Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Floating On A Sea Of Faith
The brilliant Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was doing his work at a time when modern historiography was just beginning to make a mark on the Christian church. He was very critical of what we would today call modernism - indeed, he is an important precursor to post-modern philosophy and for many of us, an intellectual godfather of emergence Christianity.
History as a modern scientific discipline is the opposite of faith in Kierkegaard's view, because he recognized that historical research is at best only able to represent an "approximation".
"It is impossible in the case of historical problems to reach an objective decision so certain that no doubt could disturb it. This also serves to show that the problem ought to be put subjectively, and that it is precisely a misunderstanding to seek an objective assurance, thereby avoiding the risk in which passion chooses and continues to live, reaffirming its choice."
For Kierkegaard, faith is a "passion" and could therefore never rely on the approximations of historical criticism. Passion includes the suffering of uncertainty and that is where faith must reside. The nature of faith rejects the necessity for secure, objective 'knowledge' - faith is a miracle. To demand that we 'know' for sure is a rejection of faith itself.
"...belief is not a form of knowledge, but a free act, an expression of the will."
Faith is a huge risk because it is the only foundation upon which the Christian stands - and it is a foundation built on the absolute necessity of uncertainty. He puts it like this:
"Spiritual existence, especially the religious, is not easy; the believer continually lies out on the deep, has 70,000 fathoms of water beneath him. However long he lies out there, this still does not mean that he will gradually end up lying and relaxing onshore. He can become more calm, more experienced, find a confidence that loves jest and a cheerful temperament-but until the very last he lies out on 70,000 fathoms of water."
(thanks to Dale Martin's book Sex and the Single Savior for inspiring this post)