Existentialism.

I am poorly qualified to write about this stuff. The problem is that I once knew the definition for 'existentialism' but then took a couple of classes on it and exited them with no clue as to how to define it. If Socrates was right about knowledge of one's own ignorance being the height of wisdom, I suppose I should be thankful for the extra touch of erudition.

But existentialism is too big a topic. The sun is shining too brightly outside and I would like to get out of here. Let us simply restrict ourselves to discussing Soren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard was a nineteenth century theologian living in Copenhagen. He was a rather odd fellow who wrote with a highly individual and entertaining - if also highly eccentric - manner. Kierkegaard came of age at a time when secularism was spreading across the continent, when Christians seemed to be flagging in their faith commitments, and when people seemed to feel all too much pressure to justify their religious beliefs through the use of rational arguments.

The nineteenth century was a time of great scientific inquiry with revolutionary developments in, among other fields, geology and archaeology. New scientific discoveries presented (or seemed to present) fresh challenges for theists to deal with and theists tended to meet these challenges with the most rational arguments they could come up with. Historical studies of the Bible were gaining in popularity and many were the scholars and enthusiasts who believed that rational and objective arguments could be discovered, developed, and put in place that could provide would-be believers with the justification to fully accept their religious beliefs.

These practices, needless to say, have never gone away. To this day, people try to put forth scientific arguments that will defend faith and some of these arguments are quite nicely made. At the same time, science continues to close those gaps in our knowledge of the universe. Those very gaps are often referred to in the famous phrase, "The god of the gaps", in which it is said that God is conveniently raised as an explanation for phenomenon not yet explained by science. And yet, the thinking of many goes, those gaps continue to be made smaller. Where does this leave God?

Not all scientists are athiests, of course. There are scientists who believe in God and believe that there is nothing irrational about doing so. Arguments for and against the existence of God are batted back and forth by very knowledgeable and intelligent people and yet the matter is never resolved once and for all. Does God exist? Does God not exist? Will we ever know? Can we ever know? If we can know, how can we know? What are the implications for our lives if God exists? What are the implications for our lives if God does not exist? What are the implications for our lives if we want desperately to know about the existance of God but cannot know?

Existential angst.

The above dilemma has been around for a long time and was one about which Kierkegaard was very familiar. For Keirkegaard, questions of faith can never be settled objectively. Nor should they. For faith, according to Kierkegaard, is not about objectivity and rationality. It is, by its very nature, absurd - and that's OK! The truth that is faith, for Keikegaard, is not impersonal and objective, but rather passionately personal and subjective. It is for this line of reasoning that Kierkegaard stated, "Truth is subjective."

There are certain things about which we don't feel a strong need to know the absolute 'truth'. Most of us don't need to know if there are nine planets in the solar system or ten, whether horses first arose in the New World or the Old World (the New World, I believe), or whether Columbus landed on the shores of America or Cuba or some other place. Many people, however, do feel a strong need to have answered for themselves the fundamental questions of their own existence. But if objective truth regarding these fundamental questions cannot ever be relied on, what is one to do? For Kierkegaard, the answer was to take his famous, "Leap of Faith."

Do you want to feel that there is a meaning to your life? Take the leap of faith and feel it. Do you want to believe in the existence of God? Take the leap of faith and believe it. Do you want to believe that your existence matters, that what you do makes a difference in the world, that a force beyond nature overlooks us and cares for us and takes care of us, that death is not the end but merely the beginning to another and fuller existence? Take the leap of faith and believe it.

Or don't.

Kierkegaard has his detractors. Many are those who have difficulty with Kierkegaard's notion that 'truth is subjectivity.' Kierkegaard held Abraham in high esteem due to his great and unbreakable faith in God. For Kierkegaard, a great demonstration of Abraham's faith in God can be observed in the biblical scene where the sacrifice of Isaac is about to be commited - but is ultimately prevented by God. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham intends to obey. Abraham loves his son. But Abraham believes in God and follows God's commands.

While Kierkegaard may have felt all warm and fuzzy about the story of Abraham, not everyone is so enthusiastic. Many are the people throughout history and to this day who have heard voices in their heads and have followed the commands of those voices. This has not always been for the best. One might well wonder if Kierkegaard's suggestion that we take a 'leap of faith' is a prescription for religious fanaticism and generally psychotic behaviour. In light of all this, perhaps never-ending existential angst is a small price to pay for saving us from behaviours that may prove destructive to ourselves and to others alike.

Interesting stuff.