Jump to content


Photo

Christianity & Existentialism


  • Please log in to reply
113 replies to this topic

#1 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,065 posts

Posted 13 February 2011 - 05:32 PM

Alright, we might as well have a thread to go to when discussing this sort of thing. For Arts and Faith references to date, looks like we already have threads "Existential movies?" and "Quote help! Did Kierkegaard say ... ?" Also for future reference, this separate topic has arisen out of the most recent discussion in the Ordet thread, pretty much because the film makes the joke that Johannes became insane by studying Kierkegaard, and some A&F'ers view Ordet as somehow promoting Kierkegaardian themes.

Just for clarification, I'm mostly interested in Christian Existentialism (since the atheist forms of existentialism as explored by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus & Franz Kafka, and turned to nihilism by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, are more easily refuted). I understand that guys like Kierkegaard and Shestov would by no means reach the same conclusions of Sartre & Nietzsche, and that therefore, there is a form of existentialist philosophy that is inherently informed by the Christian beliefs of it's adherents. Christian existentialists, to my knowledge, would include the writing of Soren Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Karl Jaspers, and Karl Barth, among others. Obviously, these fellows do not always agree, but there are still certain and particular ideas advocated by all of them as a group, reacting against rationalist philosophy and theology.

Beginning -

Anyway, yes, we probably should discuss this in some new thread, although another reason why I haven't tried to argue in detail on Kierkegaard's behalf, besides the untopicality of it in this thread and its flammabilty, is because I don't by any means consider myself an expert on Kierkegaard. I kinda, sorta, do consider myself one on Shestov, because I've spent a great deal of time reading and studying him, but these two thinkers are only similar, not identical.

To be clear, I by no means consider myself an expert in philosophy or on any particular philosopher. I'm completely a layman on the topic who simply does a large amount of reading, and so out of many of each of the major philosophers, I've read one or two of their books. However, I don't think we have to be "experts" to benefit from discussing the ideas discussed by these men. And, if you read a book or two by one philosopher, I think you're qualified enough to explain whether you agree or disagree with that author's main points, and why.

As to the topic's flammability, simply don't worry about offending me, man. I can't remember the last time I let sarcastic or pointed or passionate remarks in a good rollicking theology/philosophy discussion offend my personal feelings (if that happened, I might as well forget about trying to think about anything at all). I'll do my best to take all your discussion comments in the spirit of I Corinthians 13:5 - not be easily provoked and slow to take offense. And, part of why I'm interested in the topic is it touches upon subject matter that I too am passionate about, but I do not mean to offend you or anyone here on anything we may happen to disagree about. The goal of discussion here is to learn, and at least for me personally, to help think through and figure some things out that I admittedly have not finished thinking through.

I think your knowledge of Shestov is shallow and probably skewed by the axe you have to grind - not meaning to sound rude here, but I think it's just a fact. I have a suspicion that the same could be true of your knowledge of Kierkegaard, but I'm sure not the one who is qualified to make any judgment on that, like I am with Shestov. I know this may sound like I'm equivocating here, because I'm sure there are strong similarities between Kierkegaard and Shestov, but I come back to the fact that they are in fact two different thinkers. Also, it's worth pointing out that the amount of scholarly literature on Kierkegaard is vastly greater than that on Shestov, and thus far more time-consuming to get a handle on.

Right, so you should at least be able to address concerns or disagreements others may have from reading Shestov. I refuse to believe we can't address specific ideas that could be contained in a single philosopher's book. For example, if I were to cite a single proposition from C.S. Lewis that you believe to be unBiblical, I do not believe that you would have to read "all of C.S. Lewis' works" in order to understand whether you'd agree or not with that single proposition. Having an axe to grind, btw, is not always a bad thing, but I'd also like to keep my knowledge from being skewed by bias at the same time.

With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.

Cool. I'll comment more after I've read all of that. For starters, if you, or anyone else friendly to Christian existentialistism, would like to explain how they believe existentialism is different or valueable to regular Christian theology, and/or how "rationalism" within Christianity is bad, that would be a good place to start. Just remember that I get that there are truths we can learn from these guys (or any philosopher, hell, there are even truths we can learn from reading Nietzsche), that doesn't mean that they didn't still make a name for themselves by advocating particular ideas. Ideas that are either consistent with Biblical Christianity or are not.

Again, just so you know what I'm working with, I have so far read Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Shestov's The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche and about half of Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, and selections here and there from Karl Barth's The Church Dogmatics and Karl Jaspers' Philosophy of Existence. I've also read a few Nietzsche and Sartre books, not that that's too relevant here. I'm coming from a point of view where I've mostly agreed with what I've read of Frederick Copleston, C.S. Lewis and Norman Geisler, and mostly disagreed with every existentialist writer that I've ever read. I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me. I think that there are things to be learned and appreciated from reading these guys, but if I could, I would still kick their main ideas out of the pulpits ASAP.

