Kierkegaard and the Philosophy of Religion

Is There a Spiritual Reality?

“Where am I?  Who am I?  How did I come to be here?  What is this thing called the world?  How did I come into the world?  Why was I not consulted?  And if I am compelled to take part in it, Where is the director?  I want to see him.”

This quote by Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard illustrates the seed of his passion for Christian Existentialism.  Kierkegaard challenges the idea that proving the existence of God is what Christian philosophers should do.  He considers the traditional, scientific “If / Then Proof” insufficient to answer the question “does God exist?”  He writes, “For if God does not exist it would of course be impossible to prove it; and if he does exist it would be folly to attempt it.”

In other words, reason only gets us so far when we are trying to understand an unconditioned reality.

He lived and wrote around the 1850’s, as the Industrial Revolution was getting its footing, and the church was becoming a more secularized institution in an effort to keep up with the times.  He saw the church’s struggle with the overwhelming new popularity of science and reason and viewed this effort to fit God into a scientific formula as misplaced.

Kierkegaard points out that it is difficult to prove that anything exists, let alone the Unknown, so the more realistic goal is to “develop the content of a conception of God”.  His example is persuasive: “I do not, for example, prove that a stone exists, but that some existing thing is a stone.  The procedure in a court of justice does not prove that a criminal exists, but that the accused, whose existence is a given, is a criminal.”  So if we are no longer setting out to prove the existence of God, but instead to determine if our conception of God holds enough weight to deem it a realistic probability, how are we to do that?  His answer is “the leap of faith.”

The idea of the leap of faith is perhaps Kierkegaard’s greatest contribution to Christian philosophy.  It is the idea that the single obstacle to knowledge of, and a relationship with God is not our ability to reason, but our inability to submit our steadfast will to that which goes beyond reason.  Our insistence on proof solely through logic and reason must be let go of for a moment in order to “let the reality of his existence become manifest.  To let go of this compulsion requires an act of will, a leap of faith in God’s reality.”

It is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  It can be compared to the difference of knowing about love and experiencing love, or knowing about food verses tasting food.  It is the difference between objective knowledge and subjective knowledge, and Kierkegaard knows that in a relationship with the divine, subjective knowing is ultimately all that matters.

GO with love

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4 Responses to Kierkegaard and the Philosophy of Religion

  1. glamourowl says:

    Thanks, Joy! About to re-read Fear & Trembling in the next couple of weeks and looking forward to it:)

  2. joy says:

    The name of the lecture is “John’s Gospel: Exercises in Spiritual Theology for a PostModern World” by James Houston. It’s fantastic. It’s beautiful. It’s a 9 hour class he taught in Hong Kong in ’05 or ’06. http://www.regentbookstore.com/product_details.php?item_id=67147&category_id=221. I have the MP3 version on a disc that I’d be glad to loan you.

  3. glamourowl says:

    Thanks so much for your comment! I love his irony too and I think it is so often overlooked. Feel free to post a link to the lecture if it is good and available online.

  4. joy says:

    Funny, I’m taking a break from listening to a lecture about Kierkegaard and the Gospel of John and come across this! K.’s definition of faith as encounter and the need for THE MOMENT is a good refresher. K breaks away from Socrates in the concept of teacher and student is helpful and grounded in the concept of truth… and sin. I love his irony. The Enlightenment did us some disservices. To think K was first “discovered” in Oxford in the 1950’s. All of this is to say, Thanks for a lovely and provocative post!

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