made to see where he is on the scale, curiously enough, he has only reached the point of where he is able to make the infinite movement of resignation . . . Be it a duty or whatever, I cannot make the final movement, the paradoxical movement of faith, although there is nothing I wish to do more. Whether a person has the right to say this must be his own decision; whether he can come to an amicable agreement in this respect is a matter between himself and the eternal being, who is the object of faith.”–Soren Kierkengaard, “Fear and Trembling”
And trust this:
“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the way of God, the Maker of all things . . . Now that all of this has been heard; here is the conclusion on the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” – Ecclesiastes 11:4-5, 12:13 (NIV)
 KIERKEGAARD, S., HONG, H. V., HONG, E. H., & KIERKEGAARD, S. (1983). Fear and trembling ; Repetition
 KIERKEGAARD, S., HONG, H. V., HONG, E. H., & KIERKEGAARD, S. (1983). Works of Love
 KIERKEGAARD, S., HONG, H. V., HONG, E. H., & KIERKEGAARD, S. (1983). Repetition
 KIERKEGAARD, S., HONG, H. V., HONG, E. H., & KIERKEGAARD, S. (1983). Fear and trembling ; Repetition