Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Fear and Trembling/Repetition by Soren Kierkegaard

Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Kierkegaard's Writings, Volume 6)Fear and Trembling/Repetition by Søren Kierkegaard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, after being assigned this book in a class on German Idealism several years ago (three or four, I forget which), I finally got around to finishing it. In my defense, at the time I had just finished comps and this was the last book in the class and, well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

This is a compilation of two books: Fear and Trembling and Repetition. Fear and Trembling engages the question of the nature of faith using the example of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Kirkegaard points out that Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac was, from Abraham's perspective, at best irrational and at worst wicked, but faith is embracing the irrational and (seemingly) wicked with joy. The reward of faith is that Abraham recieved back Isaac not in the way he had expected (through resurrection), but in a way infinitely better than he could have imagined.

The main strength of this book is Kierkegaard's thoughtful and thorough analysis of the irrational component of faith. Many Christians (and certainly many non-Christians) feel that there is something contrary to the way the world works in Christianity, and Kierkegaard explores this in a way that offers an answer which does not sacrifice the totality of the Christian message in the same way that liberal Christianity does when engaging the same questions.

The weakness of the book is fairly obvious. With all due respect to my existentialist brothers and sisters, "mystery" is not "irrationality." There is something mysterious in Christianity, there are elements which transcend our limited reason and worldviews and draw the eyes and the mind heavenward. But to say that these elements are irrationaly, even from our own perspective, is a dangerous road to walk (Kant makes the same mistake). I realize that this is often offered as an apologetic ("you just have to believe, even if it doesn't make sense), but the fact remains that Christianity is ultimately a mystery, Christianity is a historical message of the good news of the salvation that Jesus Christ has worked on the cross. This is not irrational and requires no leap of faith (Kierkegaard never talks about a "blind" leap), it requires conversion.

Repetition is the story of a young man in love and his attempts to recapture the first feelings of love. By extension (implicit at first, and then explicit), this is a discussion of religion and that initial burst of joy which one experiences on conversion, and the continued attempts thereafter to recapture that initial transcendent experience. "Can this experience be repeated?" is the central question of the book, and one which you'll have to read for yourself to get the answer.

I appreciated this work much more than Fear and Trembling, possibly because of the narrative structure, but mostly because I enjoyed the topic quite a lot more. The question of the transient and the eternal is an interesting one philosophically, and one I hope to pursue in future study.

Overall, these are worth a read, even if only to see what all the fuss is about.

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