Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Carlisle, Clare. "Kierkegaard's World, Part 8: God and Possibility." GUARDIAN May 3, 2010.

I want to conclude this series by considering what Kierkegaard means by "God" and "belief in God", and how this shapes his understanding of human life. Kierkegaard is often rather conservative theologically, but in The Sickness Unto Death his pseudonym Anti-Climacus offers a surprising description of God:
Inasmuch as for God all things are possible, it may be said that this is what God is: one for whom all things are possible. . . . God is that all things are possible, and that all things are possible is the existence of God.
This alludes to a teaching that is recorded in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. When Jesus tells his disciples that 'it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,' they ask, in amazement, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus replies, "With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible". Kierkegaard seems to have been fascinated by this biblical text, for he echoes it in several of his works, including Fear and Trembling. However, in The Sickness Unto Death he goes beyond it, claiming not just that all things are possible for God, but that God is this possibility – and that believing in God means believing in possibility. For Kierkegaard, possibility is integral to human life – and his own use of pseudonyms and fictional characters enables him to dramatise different philosophical or existential possibilities. In The Sickness Unto Death he states that the human being is a synthesis of possibility and "necessity", which in this case means actual, concrete existence. At any moment in time, in any situation, there are facts of the matter: right now, for example, I am sitting at home in Manchester, writing; it is raining. But we also reach out into the future to envisage various possibilities: if I finish my work in time, and if it stops raining, I might go out for a walk this afternoon. Even the past is haunted by possibility, since things might have happened differently. Possibility fills each present moment with meaning. Of course, some possibilities are more significant than others. But Kierkegaard's point is that human existence is not confined to concrete, factual actuality, but opens out onto the dimension of possibility. This, he thinks, is what makes us free – but it also gives rise to anxiety. If the human being is a synthesis of possibility and necessity, then both of these aspects are equally important. When he discusses despair in The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard identifies several different forms of despair. In one case, a person lacks concrete actuality: he loses himself in imagining, reflecting on and dreaming about different possibilities, without actualising any of them. In the opposite case – which seems to be the most common – a person loses himself in concrete things. This is the despair that lacks possibility. . . . Read the rest here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/may/03/religion-philosophy-kierkegaard-possibility-god.

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