Archive for Faith

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part IV

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 9, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Final section of my short series on Kierkegaard and his concept of faith. Feel free to comment, I’d always love to hear your thoughts.

As I mentioned at the very onset of my paper, despite the fact that Johannes does not desire to be a biblical exegete he is interpreting Scripture and if he does so in a faulty manner he will arrive at a faulty definition of faith. Perhaps his only mistake, which proves to be fatal, in his exegesis is that he seems to forget the greater context of the passage. This is also perhaps the strongest point in favor of my definition of faith. Consider the greater context, the story of Abraham and Isaac takes place in chapter 22 of Genesis. In chapter 12 of Genesis G-d makes a covenant with Abraham. For the next ten chapters G-d leads Abraham through foreign countries and remains faithful the promise he made to Abraham. We would do well to remember that these are not small trials that G-d protects Abraham through either. In the ten chapters G-d leads Abraham through Egypt and keeps his family safe from Pharaoh. G-d blesses the land in which Abraham entered after Lot chose what appeared to be the more fruitful land. G-d protects Abraham in his pursuit of his nephew and gives the king of Sodom into Abraham’s hand. G-d grants Abraham a son long after childbearing years for either he or his wife. G-d delivers Abraham again as he passes through foreign lands. Than, after all this G-d does the unthinkable and asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, his only son, the one through whom the promised nation was to come. Considered in this light, is Abraham’s obedience really unintelligible? Is not Abraham acting on what is an established trustworthy authority? Cease to examine the Abraham story and look instead at the broader context and Scripture and one will notice that all those who exercised faith were indeed acting on a trustworthy authority. One objection that has been raised to this statement is that Rahab did not have any past experiences with G-d and perhaps did not act on this definition of faith. But again, did not Rahab hear of the countless surprising victories racked up by the Israelites prior to their arrival outsider her city? Is it not likely that her faith was based on the witness of those bearing the stories of the Israelites victories? From their trusted witness she chose to place faith in the Israelites G-d who was clearly more powerful than the gods of her land? As earnest and honest as Johannes is, it seems that his definition of faith does not properly interpret what is actually going on in the Abraham story.

The main problem for Johannes’ definition is that it does not sufficiently emphasize that faith is based on, not identical to, trustworthy authority. His definition and account is compelling, but given his slight misinterpretation of the biblical text, his definition of faith lacks any basis in reason. My definition places a healthy emphasis on the reasonable basis for faith as well sufficiently explaining what occurs in the biblical text, particularly in light of its context. Johannes’ definition is useful but is a dangerous one to embrace, simply because it results in an irrational, unintelligible kind of faith. So in conclusion I submit my definition of faith is more sufficient because it is grounded in a certain amount of reasonability, that reasonability based in a witness or experience found to be a trustworthy authority.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part III

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 8, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Here is part III of a four part series on Soren Kierkegaard’s understanding of “faith”.

 

There once was two small boys. The boys were at the age where they were allowed to go and play in the fields surrounding their houses all alone, although not old enough to understand entirely what responsibility such freedom required. One day the two boys were sent outside to play, and being friends they sought each other out in order to enjoy each others company and play together. Not long after they found themselves some distance from their houses in a part of the field neither had ever been before. Seeking to wade in a small river they discovered they both became horribly caught in quick sand. Their cries soon reached the attention of one of the boy’s mother. She came running to the side of the river and standing on the bank took in the scene. Calling out to her child and his friend she told them sternly not to struggle against the quick sand, but rather to stand still and not fight it. Of course adults know that this will considerably slow down the sinking process, but the small children knew nothing of the sort. Now each boy reacted considerably different. The child whose mother stood on the bank of the river stopped as soon as he heard his mother and stood still. However the other child, who did not know who this woman was, ignored her and continued to struggle with all his might. He even began to cry to his comrade not to listen but to continue to struggle. The very concept of giving up resistance and holding still was so contrary to his instincts that the only explanation he could imagine for his friend’s actions was that his friend had simply gone mad. But what had really happened? His friend had displayed faith. To the child standing by, ignorant of who this woman was, his friend’s faith undoubtedly seemed like an irrational leap into the absurd. And perhaps if his friend was rescued and the boy never learned the identity of the woman he might live on and become convinced that an irrational leap of faith saved his friend’s life. But the one boy’s faith could not be anything farther from some unintelligible act. Simply and only because the boy knew the woman. It was his mother, she wished him no harm. He had spent years in her care. She had time and time again proved herself worthy of his trust. So his faith was not irrational or absurd, even though neither child understood. Rather his faith was an action and a belief based on trusting of good authority, and in this particular event, there was nothing more rational or reasonable that he could have done.

