Kierkegaard on Faith 1843

Soren Kierkegaard thought the inner values of the single individual were being forced into the external world of things. He made the point in his 1843 book Either/Or Part 1. He chose an imperishable gift rather than those offered by the gods.

A strange thing happened to me in my dream. I was rapt into the Seventh Heaven. There sat all the gods assembled. As a special dispensation I was granted the favor to have one wish. “Do you wish for youth,” said Mercury, “or for beauty, or power, or a long life; or do you wish for the most beautiful woman, or any other of the many fine things we have in our treasure trove? Choose, but only one thing!” For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed the gods in this wise: “Most honorable contemporaries, I choose one thing—that I may always have the laughs on my side.” (Texas Bulletin p. 45-Either/Or)


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Kierkegaard was not only interested in the inner good called humor but that better sacred good called faith. Something was happening to faith. He published his concern in his 1843 book Fear and Trembling. He was always interested in the “how” of Christianity rather than the “what”. How is faith won by the single individual?

In our times, as was remarked, no one is content with faith, but “goes right on.” The question as to whither they are proceeding may be a silly question; whereas it is a sign of urbanity and culture to assume that every one has faith, to begin with, for else it were a curious statement for them to make, that they are proceeding further. In the olden days it was different. Then, faith was a task for a whole life-time because it was held that proficiency in faith was not to be won within a few days or weeks. (Texas Bulletin p. 119-120-Fear and Trembling)

Christendom was under attack in Europe as well as in the Americas. Many were questioning the “old” wisdom and even the existence of a god. Kierkegaard painted a picture of life without God in the same book as above.

If a consciousness of the eternal were not implanted in man; if the basis of all that exists were but a confusedly fermenting element which, convulsed by obscure passions, produced all, both the great and the insignificant; if under everything there lay a bottomless void never to be filled—what else were life but despair?

If it were thus, and if there were no sacred bonds between man and man; if one generation arose after another, as in the forest the leaves of one season succeed the leaves of another, or like the songs of birds which are taken up one after another; if the generations of man passed through the world like a ship passing through the sea and the wind over the desert—a fruitless and a vain thing; if eternal oblivion were ever greedily watching for its prey and there existed no power strong enough to wrest it from its clutches—how empty were life then, and how dismal! (Texas Bulletin p. 125-126-Fear and Trembling)

He took up the story of Abraham and Isaac next. What if? That’s what Kierkegaard considers.

either-or-and-fear-and-tremblingIf Abraham had doubted, when standing on Mount Moriah; if he had looked about him in perplexity; if he had accidentally discovered the ram before drawing his knife; if God had permitted him to sacrifice it instead of Isaac—then would he have returned home, and all would have been as before, he would have had Sarah and would have kept Isaac; and yet how different all would have been! For then had his return been a flight, his salvation an accident, his reward disgrace, his future, perchance, perdition.

Then would he have borne witness neither to his faith nor to God’s mercy, but would have witnessed only to the terror of going to Mount Moriah. Then Abraham would not have been forgotten, nor either Mount Moriah. It would be mentioned, then, not as is Mount Ararat on which the Ark landed, but as a sign of terror, because it was there Abraham doubted. (Texas Bulletin p. 133-Fear and Trembling)


But Abraham didn’t doubt and therefore he is considered the father of faith. Abraham lived in three worlds at the same time: the world of experience, the world of matter, and the world of the spirit. How difficult was it for Abraham to do what he did?

The current state philosopher was Friedrich Hegel in both Germany and Denmark. Kierkegaard says, “It is said to be difficult to  understand the philosophy of Hegel; but to understand Abraham, why, that is an easy matter! To proceed further than Hegel is a wonderful feat, but to proceed further than Abraham, why, nothing is easier! Now I wonder if every one of my contemporaries is really able to perform the movements of faith. (Texas Bulletin p. 138-140-Fear and Trembling)

He’s back again to the ease of life, the broad path, the road to Jerico, the road to Damascus, the road to knowledge and the road to faith.

They who flatter themselves that by merely considering the outcome of Abraham’s story they will necessarily arrive at faith, only deceive themselves and wish to cheat God out of the first movement of faith—it were tantamount to deriving worldly wisdom from the paradox. (Texas Bulletin p. 142-Fear and Trembling)


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Life was becomming easier and easier for people with the new sciences and the machines that did everything. Travel had increased with the invention of the steam boats. But should the same thing hold true for faith? Kierkegaard didn’t think so. He didn’t want to have a cheap Christianity.

Not only in the world of commerce but also in the world of ideas our age has arranged a regular clearance-sale. Everything may be had at such absurdedly low prices that very soon the question will arise whether any one cares to bid. (Texas Bulletin p. 119-Fear and Trembling)

It might be easier to procure external things but the internal goods of the spirit were not changed since times of old. What do you think?

In 1850, Kierkegaard published Preparation For A Christian Life and tells his reader that he or she should not be fooled by “the others”.

Now examine yourself — for that you have a right to do. You have a right to examine yourself, but you really do not have a right to let yourself without self-examination be deluded by “the others” into the belief, or to delude yourself into the belief, that you are a Christian — therefore examine yourself: supposing you were contemporary with him!  Selections from the Writings of Soren Kierkegaard, Preparation for a Christian Life – Hollander 1923  P. 181


University of Texas Bulletin No. 3 1923


6 thoughts on “Kierkegaard on Faith 1843

  1. I think Kierkegaard was saying that people do not recognize that they already have faith. I think he is saying that those “who must go further” are those that see Faith involved in a question of willing and of choice.

    He asks “ where is everybody going so fast?”

    I do not think he’s talking about how we come up with faith or the various ethical decisions of choice and how we have a Christian faith in things like that.
    I think he’s saying that those considerations are exactly in authentic.

    And that this is a humorous situation, because if one has faith that is authentic and then goes to talk with someone else about, say, what they believe or what their Christian faith is, all the sudden these people start talking to you about ethics and about making choices in about what if‘s and about whether or not God exists and how their faith is in God and etc. etc., and it becomes hilarious because these people are really talking from a position that has already gone past their faith.

    Indeed Kierkegaard talks about that it is not a leap into faith. The authentic person that Kierkegaard talks about does not take a leap based upon hoping. The athletic person of faith makes the leap because faith is already inherent and does not require a choice or a belief..

    I see the irony of Kierkegaard is that he saw himself as not able to have the faith of Abraham, not able to make this leap, and yet here we have 150 years later his writings that are telling us that indeed his faith was intact and that he had no choice in the matter.

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  2. Kierkegaard came up with an individual who wanted to find out how to get faith in his discourse.

    If there was a man who went to another man and said to him: “I have often heard faith extolled as the highest good; I certainly feel that I do not have it; the complexity of my life, my troubles, my numerous affairs and many other things interfere; but this I know, that I have one wish and only one, that I may have a share in this faith.”

    Then he went to another man, confided to him, too, his concern and his wish.

    “If I,” said he, “with my wish or with my gift I could present him with the highest good, then could I also take it from him, even if he need not fear this; aye, what is worse, if I could do this, then I should in the iame moment that I gave it to him, take it from him; for n the fact that I gave him the highest good, I took the lighest good from him; for the highest would be that he hould give it to himself.

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