Athenaeum Meeting Minutes Ė Jul 13, 2002 Ė Dog & Duck Pub

Attending:  Joel Aud, Pete Hansen, Bob Hardister, Alan Hunt, Paul Johnson, Chris Mack, John Mays, Eli Pickering, Matt Thomas

Welcome to new Athenaeum Member Paul Johnson

Book for Discussion:  Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard

Minutes:

Matt: Kierkegaard, who lived from 1813 to 1855, was a profound and prolific Danish writer. Fear and Trembling responds to the Hegelís absolute philosophy.

Pete: Kierkegaard rejects Hegel, talking the opposite view which focuses on the personal, not the abstract.

Matt: What is existentialism?

Pete: Existentialisms explores the question, "what does it mean to exist"? It explores crisis and manís struggle to work out his own life in the world.

Bob: Existentialists regard themselves as anti-philosophers. In one sense it is the death of philosophy.

Joel: The verifiable exists only for the individual, in terms of his own experiences.

John: Meaning is created by oneís own act of volition. We create our own meaning.

Bob: In Hegelís philosophy, what is real is rational, what is rational is real. With Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard takes Hegelís doctrine and shows where it leads through a test case, that of Abraham.

Pete: The book is a dialectic lyric. Hegelís thesis moves dialectically. Kierkegaardís point is that thesis and anti-thesis work without resolution; the ethical is dialectically opposed to faith and is thus a paradox, and so faith is irrational.

Paul: Hegel is quoted in the first preface, "we can measure reality but we must turn to God for revelation."

Pete: To understand Hegel and Kierkegaard, we have to understand the important arguments of 19th century philosophy which stemmed from Kant. He said one could never truly know reality. Existentialists like Hegel and Nietzsche in response to Kantís skepticism claimed our minds operate on reality or more correctly how we perceive reality (not reality itself which is unknowable to us). The other camp reacting to Kant was embodied by Rousseau and the romantics. For them truth could be gleaned from means other than empirical, such as music and art. It is from this place that Kierkegaard picks up.

Joel: Hegel gave us communism, while Kierkegaard influenced Karl Barth, from whom the neo-reformation sprung forth.

Matt: This was the most obtuse work Iíve ever read!

John: One often finds challenging literature revisited years later are much clearer the second time through. Reading broadly and often is the best tool for gaining access to difficult texts. A useful introduction to philosophy is a book called From Socrates to Sarte by T.Z. Lavine.

Chris: The other difficult aspect of Fear and Trembling is Kierkegaardís use of a pseudonym, Johannes De Silentio. It adds a layer between the reader and the author, obscuring Kierkegaardís message.

John: De Silentio does not understand Abraham, and so can not comprehend Abraham as a Night of Faith. Here is Kierkegaardís thesis: In terms of rational actions, the highest level of achievement is infinite resignation, or operating according to the "universal" (or the commonly understood ethical norms established by God). The universal is readily understandable and explainable to everyone. Now to transcend the universal requires one to act as the "individual", and in doing so act contrary to ethical norms (the universal) which necessarily appears mad to the universal. For Abraham, that transcendence was rooted in faith, making faith itself paradoxical.

Bob: The title Fear and Trembling, in addition to the scriptural reference to Ephesians 6:5, refers to the consequences of acting as the individual.

Matt: How does Abrahamís story relate to me? Surely none of us will be asked by God to slay our children, or act as such and "individual".

John: The author tells us on page 41 (Everymanís Library Edition) what benefit we enjoy as the Knight of faith, "Öthus to live joyfully and happily every instant by virtue of the absurd, every instant to see the sword hanging over the head of the beloved, and yet not to find repose in the pain of resignation, but joy by the virtue of the absurd Ė this is marvelous. He who does it is great, the only great man. The thought of it stirs my soul, which was never niggardly in the admiration of greatness." To live like this! If we can only operate like this!

Pete: The Knight of resignation never gets it. Only the Knight of faith understands.

Bob: Who is the Knight of faith? On page 29 (Everymanís Library Edition) Kierkegaard states, "I candidly admit that in practice I have not found any reliable example of the knight of faith, though I would not deny that every second man may be such an example."

Eli: I must agree with Matt, that much of the book was unreachable. Though there is little doubt that Kierkegaardís understanding of faith is profound, the high philosophical language muddied the already stagnant waters of my brain. For example, on page 47 (Everymanís Library Edition), "Faith is precisely this paradox, that the individual as the particular is higher than the universal, is justified over against it, is not subordinate but superior Ė yet in such a way, be it observed, that it is the particular individual who, after he has been subordinated as the particular to the universal, now through the universal becomes the individual who as the particular is superior to the universal, for the fact that the individual as the particular stands in an absolute relation to absolute." Give me a break.

