Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling": A Summary

Abraham - more like Abroham - was a fucking badass. God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, after promising him descendants more numerous than the stars, and he obeyed faithfully. He didn't just obey, he fucking obeyed - he didn't try to go 'above and beyond' the will of God, or interpret it based on what he thought God should want or probably wanted; he didn't obey resentfully or hesitantly. Bro just fucking packed up his son, built a goddamn altar, and got ready to sacrifice him, because God said so. That is fucking incredible.

Does that seem paradoxical or contradictory to you? Good. It should, and if it doesn't then you're not paying attention. Was that shit unethical? Of course it was, but that's why Abraham is ten times the bro any of us is. 

Ethics tell us how we should always act, it provides universal guidance. That's why faith is so fucking hard; it's not universal, and it's not just some allegory, a stepping stone to understanding something greater - it's personal, it's internal, and it's fucking demanding. Abraham had to be scared as shit - he was a good dad, he loved his son, and he expected fucktons of grandkids. But he also knew that God Almighty, creator of the Heavens and the Earth, commanded him to do something, and as smart as Abraham was, he was pretty sure he wasn't smarter than God. God is fucking smart.

Seriously, Abraham was going to murder his son. We can split hairs over what technically constitutes 'murder', but I think we can all agree that tying your perfectly obedient son up and fucking stabbing him is just about murdery as it gets. There's no way to reconcile that to any sort of universal, ethical code. Does that make Abraham a bad dude? Fuck no. He did it because God commanded it - not in some vague sense like, "I think this one reading says I should" or "Dude, I kinda have this feeling, you know?" - but God came to Abraham in all His resplendent glory and commanded it. God switched it the fuck up, and now the ethical was the temptation - Abraham was tempted to do the 'right' thing, the thing everyone else would have thought was right, and he didn't. I'll say it again - that shit is incredible, and there's really no way to express how incredible it is. Abraham transcended the universal, and we can only discuss the act in universals; any justification of his action to each other must be in universal terms, and there is no such justification. That is the paradox of faith.

Don't forget that even having Isaac was a fucking miracle. Abraham was basically a million years old when he had Isaac, and so was his wife - they had almost given up hope, but God can do anything he damn well pleases, so he gave Abraham a son. The Lord giveth, and the Lord fucking taketh away, and who are we to question Him? Is He not bound by the same universals that bound us? Is God above the ethical? You bet your sweet ass He is. Fucking paradoxes, how do they work? None of us has any higher duty than our duty to God - not because duty to God is the highest on a range of duties, or the 'most ethical' obligation we have; our duty to God is complete and absolute, and Abraham got that. We act ethically because God commands it, not the other way around. God fucking invented ethics, just like he invented everything other particular, and when He calls us above it, we would do well to listen.

Chances are, a lot of this makes you uncomfortable, which is precisely why Abraham didn't tell anyone what he was doing with Isaac. How could he? They would have acted with repulsion, just as everyone today does at the thought of evil in the world. They would have condemned God, and thought themselves greater than He because any being who would violate the ethical can't be all-powerful. But Abraham knew faith wasn't about making God look good, or apologizing for the Creator of the Universe. God can handle His own business, thank you very much, and he doesn't need Abraham's approval or anyone else's. So Abraham followed God's command, and he was richly rewarded for it.

The fact is, I don't fully understand how Abraham did what he did, and I'm a little weirded out by it. Still, God delivered on every single promise He made to Abraham; He richly rewarded him, and Abraham is the father of faith - he's a big fucking deal, and who the fuck am I? Therefore, I am content to follow in his footsteps and serve the Lord Almighty - his willingness to do what God commanded, and not worry about anything else, is what makes Abraham such a bro king. 

Want to read more?

Fear and Trembling on Amazon.com


  1. Blindly following gets shit done.

  2. Great summary an outstanding job

  3. Bro, you should be a fucking preacher.

  4. What annoys me about Kierkegaard is that he plays the theologian harp while singing philosophical hymns. Preaching angst with a weak as shit deus ex machina as the only consolidation.

  5. Inconsiderate clod, don't read more, just read more carefully.

  6. As a Bible College student, this makes even me really frickin' happy. Really.

  7. As much as I'm not a theist, I do see where Kierkegaard is coming from in this regard. He basically says "it's hard to be religious, and most people suck at it." A nice summary but I do think that the whole "fear and trembling" part of "fear and trembling" doesn't really come through enough. The whole deal with the "fear and trembling" is that it's really, really hard to actually go through with obeying God in the way Abraham did. In this, he was dealing with the absurd. "I shall sacrifice my son, knowing that I will kill him, but I shall believe that I shall get him back by virtue of the absurd." It is this faith in God, this absurd faith, that drives into the heart of people a fear, a trembling, and an unnerving uneasiness.

    For us, it is glorious to be ethical. It has become religious to be ethical. To be religious is to be ethical and to be ethical is to be religious. That is how it has been seen so far. However, Kierkegaard wants to deny this. To be religious is not to be ethical. It's to have faith in God regardless of what might happen and to believe, through the absurd, that one will gain everything that they have lost and even in some greater measure. This is his knight of faith. But being a night of faith is awful. It's horrible. It's scary. How easy it would be to turn around and cry out "I'm doing this because of this, that, and this!" But Abraham didn't give into this temptation. He didn't try to explain himself or his reasons to others. This is something that we wish to do. We wish to belong to the universal so that we can explain things, find solace in them that people can understand us. However, when one is a knight of faith, one walks a lonely, desolate path. As soon as one doubts their path, starts measuring the costs and benefits, one goes back into being a knight of infinite resignation.

    When one walks in the life of a religious person, when one is religious in the truest sense, one shouldn't feel solace, one shouldn't feel easy. One should feel a dreaded sense of "fear and trembling".

  8. You just made the next 4 hours of philosophy class so much easier!

  9. Kierkegaard is certainly consistent with his case. His argument here holds up to scrutiny, but its the premises that require examination- the verification that God is exactly what He claims to be must precede the advocated submission. But this is the problem of faith- how is any empirical manifestation of God ever to be confirmed? So faith based on miracles and external edicts fails to stand. If instead the 'voice of God' is indistinguishable from what is thought in one's own mind, what's to say any venture is ever questionable?- it's convincing enough to be committed to, isn't it? But religion goes on to prescribe a particular brand of ethics- so how do we distinguish the voice of God countermanding his general principles through us, and given free will, our own malicious intents?

  10. Kierkegaard thinks it's hard to obey God, that this story is an example of the challenge of faith. Come off it, if God appears to you of course that shit is gonna get a whole lot more do-able.

    When it comes to general maintenance of faith in a world with no frickn' evidence of God giving half a turkey's asshole about you, it becomes entirely different doesn't it?!

    Abe would of impressed me if he told God to go fuck himself to his face. I think we're giving him way too much credit here; Bros can't even look at God, how they gonna disobey him right in his (omnipresent) face?!

  11. In a world of God and devils, what if Abraham was confronted by Satan claiming to be God. What if Abraham is fooled into sacrificing his own son? If Abraham was required to dismiss his (God given) ethical reasoning in order to embrace faith 100%, who's to say he has the tools to discern a true God from a phony god?