Monday, May 13, 2013

Leap of Faith



A friend sent me the other day two articles on Soren Kierkegaard which reminded me of the bicentenary of the Danish philosopher’s birth.  Philosophers, probably, belong to a species that’s becoming extinct.  Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile, if not necessary, to take a glance at some of the old philosophies. 

Kierkegaard’s most famous phrase is “leap into faith.”  The philosopher argued that there is a profound insecurity in human life.  Life is one contingency after another.  The only certainty is death.  The other certainties or truths have to be created by each one of us as we move through life. What is required in the process is the willingness to risk a leap of faith. 

Becoming human is a project, argued Kierkegaard.  Our task is not so much to discover who we are but to create ourselves at every moment. 

Kierkegaard identified 3 stages of life experience.

1.       The aesthetic: This is the stage at which we search for fulfilment in activities such as romance, career building and pleasure-seeking.  This is, however, not ultimately satisfying.  It eventually leads to boredom.
2.       The ethical: This is a remedy for the aesthetic despair. This is a commitment to some arbitrary absolute.  For example, when Mahatma Gandhi committed himself to non-violence, he was choosing this remedy. Similarly Mother Teresa chose compassion.
3.       The religious: Kierkegaard thought that man could find his final contentment only in God.  Kierkegaard would have agreed with Augustine of Hippo that “our hearts are restless until they rest in (God).”

But Kierkegaard’s God would not have been a simplistic god provided by some organised religion.  The philosopher was of the view that most worthwhile truths are subjective rather than objective. There are plenty of objective truths in the world like water boils at 100 degree Celsius under normal conditions, etc.  In human life, however, subjective truths assume a greater significance.  “Truth is subjectivity,” Kierkegaard dared to assert.  “Unless one believes something subjectively and passionately he does not possess the truth,” Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg paraphrased Kierkegaard. 

This subjective truth is found in the concrete, not in the abstract; in the existential, not in the rational.  One places oneself in that truth, even as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa did, by a leap of faith.  This truth is not arrived at logically but chosen by the individual’s will.

I think Kierkegaard’s philosophy deserves attention in a world where people are encouraged, if not forced, to be satisfied with superficial delights and contentment.  People refuse to go beyond what Kierkegaard labelled the aesthetic stage.  Our civilisation encourages us to stick like barnacles to the rock of superficiality. Kierkegaard invites us to leap out of that superficiality and commit ourselves to some higher, more profound truth. 

11 comments:

  1. while we have the ability to think but being a specie of animal we also have the basic nature of following our herd.
    thoughtful article !

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    1. Yeah, but how much should we follow the herd - that's the question.

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  2. For the 3rd stage of life, however, one has to believe in God. What if the person doesn't believe in God but it rather believes in Karma? Now that too is abstract because what is right for one person may not be right for another person. So how does the third stage pan out for the person stuck in the second stage? I am asking this because I have been wondering about this since long.

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    1. God is also a choice, Pankti. I describe myself as an agnostic. For all practical purposes, like most agnostics, I am an atheist. In fact, I'm almost an atheist except that I leave the question open to possibilities for the sake of a personal satisfaction.

      Isn't Karma a similar intellectual concept? I'm sure Kierkegaard would have no problems with that concept. It's a choice made by an individual's will...

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  3. Yes the ultimate truth is Self realisation which is the third stage. But very few have achieved it and its rather difficult to achieve as we all are lost in material world and wants. Nvertheless we all must try!

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    1. Exactly, Kislaya. It's about self-realisation. In fact, Kierkegaard finds ample mention in psychology too while discussing self-actualisation.

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  4. Philosophies of Kierkegaard have known to influence many and I believe one of the most amazing documentation of these have been in a book called Sidhartha by Herman Hesse. The beauty of man creating his own life and not believing in fatalism (like most hindus) is very beautifully depicted in the book. If you have not read it I would suggest you do. You would love it.

    As for your article its the very that you can understand his philosophies and present them out for us so simply shows your own depth and understanding of life.

    A lovely refreshing read which of course reminded most of us that life after all is ours and ours to lose or gain only :)

    www.subzeroricha.blogspot.in

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    1. I was an admirer of Hesse for a long time. I read Siddhartha many times and had a personal copy. I enjoyed Hesse's other novels too, especially Narcissus and Goldmund.

      Thanks for the appreciation. I describe myself as a learner, not a teacher. That's why, I think, I am able to present hard things in a simple way. But some scholars may accuse me of over-simplifying...

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    2. believe me many would agree the art of writing is simplifying it. Complicating comes natural to most. Whenever I write my number motive is to simply what I want to express and at times that is what takes more time.... inspired by you I am planning to write something on fatalism will keep you posted :)

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  5. Replies
    1. Thank you so much. You are always there with a word of encouragement.

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