Edited by Persiflage, 13 February 2011 - 05:33 PM.


#2 Kyle

Kyle

    this is not a test

  • Member
  • 1,652 posts

Posted 13 February 2011 - 06:59 PM

Alright, we might as well have a thread to go to when discussing this sort of thing. For Arts and Faith references to date, looks like we already have threads "Existential movies?" and "Quote help! Did Kierkegaard say ... ?" Also for future reference, this separate topic has arisen out of the most recent discussion in the Ordet thread, pretty much because the film makes the joke that Johannes became insane by studying Kierkegaard, and some A&F'ers view Ordet as somehow promoting Kierkegaardian themes.

Just for clarification, I'm mostly interested in Christian Existentialism (since the atheist forms of existentialism as explored by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus & Franz Kafka, and turned to nihilism by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, are more easily refuted). I understand that guys like Kierkegaard and Shestov would by no means reach the same conclusions of Sartre & Nietzsche, and that therefore, there is a form of existentialist philosophy that is inherently informed by the Christian beliefs of it's adherents. Christian existentialists, to my knowledge, would include the writing of Soren Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Karl Jaspers, and Karl Barth, among others. Obviously, these fellows do not always agree, but there are still certain and particular ideas advocated by all of them as a group, reacting against rationalist philosophy and theology.

Beginning -


Anyway, yes, we probably should discuss this in some new thread, although another reason why I haven't tried to argue in detail on Kierkegaard's behalf, besides the untopicality of it in this thread and its flammabilty, is because I don't by any means consider myself an expert on Kierkegaard. I kinda, sorta, do consider myself one on Shestov, because I've spent a great deal of time reading and studying him, but these two thinkers are only similar, not identical.

To be clear, I by no means consider myself an expert in philosophy or on any particular philosopher. I'm completely a layman on the topic who simply does a large amount of reading, and so out of many of each of the major philosophers, I've read one or two of their books. However, I don't think we have to be "experts" to benefit from discussing the ideas discussed by these men. And, if you read a book or two by one philosopher, I think you're qualified enough to explain whether you agree or disagree with that author's main points, and why.

As to the topic's flammability, simply don't worry about offending me, man. I can't remember the last time I let sarcastic or pointed or passionate remarks in a good rollicking theology/philosophy discussion offend my personal feelings (if that happened, I might as well forget about trying to think about anything at all). I'll do my best to take all your discussion comments in the spirit of I Corinthians 13:5 - not be easily provoked and slow to take offense. And, part of why I'm interested in the topic is it touches upon subject matter that I too am passionate about, but I do not mean to offend you or anyone here on anything we may happen to disagree about. The goal of discussion here is to learn, and at least for me personally, to help think through and figure some things out that I admittedly have not finished thinking through.

I think your knowledge of Shestov is shallow and probably skewed by the axe you have to grind - not meaning to sound rude here, but I think it's just a fact. I have a suspicion that the same could be true of your knowledge of Kierkegaard, but I'm sure not the one who is qualified to make any judgment on that, like I am with Shestov. I know this may sound like I'm equivocating here, because I'm sure there are strong similarities between Kierkegaard and Shestov, but I come back to the fact that they are in fact two different thinkers. Also, it's worth pointing out that the amount of scholarly literature on Kierkegaard is vastly greater than that on Shestov, and thus far more time-consuming to get a handle on.

Right, so you should at least be able to address concerns or disagreements others may have from reading Shestov. I refuse to believe we can't address specific ideas that could be contained in a single philosopher's book. For example, if I were to cite a single proposition from C.S. Lewis that you believe to be unBiblical, I do not believe that you would have to read "all of C.S. Lewis' works" in order to understand whether you'd agree or not with that single proposition. Having an axe to grind, btw, is not always a bad thing, but I'd also like to keep my knowledge from being skewed by bias at the same time.

With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.

Cool. I'll comment more after I've read all of that. For starters, if you, or anyone else friendly to Christian existentialistism, would like to explain how they believe existentialism is different or valueable to regular Christian theology, and/or how "rationalism" within Christianity is bad, that would be a good place to start. Just remember that I get that there are truths we can learn from these guys (or any philosopher, hell, there are even truths we can learn from reading Nietzsche), that doesn't mean that they didn't still make a name for themselves by advocating particular ideas. Ideas that are either consistent with Biblical Christianity or are not.

