Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

KIERKEGAARD: The Knight of Faith (Part 2)

The first part of The Knight of Faith uses the story of Abraham and Isaac to set the stage.  Kierkegaard wants the reader to ponder that story as a way of entering into a different world from the one we live in now.  He wants to get us thinking about what the world must have seemed like to Abraham.  In the second part Kierkegaard gets down to business.  Think about what the world is like now.  Is it different?  Kierkegaard comes right out with his opinion: Abraham I cannot understand; in a certain sense I can learn nothing from him except to be amazed.  Someone may try to explain to Kierkegaard that it’s actually a theological tool designed to increase our faith.  God didn’t expect Abraham to really go through with it.  God just wanted to test Abraham’s faith.   Kierkegaard isn’t satisfied with that interpretation.  In fact, he believes almost the opposite: If someone deludes himself into thinking he may be moved to have faith by pondering the outcome of that story he cheats himself and cheats God out of the first movement of faith.  He wants to suck worldly wisdom out of that paradox.  People may think they’re explaining the ways of God to man but they’re really just spinning the story to suck worldly wisdom from it.  And Kierkegaard isn’t after worldly wisdom.  He wants to push beyond worldly wisdom into the infinite spaces of faith.  How do we do that?  First we have to backtrack and make sure we even believe that faith is possible.  Why do we have to backtrack first?  Because our generation does not stop with faith; does not stop with the miracle of faith, turning water into wine.  It goes further and turns wine into water.  The modern world runs on the fuel of rational thought, science and technology.  We want to know how and why the world works the way it does.  Plus we want logical explanations.  So Kierkegaard wants us to stop and consider: Would it not be best to stop with faith and is it not shocking that everyone wants to go further?  We’re so drenched in science and technology and logic that it takes a superhuman effort to see life any other way.  But it is possible for some people.  This is what Kierkegaard calls the Knight of Faith (though he openly admits that he’s not one himself).  He says I presumably can describe the movements of faith but I cannot make them.  So the best we can do is to get Kierkegaard’s second-hand description of this mysterious Knight of Faith: I may very well imagine him.  Here he is.  And our first reaction would probably be something like Kierkegaard’s own reaction: “Good Lord.  Is this the man; is this really the one?  He looks like a government bureaucrat!”  We expected someone a little more, you know, spiritual looking.  Like one of those paintings of Jesus with a halo or something.  But no, this Knight of Faith is just a very ordinary looking fellow; kind of bland even.  Kierkegaard points out that a true Knight of Faith is solid all the way through.  He belongs entirely to the world.  If one did not know him it would be impossible to distinguish him from the rest of the crowd.  How can this be?  We thought the whole point was to get away from this workaday world and go hang out in the vast spiritual spaces of infinity.  That’s why most of us (Kierkegaard included) aren’t Knights of Faith.  The Knight of Faith does not lack the courage to attempt and to risk everything.  He risks everything on the wager that true spiritual enlightenment must be found here, in this world, in the midst of ordinary everyday life.  That's why he seems so ordinary.  He attends to his job.  He goes to church.  In the afternoon he takes a walk in the woods.  In the evening he smokes his pipe.  What a letdown; and yet the only path to faith is going through this smudgy world.  We must give up daydreams and learn to live on terms not of our own making.  Kierkegaard puts it this way: By my own strength I can give up the princess but by my own strength I cannot get her back again…  Or, in other words, Abraham can give up Isaac but he cannot get him back again by his own strength.  That takes faith. 


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