Granted there are obvious differences in my analogy and the actual Abraham story. It is crafted as such to prompt one to think about the nature of faith. Although faith does not at times seem reasonable, it might be. Notice I am not saying that faith is simply trust. Faith is a belief, and action, based on a reasonable authority. Reasonable authority will not mean the same thing to everyone, what seems trustworthy to one will not seem trustworthy to another. But nonetheless so long as faith is based on this reasonability, true dialogue is possible. The “knight of faith”, to borrow Johannes’ words, need no longer be unintelligible. Not only this, but those who express faith are no long free to have faith in anything they’d like. Now they must at the very least offer a defense for how the authority they are acting upon is trustworthy. My definition of faith has now been articulated and a defense of why the reader ought to accept it has been provided. It now arises to compare this definition to Johannes’ and highlight crucial differences. This entire conversation takes place against the backdrop of Scripture because after all that is where one finds the story of Abraham. What this means though is that whatever definition  of faith either myself or Johannes arrives at, our definition must hold consistent with the story of Abraham as well as the larger narrative of Scripture. Both Johannes and myself subject ourselves to this standard when we take up the task of interpreting the story of Abraham, the father of faith. My attention shall turn to Scripture after I have highlighted important differences between Johannes’ definition of faith and my own.

At this point in the paper, the differences should actually be quite clear. For Johannes, faith is performing an unintelligible action for the sake of G-d. It cannot be understood or justified to anyone else because it places the individual above the universal which is the ethical. My own definition of faith states that faith is an action performed on the basis of trustworthy authorities. Although it may at times be unintelligible to spectators it need not always be so. Because faith is at its core based on a reasonable trust, it could be explained and if not explained at least defended as reasonable and explainable. Now let us turn to Scripture and see why I believe my definition better fits the biblical narrative than Johannes’ definition.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part II

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 6, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

This is Part II of my paper on “Faith” in Kierkegaard, which is probably best to read after you have at least glanced over Part I.

When Johannes undertakes this question of faith, he acknowledges that often philosophy has despised faith and considered it something lesser, particularly in light of the Hegelian notion of Reason. He hints at this as he begins to unpack what he considers faith,

“Faith in such a case keeps fairly ordinary company, it belongs with feeling, mood, idiosyncrasy, hysteria and the rest. So far philosophy is right to say one should not stop at that. But there is nothing to warrant philosophy’s speaking in this manner. Prior to faith there is a movement of infinity, and only then enters faith, unexpectedly, on the strength of the absurd. This I am very well able to understand, without claiming thereby to have faith… Faith’s paradox is his, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual determines his relation to the universal through his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute through his relation to the universal.”

Now focusing on this particular, and at least to me most confusing line, “Faith’s paradox is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal.” What does Johannes mean? He picks up this topic again soon after,

“Thus when we see someone do something that doesn’t conform with the universal, we say, ‘He can hardly be doing that for the sake of G-d,’ meaning by this that he did it for his own sake. The paradox of faith has lost its intermediate term, i.e. the universal. On the one hand it contains the expression of extreme egoism (doing this dreadful deed for his own sake) and on the other the expression of the most absolute devotion (doing it for G-d’s sake). Faith itself cannot be mediated into the universal, for in that case it would be cancelled. Faith is this paradox, and the single individual is quite unable to make himself intelligible to anyone.”

It begins to be made clear what Johannes takes to be faith. For Johannes, faith is that which can only confront individuals and never the universal. Specifically that faith is what makes the individual unable to be understood by anyone else. It is the individual’s duty to the Absolute. Or as Johannes puts it above, doing it for G-d’s sake. Johannes seems convinced that faith cannot be understood by anyone other than the one acting on faith in this particular instance. So if faith for Johannes can be understood as an unintelligible leap, positing the individual higher than the universal, acting upon the strength of the absurd for G-d’s sake, than how does this interpretation fit into the Abraham and Isaac story?

Now knowing his definition of faith, it begins to become clear how Johannes’ draws from and relates this definition to the story of Abraham and Isaac. In short Abraham has a duty to the Absolute, a duty to G-d. This duty contradicts the ethical which is the universal and consequently renders Abraham unintelligible to any who inspect his actions. Abraham knows only his duty to the Absolute and choose to leap into the absurd for G-d’s sake alone. This is precisely why Abraham’s act of sacrificing Isaac is so difficult to understand and interpret. Because faith renders the individual, in this case Abraham, unintelligible! Johannes feels it is useless to speculate on how to rationally explain what Abraham did because what he did is not part of the universal. It cannot be understood by any, not even those who feel they are in a similar situation. Any attempt using reason to explain Abraham’s actions would be futile and would indeed be misunderstanding faith so far as Johannes is concerned.

Johannes’ definition of faith and his interpretation of the Abraham and Isaac story are both well articulated and satisfactory. His position is very understandable and obviously holds great appeal to many people. The question now becomes, whether or not this is a responsible definition of faith, and whether or not this is a biblical definition of faith. These questions are more closely related than one might think. As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, although I respect and whole heartedly understand what would lead Johannes to this kind of definition of faith and interpretation of the Abraham story, I must disagree with what he has arrived at. Namely for the reasons stated earlier, that this promotes an intellectually irresponsible notion of faith. I will now attempt to provide a different definition of faith and defend why is it more sufficient than Johannes’ definition.