Again, just so you know what I'm working with, I have so far read Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Shestov's The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche and about half of Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, and selections here and there from Karl Barth's The Church Dogmatics and Karl Jaspers' Philosophy of Existence. I've also read a few Nietzsche and Sartre books, not that that's too relevant here. I'm coming from a point of view where I've mostly agreed with what I've read of Frederick Copleston, C.S. Lewis and Norman Geisler, and mostly disagreed with every existentialist writer that I've ever read. I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me. I think that there are things to be learned and appreciated from reading these guys, but if I could, I would still kick their main ideas out of the pulpits ASAP.


I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.

#3 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,410 posts

Posted 13 February 2011 - 07:20 PM

I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me.

Which fragments of the "modern day church"? 'Cause no church I've attended or visited has ever had a strong existentialist influence.

#4 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,410 posts

Posted 13 February 2011 - 07:32 PM

With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.

Thank you so much for this, tenpenny. These excerpts are wonderful. I hope to read them all. I just the Shestov excerpts, and one Shestov quote struck me as flat out wrong:

The theologians, even those like St. Augustine, have feared this secret, and instead of reading what was written in the Bible, viz: that man became mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they read that man became mortal because he disobeyed God.


Well, strictly speaking, man is already mortal in the Genesis account--he is sustained through the Tree of Life--and it is God's denial of the Tree of Life to man that condemns him to death. So it's not really the tree of knowledge that makes man mortal. And, as such, much of Shestov's comments about the Genesis account ring false afterward. As far as we can tell, nothing inherent to the Tree of Knowledge brings death, despite Shestov's comments to the contrary.

#5 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,065 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM

I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.

Thanks for the input Kyle, please don't feel hesistant to contribute to the discussion further. I'm completely willing to be convinced that Karl Barth is not a Christian existentialist, but from what I have read (admittedly probably less than what you've read), he certainly sometimes sounds quite friendly to the ideas of Kierkegaard. It'd be interesting to flesh out why Barth does or does not primarily align with the main tenants of Christian existentialism.

I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me.

Which fragments of the "modern day church"? 'Cause no church I've attended or visited has ever had a strong existentialist influence.

Well, given that it sounds like you either come from or have joined a Reformed/Calvinist background, I understand that. Within Christian Protestantism in America, it looks like about 30% would identify themselves as Reformed. From my experience attending both Reformed and nonReformed churches, it's the more Calvinist churches that are less prone to be influenced by Christian Existentialism. Also, I have no idea what the percentages would be, but some of the most thoughtful critiques that I've read of the likes of Kierkegaard are of Catholic origin - from what I can tell, most Christian existentialists come from a Protestant rather than a Catholic background. So generally speaking, I'm suggesting that Christian Existentialism has a harmful effect on approximately 70% of modern Protestant churches. These estimates are of course open to debate.

But I view the influence as harmful partly because of nonChristian friends I've talked to who have been exposed to teachings about what they might mischaracterize as "blind faith" in the Christian church. But however mischaracterized, they are still referring to a certain type of teaching. I've run across it regularly. I love to ask questions. And if there is one kiss of death to asking questions in church, it's being told that, whatever science or rationalism or enlightenment philosophy has to say on the subject, there are certain aspects of Christianity that you just have to accept and believe. I've been told over and over again, that I need to stop being critical and just need to "have faith." A good friend of mine who has read far more Kierkegaard than I have (and likes it), has given me some very good arguments for why the truths of Christianity are really just based ultimately on faith, not on reason.

In fact, he argued that there is really nothing you can know 100% for sure without at least having faith first. He said that even the most simple logical argument, a syllogism for example -

A = B
B = C
A = C

- is impossible to make without first taking the first two presuppositions solely on faith. (It's impossible to conclude that A = C without having faith that A = B and B = C). Therefore, to believe Christianity is true, you are just going to have to make a "leap of faith" or "leap into faith" at some point in your thinking. I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.

#6 Jason Panella

Jason Panella

    "I like the quiet."

  • Member
  • 3,682 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 04:16 PM

Thanks for the input Kyle, please don't feel hesistant to contribute to the discussion further. I'm completely willing to be convinced that Karl Barth is not a Christian existentialist, but from what I have read (admittedly probably less than what you've read), he certainly sometimes sounds quite friendly to the ideas of Kierkegaard. It'd be interesting to flesh out why Barth does or does not primarily align with the main tenants of Christian existentialism.


If A&F has anyone resembling a Barth expert, it's Kyle. I'd love to see him chime in too.

Edited by Jason Panella, 14 February 2011 - 04:19 PM.


