Soren Kierkegaard is the father of existentialism but also a badass hard to understand writer. Part of difficulty comes from the fact that the melancholy Dane is rarely read within the context of his profound Christian faith. It is a bit like trying to understand the music of Rage Against the Machine without admitting their politics into the conversation. Frankly, the songs just seem weird and noisy if you don’t know what socialism is.
I read a great essay by Peter Bolt on the topic of Kierkegaard and anxiety that clarified a lot of things for me, a guy who naturally loves Soren but often doesn’t know what he is getting at. So I thought I’d sum it up here as best I can to remind me quickly in the future if ever the needs be. Understanding Soren is not helped by the way that he steps into a persona when he writes. Is this Zoomtard or is this Kevin? Well its always Kevin. But Soren suggested that when he wrote as Anti-Climacus he really was stepping outside himself.
Anxiety, along with the need for a conversion event that alters, ruptures one’s very existence is a dominant theme in Soren’s work. And after last night’s cheating, will be the dominant theme in the long dark nights of Thierry Henry’s life. Life is haunted at all times, for all people, by a horrific, undefined possibility; a fear-filled apprehension of the uncertain future.
There is a “moment” for each of us right before we act, before we make any particular choice that defines that choice. For Kierkegaard, this moment, this fork in the road, is the source of anxiety. This is how anxiety differs from fear properly. Fear is dread of something concrete. Angst is fear of something hypothetical.
For Kierkegaard, the first sin of Adam passes on to us his anxiety. He brought it into our midst and now we must cope with it. Sin began in the free leap from innocence to guilt. That first Adam faced a moment where he could do what he should do or could do what he should not do and that was his Moment. Anxiety is the middle term between innocence and guilt, the fork in the road where the possibility of the wrong choice is opened out and dread is the result.
After Adam, anxiety takes five forms. There is objective anxiety because we do now live in a world filled with things to dread, most importantly, death. There is subjective anxiety, the “dizziness of freedom” to choose what is not right- the haunting of our lives by the fear that we will go awry. There is necessary anxiety which is brought about by the recognition that we have sinned (subjective anxiety fulfilled) and we must live in the light of that decision. Then there are the anxieties over evil (the Moralists’ angst: anxiety about sin causes sin) and anxiety about the good (where we close ourselves off to truth and goodness as a defence mechanism against our insecurity).
In the face of this angst, the evangelical Kierkegaard comments that anxiety is “an adventure that every human being must go through – to learn to be anxious in order that they may not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing in anxiety. Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.”
Or in other words, faith is mature and balanced anxiety about the very real reality of our sin. To never be anxious is to be sociopathically careless. To always be anxious is to be closed in and locked inside yourself and your dreaded potential. But true faith remembers and believes that “One cannot be inclosed in God or in the good, because this kind of inclosure signifies the greatest expansion”.
The current Pope likes to talk about how God is so great that he (obviously) encompasses the whole of Creation. And yet he is so humble he can be grasped by the faith of a child and so sacrificially loving that he can be executed by the crudest torture implements. Anxiety, like anger and every other emotion, has a place in the life of the Christian. The one thing faith should not accommodate is the smothering of what it means to be human. So as God is the one who encompasses the greatest but can be apprehended by the smallest, so the angsty amongst us can transcend carelessness and neurosis to find the space to flourish in the tight-fitting (but easy-carrying) yoke of God.
Your Correspondent, Providence blinks facing the Son