Peter Angeles describes an important feature of existentialism as “An individual has no essential nature, no-self identity other than that involved in the act of choosing.” Kierkegaard and other existentialists agree that life presents us with angst (anxiety), despair and the absurd. It is the choice of how one chooses to respond to this absurdity of existence that is the difference. Kierkegaard as a Christian existentialist says one must take a leap of faith, there is no guarantee with this leap of faith,however through the passion of faith we have meaning in our lives. The leap of faith develops a relationship between the single individual and the Absolute individual (God).
Kierkegaard regarded faith very passionately and he described faith as something that should be lived very passionately; “ An objective uncertainty, held fast through the appropriation process with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing individual”. However Kierkegaard considered the majority of modernity (the crowd) who claimed to be Christians, do not hold such passion. They believe and just go on, or even doubt and just go on. For Kierkegaard faith is a process that lasts one’s whole life. Kierkegaard makes the criticism of modernity; “Faith has never existed precisely because is has always existed in the world”. The “faith” of the crowd is conventional, it is a social practice. It lacks the commitment and passion of personal faith. This passion is exemplified by Abraham and his three day journey,which is crucial to understanding faith. On this journey Abraham is set to sacrifice his beloved son Issac, during this journey our hero experiences angst, he experiences fear and trembling.
Kierkegaard describes Abraham as the greatest of all heroes for struggling with God and still hoping for the impossible. However Abraham’s journey presents us with a problem; the ethical is in conflict with the religious. This is on account of murder being universally accepted as unethical, wrong, etc. For thinkers like Kant, the universal applies to everyone. The duty is to be obeyed at all times, even if it does not “pay off”; morality is its own purpose and justification. When then is it possible to suspend universal morality? Kierkegaard claims that we can suspend the ethical for religious salvation. The ethical for the Greeks was the highest fulfillment of human destiny but for the Christian it is not. Abraham suspends the ethical out of individual faith, he believes the impossible and is faced with the paradox of being promised to be the father of many nations yet he must sacrifice his beloved son. However, he still believes. This is why according to Kierkegaard, Abraham is a Knight of Faith. He retains his faith and acts out of love without grounds or assurance. In my next article we shall discuss Kierkegaard’s existential Knight of Faith in more detail.