#7 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,410 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 05:02 PM

Well, given that it sounds like you either come from or have joined a Reformed/Calvinist background, I understand that.

Not necessarily. My turn towards Reformed theology came outside of the context of my church experiences. I've never belonged to an expressly Calvinist/Reformed church.

Also, I have no idea what the percentages would be, but some of the most thoughtful critiques that I've read of the likes of Kierkegaard are of Catholic origin - from what I can tell, most Christian existentialists come from a Protestant rather than a Catholic background.

As far as I'm aware, there are a number of Catholics who are quite fond of Kierkegaard, too.

But I view the influence as harmful partly because of nonChristian friends I've talked to who have been exposed to teachings about what they might mischaracterize as "blind faith" in the Christian church.

But is this necessarily Kierkegaardian influence or just some part of broader anti-intellectualism? It does seem that, in your conversations, it's come back to Kierkegaard. But in my experience, this kind of "you just have to believe" talk isn't really rooted in any fully-fledged intellectual standpoint. It's just that, well, these folks aren't very intellectual, aren't very interested in being intellectual, and thus their faith is of a rather blind character.

I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.

This depends entirely on how you construe a theology of natural revelation. Some formulations of it would provide difficulties for an extreme Christian existentialism, but there are other formulations both of Christian existentialism and natural revelation that would not be in direct conflict.

Edited by Ryan H., 14 February 2011 - 05:05 PM.


#8 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,448 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 05:06 PM

I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.


So you do not buy McCormick's thesis? (Which is essentially that there are elements of Barth the dialectician all the way through the dogmatics.)

#9 Holy Moly!

Holy Moly!

    Member

  • Member
  • 872 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 05:22 PM

Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO! Posted Image

#10 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,410 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 05:31 PM

Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO! Posted Image

A more thoughtful, cogent, incisive statement has never been made.

#11 Kyle

Kyle

    this is not a test

  • Member
  • 1,652 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 06:55 PM


I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.

Thanks for the input Kyle, please don't feel hesistant to contribute to the discussion further. I'm completely willing to be convinced that Karl Barth is not a Christian existentialist, but from what I have read (admittedly probably less than what you've read), he certainly sometimes sounds quite friendly to the ideas of Kierkegaard. It'd be interesting to flesh out why Barth does or does not primarily align with the main tenants of Christian existentialism.


I'd say Kierkegaard's biggest influence on Barth (and especially his commentary on Romans) is his use of dialectic and paradox.


I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.


So you do not buy McCormick's thesis? (Which is essentially that there are elements of Barth the dialectician all the way through the dogmatics.)


If by existentialist you mean Barth remained a dialectician, then yes, Barth remained existentialist. Although I don't believe dialectic thought necesarily equals existential through and through.

Further, here is McCormick on Barth and existentialism from the above book:

In Fides quaerens intellectum, Barth overcame ever last remnant of the attempt to ground, support, or justify theology by means of existential philosophy. (438)


Later McCormick cites Barth’s own words on his earlier attempts at Dogmatics:

“…with existential thinking, I was paying homage to false gods … If there is one thing the word of God certainly is not, it is not a predicate of humanity” (CD I/1, 126-7)


In the end McCormick says this:

“Did Barth attempt to ground, support, and justify theology by means of existential theology? The answer must be no, though he did succumb to the temptation from time to time to seek corroboration, in that direction, of a doctrine of the Word which he steadfastly maintained was grounded in itself.” (441)


I think it might be safe to say that Barth was willing to admit the influence of existentialism in some of his earlier work. However Barth, and McCormick would agree, the existential influence wasn't a material influece to his thinking and it could be easily erradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.

#12 Anders

Anders

    Globe-trotting special agent

  • Member
  • 2,922 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 06:56 PM

But I view the influence as harmful partly because of nonChristian friends I've talked to who have been exposed to teachings about what they might mischaracterize as "blind faith" in the Christian church. But however mischaracterized, they are still referring to a certain type of teaching. I've run across it regularly. I love to ask questions. And if there is one kiss of death to asking questions in church, it's being told that, whatever science or rationalism or enlightenment philosophy has to say on the subject, there are certain aspects of Christianity that you just have to accept and believe. I've been told over and over again, that I need to stop being critical and just need to "have faith." A good friend of mine who has read far more Kierkegaard than I have (and likes it), has given me some very good arguments for why the truths of Christianity are really just based ultimately on faith, not on reason.

