Kierkegaard and the leap to faith

Kierkegaard and the leap to faith.

I’ve decided that the only way to understand religion is in terms of what Søren Kierkegaard called the “leap.” (CUP, p 340)  He never used the term “leap of faith.”  I’m still struggling with Kierkegaard.  My post is a series of comments on some important ideas of his.  There are others. 

I am particularly interested in the religious implications of his earlier works, those not explicitly Christian.  When people refer to Kierkegaard as the first existentialist, it is to these earlier works that they refer. 

One influence on my decision to study Kierkegaard was reading some of Reinhold Niebuhr’s sermons, prayers, and religious essays (2015).  Far from being a “Christian realist,” as I may have portrayed him here, Niebuhr was first of all a man of faith.  But what does this mean? 

Truth as subjectivity

It means that through an act of “imaginative reorientation,” one chooses to see the world as gift, and Christ as our savior, because doing so makes life more meaningful.  Reasons can be given, but the world as gift and Christ as savior becomes a reality by acting as if it were so.  This is what Kierkegaard means by “truth as subjectivity.”

Truth is not just a proposition.  Truth becomes a way of life.  This is exemplified in Christ’s claim that “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  Christ not only claims to teach the truth; His life is the truth (Evans, p 62).  Our lives can never be the truth, but we can seek to make the ideals represented by Christ’s life and teachings our own, in so far as this is humanly possible.  In this way faith becomes a reality. 

Continue reading Kierkegaard and the leap to faith

Making sense of original sin with Reinhold Niebuhr

The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith—Reinhold Niebuhr      

adam-and-eve-798376_1280Making sense of original sin with Reinhold Niebuhr.

I never took the concept of sin seriously until I read Reinhold Niebuhr.  I think this is mostly because I didn’t read Niebuhr until I was in my sixties, when I began to take a lot of things in life more seriously.  If so, then perhaps I should say that Niebuhr is a particularly good interpreter of a concept that hovered just out of my range until now.

Communal idolatry

For Niebuhr, sin is most clearly seen and expressed in communal idolatry.  This is the context of the epigraph that opens this post.  We see sin every day in the actions of groups, and above all nations.  I discussed communal idolatry in a previous post, so I won’t spend much time on it here. 

In sin, we worship the idols of the group.  And not just extremist groups or nations.  In the midst of World War Two, Niebuhr argued that the American idealization of liberty could itself degenerate into a form of idolatry.  As Andrew Bacevich puts it in his introduction to a new edition of The Irony of American History, Niebuhr

went so far as to describe the worship of democracy as “a less vicious version of the Nazi creed.” He cautioned that “no society, not even a democratic one, is great enough or good enough to make itself the final end of human existence.” (Bacevich, p xii; Niebuhr, 1944, p 133)

Continue reading Making sense of original sin with Reinhold Niebuhr