Let me begin by clearly stating what I am arguing. This being that faith must be grounded  in some amount of reasonability. To more clearly define what I mean by reasonability let me say that reasonability is the witness or experience of those we have found to be trustworthy authorities. To make this even more clear, I will be arguing that Abraham does not act irrationally , or in a way that cannot be explained universally, by obeying G-d and going to sacrifice Isaac but that he was acting on the witness of a trustworthy authority. My definition of faith therefore is a belief that is based on trusting good authority. Now why should the reader accept this definition of faith? Firstly because it is grounded in a sufficient amount of reasonability. Although it most likely was not Johannes’ intention, the definition of faith he has given us is one that leaves reason quite out of the picture. The danger here is that some might be tempted to turn to faith as a kind of epistemic thing, claiming that they have faith in a certain being’s existence and they need not explain themselves to anyone. Or that a particular action of their’s need not be explainable or rational to anyone else. Faith must necessarily be reasonable and explainable to at least some small degree. Consider the following analogy which is not perfectly applicable to the Abraham and Isaac story but will help further explain my definition of faith and set up its application to the Abraham story.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part I

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 5, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

This is the first of a short series of posts regarding Soren Kierkegaard’s well known work titled, “Fear and Trembling.” All together, these posts will form a critique of Kierkegaard’s concept and understanding of faith. The goal is to prompt reflection on the nature of faith and what it means to have faith “in” something. Of course, it will be laden with some of my own opinion. Enjoy!

 

Although Soren Kierkegaard would probably be considered both a philosopher and a theologian, when he speaks directly to biblical interpretation as he does in Fear and Trembling, he sets aside the role of philosopher and enters the arena of biblical hermeneutics. Some might be tempted to point out that Kierkegaard writes under the pseudonym Johannes, and Fear and Trembling cannot even be taken as Kierkegaard’s views but only Johannes‘ views. This is very true. So perhaps it is not Kierkegaard that sets aside his philosophy and takes up the role of Biblical exegete, but rather Johannes who is admittedly neither philosopher or exegete that takes up the task of biblical interpretation. In this paper Johannes’ definition and understanding of faith will be examined and critiqued. It is the position of this paper that although Johannes argues he is not a biblical exegete, he practices methods of biblical interpretation and therefore must be held to some standard as a Biblical exegete. Along with that and more importantly, it is the thesis of this paper is that Johannes’ definition of faith promotes an intellectually irresponsible notion of faith. By intellectually irresponsible I mean that this text presents faith as if it does not need to be grounded in any amount of reasonability, and by reasonability I mean, the witness or experience of those we have found to be trustworthy authorities. I will begin by addressing Johannes’ belief that he is not a Biblical exegete which can be found in the very beginning of the chapter titled “Attunement”.

It is true that Johannes from the very onset of his work proclaims himself no philosopher or exegete and in doing so tries to free himself from the constraints that are sometimes placed on such kinds of thinkers. “This man was no learned exegete, he knew no Hebrew; had he known Hebrew then perhaps it might have been easy for him to understand the story of Abraham.”

Earlier in his Preface, Johannes remarks that neither is he a philosopher, “The present author is no philosopher, he has not understood the System, nor does he know if there really is one, or if it has been completed.”

What Johannes wishes to do here is free himself from being held accountable as an exegete. This is all well and good except for that Johannes is insistent on playing the part of an exegete while claiming not to be one. Johannes remarks similarly that he does not feel the need to go beyond faith, as if this is what exegetes and philosophers often do. Despite Johannes’ statements it is necessary to consider what Kierkegaard does through Johannes as biblical exegesis. This is necessary only insofar as biblical exegesis is attempting to read a biblical passage and through understanding that passage gain insight into the text and the Christian life. This is clearly what Johannes is doing. By turning to the story of Abraham and Isaac when contemplating true faith, Johannes is doing at best exegesis and at worst isogesis. So as I proceed with my critique of Johannes’ definition of faith, I intend to treat Johannes as performing exegesis. I do not intend to do this harshly, but rather to acknowledge that so long as one in interpreting Scripture they are at least playing the part of an exegete and may be critiqued to see if their exegesis is accurate by the text they are exegeting.

Faith, and how to understand it is central to Kierkegaard’s work Fear and Trembling. In his work Johannes’ definition of faith is largely, if not entirely, built upon the story of Abraham and Isaac. Most Christians are familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac. The problem arises when Abraham obeys G-d and goes up to the place designated specifically to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, as G-d has commanded. In at least preliminary work on this passage, Johannes’ exegesis is perfectly accurate. He begins by trying to shake off the ease and comfort we have come to discuss this passage. “One speaks of Abraham’s honor, but how? By making it common place: ‘his greatness was that he loved G-d so much that he was willing to offer him the best he had.’ That is very true but ‘best’ is a very vague expression.”

Johannes points out very well that far too often this story is simply hurried over and explained away in a manner that saves one from having to actually encounter the text. So admirably determined not to fall into this trap Johannes sets out to explain the kind of faith that would compel Abraham to attempt the murder of his own son. In this manner the question “What is faith?” shall dominate the remainder of this paper. I will begin by examining the definition of faith that Johannes arrives at after his exegesis of  the Abraham and Isaac story.