In fact, he argued that there is really nothing you can know 100% for sure without at least having faith first. He said that even the most simple logical argument, a syllogism for example -

A = B
B = C
A = C

- is impossible to make without first taking the first two presuppositions solely on faith. (It's impossible to conclude that A = C without having faith that A = B and B = C). Therefore, to believe Christianity is true, you are just going to have to make a "leap of faith" or "leap into faith" at some point in your thinking. I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.


But it seems to me the people that insist that you must accept Christianty on "blind faith", which I would characterize as different from Kierkegaard's "leap of faith," are not so keen on rejecting the idea of self-evident truths. The issue with most Christian churches I've been a part of is in fact that they accept as self-evident many things that I don't see as being very self-evident.

I think it's a mis-characterization to suggest the very real tendencies that you have noted in N. American Christianity (which I have also noted) are in anyway rooted in a form of Christian existentialism or even the teachings of Kierkegaard or Tillich. I think it is more a case of anti-intellectualism and a desire to avoid uncomfortable questions. I'm curious as to why you think those tendencies are rooted in existentialism.

#13 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,065 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 07:35 PM

Hmmm, I'll have a little more time to respond and think through the rest of the comments so far on the thread tomorrow. But real quick, I wanted to write one thought down before I forget it.

A couple comments have asked if some of the "leap of faith" teaching in the modern church can't just be attributed to anti-intellectualism, because the teachers of it are not consciously rooted in any sort of consistent Christian existentialist teaching (as, for example, thought through by Kierkegaard) ... AND because they are rooted in a desire not to bother with thinking out things all the way.

But, can't any teaching at all be rooted in an anti-intellectualism???

I could advocate the idea in politics that we need lower taxes in a simplistic manner lacking all nuance, and be advocating that idea rooted in my anti-intellectual desire to avoid thinking things through. In other words, I'd be adopting a proposition (that actually does has very cogent and philosophical grounds) simply because it was easy to do so and required no work on my part. The fact that I'm advocating the idea that we need lower taxes out of my own anti-intellectualism does not mean that the idea itself isn't still a proposition held to by a consistently thought through political ideology and opposed by an opposite consistent and thoroughly thought-through political ideology.

OR, for example, I could teach that God predestines some people to go to heaven and some people to go to hell, simply because I'm not interested in thinking and have no wish to bother with reconciling Scripture on predestination with Scripture on free will. In other words, I've adopted one proposition that is part of a cogently argued theology by some Calvinists, not because I agree with or even know what Calvinism is, but out of laziness on my part. The fact that I'm advocating this idea on predestination because of my own anti-intellectualism does not mean that that theological proposition isn't still part of a consistently thought through theology and opposed by an opposite consistent and thought-through theology.

Therefore ...

... the epistemological position that all religious truth is attained ultimately by faith rather than by logic & reason, is still a proposition that is held to and defended by a consistently thought through philosophy. (My Kierkegaard loving friend's arguments that all knowledge is ultimately based on faith are not anti-intellectual arguments). The fact that that position is ALSO adopted out of anti-intellectualism on the part of many Christians shouldn't mean that it doesn't still originate from somewhere with a purpose. Nor does it mean that the proposition itself isn't still held to by one theology and denied by another.

(Aaaaahhh! I'm typing fast and I think some sparks just flew up somewhere from a short-circuit in my brain's nerve center. That hurt, but I tried to capture it before it went away. More on this later, sorry if I still could have explained this more clearly, and I'm done for today).

#14 Anders

Anders

    Globe-trotting special agent

  • Member
  • 2,922 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 08:13 PM

Therefore ...

... the epistemological position that all religious truth is attained ultimately by faith rather than by logic & reason, is still a proposition that is held to and defended by a consistently thought through philosophy. (My Kierkegaard loving friend's arguments that all knowledge is ultimately based on faith are not anti-intellectual arguments). The fact that that position is ALSO adopted out of anti-intellectualism on the part of many Christians shouldn't mean that it doesn't still originate from somewhere with a purpose. Nor does it mean that the proposition itself isn't still held to by one theology and denied by another.

(Aaaaahhh! I'm typing fast and I think some sparks just flew up somewhere from a short-circuit in my brain's nerve center. That hurt, but I tried to capture it before it went away. More on this later, sorry if I still could have explained this more clearly, and I'm done for today).


I'm with you as far as the fact that anti-intellectualism (or just plain ignorance) can be the root of any belief, but what I'm particularly curious as to which theologies you feel are espousing an existentialist theology. Because while I'm with you on the critiques you're raising, and think I have some inkling of what groups and positions you're describing, I might quibble with whether these groups are actually espousing an existentialist theology just because they might share the idea that religious truth is founding on faith rather than reason. I think many of these groups would balk at being lumped in with Tillich, and would likely accuse him of being far to liberal to be "authentically" Christian. Just my suspicion based on the fact that they probably share very few other commonalities in theology. Did this idea really originate from the same somewhere with a purpose that Christian existentialism did?