Chris: How about page 60 (Everymanís Library Edition), "This paradox does not permit of mediation, for it is founded precisely upon the fact that the individual is only the individual. As soon as the individual [who is unaware of a direct command from God] wishes to express his absolute duty in [terms of] the universal [i.e. the ethical, and] is sure of his duty in that [i.e. the universal or ethical precept], he recognizes that he is in temptation [i.e. a trial of faith], and, if in fact he resists [the direct indication of Godís will], he ends by not filling the absolute duty so called [ i.e. what here has been called the absolute duty]; and, if he doesnít do this, [i.e. doesnít put up a resistance to the direct intimation of Godís will], he sins, even though realiter his deed were that which it was his absolute duty to do."

Alan: Even the translator comments on that sentence, "Much as I love Kierkegaard, I sometimes hate him for keeping me awake at night."

John: Francis Schaffer did not like the argument that faith was absurd. Christians need not operate "within a paradox".

Matt: Despite an education of science and engineering stressing rational explanations, it has not been hard to accept apparently paradoxical tenants of Christianity. There is no tension in understanding faith as a paradox.

Bob: Hegel would say that is fundamentally incorrect. That Christians can accept Godís will is irrational.

Alan: Although I did not grasp this upon reading, the discussion this evening lends me to believe De Silentio is stuck within Hegelian parameters and that is why Kierkegaardís thesis misses the mark. Shafferís critique of "faith as a paradox" is more palatable.

Bob: Disillusionment. It is hard to deal with language that links faith with absurdity. Kierkegaard holds the readerís interest with his insightful interpretation of Biblical text.

Joel: Borrowing from Barth, "Abraham dwells in the subject, while Christ is the objective". Kierkegaard brings that to fruition. Abraham makes the ultimate sacrifice outside of himself. In other words, it takes incredible faith to make sacrifices at the expense of others, rather than yourself.

Chris: Fear and Trembling is difficult to read because it is packed with Hegelian buzz words. However, there were many interesting points with regard to Abrahamís specific situation. In the end, one must ask, what kind of God asks us to sacrifice our children?

Pete: One who would do it himself.

Matt: God would not have tested Abraham unless he knew he could bear the weight of the trial. He new Abraham would go through with it.

Alan: God tested Adam and Eve by forbidding them to eat of the fruit.

Chris: But testing and sacrificing are simple manipulations created by all religions.

Bob: Kierkegaard focuses on the subjective. One can not take the subjective truths of Abrahamís trial and make them universal. We can not all go about sacrificing our children.

John: God appears to be a manipulator, but Abrahamís story was recorded for us all. Why? Because it shows us a man who had faith in a God who was worthy of that faith. Job is another example of a man who is tested, and who is redeemed for his faith.

Matt: Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac through direct revelation. We would not all be tested in the same way. We are not all asked to be Knights of Faith.

John: God may expected us all to be Knights of Faith. There are similarities between Abrahamís trial, and our own lives. We live in a time when it is not popular to be Christian, and yet we are expected to persevere in the face of persecution.

Pete: Kierkegaard has a wonderful writing style. His thesis is clear, but in the end it is wrong. God is a rational being. Faith may be a paradox and it may be mysterious, but God does not operate as an irrational being.

John: What is rational to God may very well be irrational to us. God is completely self consistent, but he operates on a plain which mortal men may often perceive as irrational.

Pete: Faith is necessary for understanding God. Faith is not irrational.

Matt: In philosophical realms I am Mugsy Boles and Pete is Shaquiel OíNeil.

Eli: One does not doubt that Abraham is the Father of Faith. That he could sacrifice his son is a remarkable testament, but is it as dramatic a step as Kierkegaard presumes? After all, he did have direct communion with the Lord. He was told by the Lord himself to do it. I do not think I would have trouble carrying out any instructions that God saw fit to deliver personally.

Bob: Blessed are those who believe, but have not seen.

Paul: The book was excellent. It elevates the story of Abraham to a level not before gleaned from the text, but also specifically Kierkegaardís justification of Abrahamís silence toward Sarah and Isaac. There is a degree of absurdity in faith. The universal ethic can be a powerful force to overcome in todayís society.

Alan: Another element to demonstrate Abrahamís faith is the importance Isaac would play in history, as the father of nations from which Christ the man would be born. This was not just anyoneís son, this was the future for the entire Church.