Anyway, thanks for your response because I think some of this needs to be worked through.

#15 tenpenny

tenpenny

    "I talked back."

  • Member
  • 93 posts

Posted 14 February 2011 - 10:12 PM

With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.

Thank you so much for this, tenpenny. These excerpts are wonderful. I hope to read them all. I just the Shestov excerpts, and one Shestov quote struck me as flat out wrong:

The theologians, even those like St. Augustine, have feared this secret, and instead of reading what was written in the Bible, viz: that man became mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they read that man became mortal because he disobeyed God.


Well, strictly speaking, man is already mortal in the Genesis account--he is sustained through the Tree of Life--and it is God's denial of the Tree of Life to man that condemns him to death. So it's not really the tree of knowledge that makes man mortal. And, as such, much of Shestov's comments about the Genesis account ring false afterward. As far as we can tell, nothing inherent to the Tree of Knowledge brings death, despite Shestov's comments to the contrary.


Persiflage,

I'm not meaning to ignore your posts, but I would like to address Ryan's first.

Ryan,

Thanks for the compliments - here and before - I really appreciate them!

When you say you think Shestov is "flat out wrong" about how man became mortal, is this based on your own personal reflection and understanding of the account in Genesis, or is it based on what one might call "received" doctrine? Sorry, I know the question risks sounding condescending. I don't mean it to be. It's just that if you strictly and only read what the text in Genesis says, I don't think what it says is incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. Note how I said that: the account in Genesis is not incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. I did not say "Shestov's interpretation must be correct." I think it's important to say it the way I did, at least at the start, in order to preserve and make explicit my own personal opinion on the matter, which is not quite the same as Shestov's. I've placed myself in the position here of arguing on behalf of Shestov, however, and so to avoid having to constantly distinguish my own positions from Shestov's, which could get rather tiresome, one should generally assume from now on that I'm articulating his positions, and not necessarily my own. I think it's safe to assume that people are rather less interested in my positions. :)

In short, I will argue here as I think Shestov might have argued (but on this particular point there will inevitably be supposition on my part, because I'm not aware that Shestov ever wrote out, like I will, an underlying basis for his interpretation of the Fall - in truth, he seemed to think, perhaps naively, that his interpretation was self-evidently correct).

Per your understanding, then, death was not intrinsic to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, death only came about because God eventually withheld the tree of life - of which man had already been partaking while he was in the Garden of Eden - by expelling man from the Garden. Death, then, would seem not to have an "independent" existence but is, in effect, simply the withholding of life. As a kind of corollary, you are basically saying that partaking of the tree of life confers life only temporarily, not permanently, not irrevocably.

There are two major problems I see with your understanding of the provenance of death:

1) Why then does God say to man [all biblical passages are from TNIV], "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die" and not "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if you do, I will withhold from you the tree of life" [Gn 2:17]? By your understanding, I'm supposed to believe that mortality came not as a direct and immediate result of partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, i.e. as an intrinsic effect of the tree, but indirectly and eventually, at the end of a chain of causation. Why should one not prefer Shestov's simpler, more direct understanding to yours (per Ockham's razor)?

2) Why then does God say (to whom exactly is unclear - other members of the Trinity?), "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" [Gn 3:22]? By your understanding, this statement by God appears nonsensical. Why would God say this, if it's just a matter of expelling man from Eden, in order to prevent further partaking of the tree of life. By your understanding, so what if man takes one last bite, so to speak, from the tree of life before God expels him, what's the harm in it? It would be the last time he would do so and, in any event, would not affect the final outcome. No, the account as we have it in Genesis indicates otherwise. It indicates that partaking of the tree of life confers life irrevocably.

Evidently, man had not partaken of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden at any time. There is additional evidence for this assertion, inasmuch as the Genesis account states (emphasis added), "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and then later Eve relates to the serpent that God's instruction was (emphasis added), "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can both trees be in the (precise) middle of the garden? We don't know the answer to this, but we could assume that in some inscrutable way both trees were somehow in the middle of the garden. Therefore, by Eve's statement, the tree of life might also have been warned against. Still, God in His warning to Adam did not use the phrase "middle of the garden" - He specified the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There can be no logically consistent answer that squares every statement (taking the account at face value, i.e. ignoring the possibility of some ancient compiler combining multiple and conflicting sources for the Genesis story) but, on balance, the evidence indicates that the tree of life was never partaken of by man, whether or not one assumes that God actually warned man against it. Why man didn't partake of the tree of life, while he had the chance, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is another mystery. Perhaps in some inscrutable way the tree of life was invisible to him before he had "tasted" knowledge (perhaps this is implied in the biblical quote given in problem #2 above). If it be thought that man had to have partaken of the tree of life in the garden, in order to live, this is a misapprehension. We are told that "the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" [Gn 2:7]. The tree of life confers not simply life, but eternal life.

Finally, one should note the fact that when God explains to Adam and Eve their punishments for ignoring His warning, now that they have already eaten from the fatal tree, death is not one of them. And it is not, because death was intrinsic to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The same moment man partook of it, he became mortal, not later, when God got around to dealing out punishments. While God does refer to man's mortality in His recitation of punishments, in the context of "by the sweat of your brow," it is as a thing already accomplished.

This is me again, not Shestov. That, as I take it, might be Shestov's reasoning, to the extent that one can call an argument that necessarily has to deal with a paradoxical statement or two in the text reasoning. Of course, one can object that to use reason to, in effect, attack reason (i.e. by equating knowledge with death) seems a little self-negating, to say the least. But such was Shestov: his attacks on reason were well-reasoned. One could also say that he opened himself to the liar's paradox. In fact, I have a post at my blog, here, wherein I cite and translate a French filmmaker / philosopher who avers this very thing, all the while maintaining that Shestov offers a kind of key to understanding Tarkovsky's films (rest assured, if he had said the same thing about Dreyer's films, I would have already mentioned it here). :)

Lastly, yes, I'm aware that Shestov's interpretation of the Fall may be unique in that perhaps only he has made it. A mountain of "received" doctrine stands against him. But, as I said, I don't believe Shestov's interpretation is incompatible with the Genesis account, and I even think that, alone though he may be, his interpretation probably makes the most sense. Okay, defenders of "received" doctrine at Arts & Faith, fire away.

Edited by tenpenny, 18 February 2011 - 10:03 PM.


#16 tenpenny

tenpenny

    "I talked back."

  • Member
  • 93 posts

Posted 15 February 2011 - 08:24 AM

Q: Before man ignored God's warning, was he mortal or immortal?

A: He was neither mortal nor immortal. He had partaken of neither tree. His state, with regard to your question, was indeterminate. [Me: The mu state - in effect, unask the question.]

Q: Could man have remained in this indeterminate state?

A: Of course! Otherwise God would not have warned him against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man need not have died. But man was not immortal.

Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

A: Yes, but it is so nevertheless. God surpasses or exceeds logic.

Edited by tenpenny, 18 February 2011 - 08:50 AM.


#17 Thom Wade

Thom Wade

    Happy Go Lucky Meat Machine

  • Member
  • 2,949 posts

Posted 15 February 2011 - 08:29 AM

... the epistemological position that all religious truth is attained ultimately by faith rather than by logic & reason, is still a proposition that is held to and defended by a consistently thought through philosophy. (My Kierkegaard loving friend's arguments that all knowledge is ultimately based on faith are not anti-intellectual arguments). The fact that that position is ALSO adopted out of anti-intellectualism on the part of many Christians shouldn't mean that it doesn't still originate from somewhere with a purpose. Nor does it mean that the proposition itself isn't still held to by one theology and denied by another.

(Aaaaahhh! I'm typing fast and I think some sparks just flew up somewhere from a short-circuit in my brain's nerve center. That hurt, but I tried to capture it before it went away. More on this later, sorry if I still could have explained this more clearly, and I'm done for today).


But were they the first? Is it not possible that different protestant groups and Christian existentialists are influenced by ideas that proceed them both?

I'm curious...is there anyone who has sat down, intellectually studied Christianity and concluded it is true-that didn't take some sort of faith leap? If there is one thing I have found to be true, it is that people are more inclined to accept something intellectually if they are at least sympathetic to the idea that it is already truth. That's how people accept things we might find outlandish. And then when people point to something we might believe that is equally outlandish, we have an argument we (or someone we respect) created to say why "It's different!"

Honestly, all theology at times looks more like an attempt justify the apparent lack of provable presence or evidence of God or contradictions. And when the questions get to hard, the questioner is called to task for not simply trusting od or having enough faith-and I have found this true across the board among Catholics, Protestants and every group in between. If there seem to be no good answers? We are told to trust we just are not smart enough to truly understand God's crazy wisdom and we need to have more faith.