Matt: The New Testament tells us that Abraham reasoned God would raise his son from the dead. We have the benefit of scripture to explain Abrahamís situation.

Paul: It would have been nice had Kierkegaard made some analogy between Abrahamís faith and our own faith in accepting Christ as Lord and Savior.

Pete: Why is it absurd for Abraham to kill Isaac? By what criteria are we to judge the act absurd? God essentially has no criteria outside himself. To murder oneís son when commanded to do so by the Almighty can not then be irrational.

John: The crux of the argument is that God decreed murder immoral, as early as Cain and Able this was clearly Godís Law. Murder is an immoral act, and yet Abraham is ordered to act in a contrary manner. Therein lies the paradox.

Matt: The New Testament explains Abrahamís reasoning.

Bob: Fear and Trembling explores Abrahamís psychological condition at the time.

John: As a student of Schaffer, my expectations of Kierkegaardís arguments were colored by that theologians rebuke of the bookís basic argument. However, it is romantic in its underlying emphasis on the individual. There are avenues to truth outside rational categories, such as art, music, and poetry. Kierkegaardís arguments are compelling because they are poetic, lyrical. We may take up the question of faith in rational terms but if it is the only tool we use, it is insufficient. Kierkegaardís explanation of faith is the other side to Schafferís argument.

Pete: That may be true, but fundamentally Abraham did not step outside the ethical. Because his primary duty was to the Creator, not the collective ethic of his created beings. It is not absurd to trade one ethic for a higher one.

Paul: From page 59 (Everymanís Library Edition), "The paradox of faith is this, that the individual is higher than the universal, that the individual (to recall dogmatic distinction now rather seldom heard) determines his relation to the universal by his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute by his relation to the universal. The paradox can also be expressed by saying that there is a duty toward God; for in this relationship of duty the individual as an individual stands related absolutely to the absolute."

John: If I tell you a grapefruit is God, you would have no reason to believe it. All of you would be inclined to reject me.

Bob: Reason and faith are not opposed. The Knight of faith often resembles the Philistine.

Chris: Bring Kierkegaard into 2002. While reading Kierkegaard in Denmark I discussed the book with a friend from Israel. Israelis are asked to sacrifice their sons for the very existence of the country. But this individual, if he thought his son would indeed be sacrificed, stated he would move.

John: From page 69 (Everymanís Library Edition), "Whether the individual is in temptation [Anfechtung] or is a Knight of faith only the individual can decide.

Joel: One is reminded of the Nichodemus test. Nichodemus was a member of the Sandridan and as such had a duty in private to his family (to tell the story of the Passover), and in public (to offer blessings to the nation at the Passover). Yet he sacrificed his public and private reputation to bury Christ, a common criminal guilty of heresy. He did all this for his faith to an un-risen Christ.

Voting for September:

*due to the number of proposals, each man receives 3 votes with a 1 vote runoff among the 2 leading books

 Author 
 Bob 
 Joel 
 Chris 
 Paul 
 John 
 Pete 
 Matt 
 Eli 
 Alan 
 Total 
(Paul) Jude the Obscure
Hardy
     
X
         
1
(Chris) Ulysses
Joyce
X
 
X
 
X
       
3
(Joel) Paved With Good Intentions 
Taylor
 
X
       
X
   
2
(Bob) War and Peace
Tolstoy
                 
0
(Eli) Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row
Steinbeck
X
   
X
X
X
 
X
X
6
(Eli) The Sound and the Fury
Faulkner
 
X
X
       
X
 
3
(Matt) The Art of War
Tsu
 
X
             
1
(Matt) Declare
Powers
           
X
   
1
(Pete) Interpretation of Dreams
Freud
         
X
 
X
X
3
(Pete) Nausea
Sarte
         
X
     
1
(John) A Farewell to Arms
 Hemingway 
X
 
X
X
X
 
X
 
X
6

Runoff:

 Author 
 Bob 
 Joel 
 Chris 
 Paul 
 John 
 Pete 
 Matt 
 Eli 
 Alan 
 Total 
(Eli) Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row
Steinbeck
     
X
 
X
X
X
X
5
(John) A Farewell to Arms
 Hemingway 
X
X
X
 
X
       
4
(Alan) Book of Top 10 Lists
Letterman
                 
 Still 0 

Next Meeting:

August 17th at the Dog and Duck Pub (Note meeting moved to 3rd Saturday)

August Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

September Tortilla Flat & Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Athenaeum Meeting Minutes