#18 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

    Member

  • Member
  • 3,238 posts

Posted 15 February 2011 - 09:13 AM

But is this necessarily Kierkegaardian influence or just some part of broader anti-intellectualism? It does seem that, in your conversations, it's come back to Kierkegaard. But in my experience, this kind of "you just have to believe" talk isn't really rooted in any fully-fledged intellectual standpoint. It's just that, well, these folks aren't very intellectual, aren't very interested in being intellectual, and thus their faith is of a rather blind character.

I'm jumping into the middle of the conversation here, but I just have to comment.

I find comments like this insulting, and what they suggest to me is that those who make them have never experienced the soul-crushing weight of unexplained and unexplainable tragedy, loss, and grief. It's okay. It will happen. All you have to do is live long enough. And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I saw that holy terror last night.

My friends Ben and Sarabeth have longed for a child. They've waited years. Yesterday their son Henry was born. He suffered from anencephaly -- he literally had no brain -- and died a couple minutes after birth.

There are all kinds of intellectual explanations for this. One out of every 150,000 babies is born this way every year. It happens. There are theological explanations for it, too. We live in a fallen world. The very notion of evil suggests that there is an ethical law. Pain is God's way of accommodating the freedom of a rebellious creature. Yada, yada, yada.

I'm not going to say any of those things to my friends. Even if they're true, they don't matter. They're simply immaterial in this situation. It's the difference between the C.S. Lewis of The Problem of Pain, who wraps theodicy in a nice, pretty, rational and intellectual bow, and the C.S. Lewis of A Grief Observed, who is undone by senseless tragedy and death. Guess which one I come back to, again and again? Guess which one eventually emerged from the bubble and experienced life?

If my friends continue to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, as I pray they do, they will need to make some adjustments to their thinking. They will need to believe in spite of the evidence of their eyes. They will need to believe in an all-powerful, all good God who allowed their deepest desires, their best dreams, to be crushed. You'd better believe that this will entail a leap, and that the chasm is wide. God bless Soren Kierkegaard for writing the truth.

#19 Anders

Anders

    Globe-trotting special agent

  • Member
  • 2,922 posts

Posted 15 February 2011 - 09:28 AM

If my friends continue to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, as I pray they do, they will need to make some adjustments to their thinking. They will need to believe in spite of the evidence of their eyes. They will need to believe in an all-powerful, all good God who allowed their deepest desires, their best dreams, to be crushed. You'd better believe that this will entail a leap, and that the chasm is wide. God bless Soren Kierkegaard for writing the truth.


Amen to this Andy. I always appreciate your comments, and I think you're right in this case. I hope that your friends' faith carries them through this terribly hard time.

#20 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,448 posts

Posted 15 February 2011 - 09:56 AM

I think it might be safe to say that Barth was willing to admit the influence of existentialism in some of his earlier work. However Barth, and McCormick would agree, the existential influence wasn't a material influece to his thinking and it could be easily erradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.


But if we pull out that Barth quote about "paying homage to the false idols [of existentialism]," we need to complete the sentence: "with existential thinking, I was paying homage to false gods, even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution." This is a big caveat. Barth is referring to those Christians that bought certificates to prove they had made proper homage to pagan idols, rather than actually doing it. Which is to say: He didn't consider his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking as an idolatry that renders his early thinking unfaithful. Rather, his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking was an expedient way to continue doing theology in that liberal context he was engaging. Over time, as he became increasingly realist and even biblicist, he came to see his earlier appropriation as an easy way out. In the Dogmatics, his dialectical thinking matures, and we see his understanding of the Word of God both being and becoming develop in a more concretely biblical space. (As Bloesch use to tell us in class, Barth would always walk into class with a Greek New Testament and maybe a page with a few notes. When fielding questions, he would typically sort through his GNT to a text, read it, and expound on it in response.)

However (remaining true to dialectics), I appreciate the way in which Barth critiqued Bultmann's existentialism, which essentially drained all the Christological content out of the historical particularities of the New Testament.

If my friends continue to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, as I pray they do, they will need to make some adjustments to their thinking. They will need to believe in spite of the evidence of their eyes. They will need to believe in an all-powerful, all good God who allowed their deepest desires, their best dreams, to be crushed. You'd better believe that this will entail a leap, and that the chasm is wide. God bless Soren Kierkegaard for writing the truth.


And God bless people for reclaiming this Kierkegaard from Francis Schaeffer.

"Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him."


"Come on! Let’s return to the Lord! He himself has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us! He has injured us, but he will bandage our wounds. He will restore us in a very short time; he will heal us in a little while, so that we may live in his presence. So let us acknowledge him! Let us seek to acknowledge the Lord!"



The OT is filled with this being and becoming madness.

Edited by M. Leary, 15 February 2011 - 10:16 AM.