Joseph B. Soloveitchik's The Lonely Man of Faith (Doubleday 2006) is rich and stimulating and packed with insights. I thank Peter Lupu for having a copy sent to me. But there is a long footnote on p. 49 with which I heartily disagree. Here is part of it:
The trouble with all rational demonstrations of the existence of God, with which the history of philosophy abounds, consists in their being exactly what they were meant to be by those who formulated them: abstract logical demonstrations divorced from the living primal experiences in which these demonstrations are rooted. For instance, the cosmic experience was transformed into a cosmological proof, the ontic experience into an ontological proof, et cetera. Instead of stating that the the most elementary existential awareness as a subjective 'I exist' and an objective 'the world around me exists' awareness is unsustainable as long as the the ultimate reality of God is not part of this experience, the theologians engaged in formal postulating and deducing in an experiential vacuum. Because of this they exposed themselves to Hume's and Kant's biting criticism that logical categories are applicable only within the limits of the human scientific experience.
Does the loving bride in the embrace of her beloved ask for proof that he is alive and real? Must the prayerful soul clinging in passionate love ecstasy to her Beloved demonstrate that He exists? So asked Soren Kierkegaard sarcastically when told that Anselm of Canterbury, the father of the very abstract and complex ontological proof, spent many days in prayer and supplication that he be presented with rational evidence of the existence of God.
A man like me has one foot in Jerusalem and the other in Athens. Soloveitchik and Kierkegaard, however, have both feet in Jerusalem. They just can't understand what drives the philosopher to seek a rational demonstration of the existence of God. Soloveitchik's analogy betrays him as a two-footed Hierosolymian. Obviously, the bride in the embrace of the beloved needs no proof of his reality. The bride's experience of the beloved is ongoing and coherent and repeatable ad libitum. If she leaves him for a while, she can come back and be assured that he is the same as the person she left. She can taste his kisses and enjoy his scent while seeing him and touching him and hearing him. He remains self-same as a unity in and through the manifold of sensory modes whereby he is presented to her. And in any given mode, he is a unity across a manifold. Shifting her position, she can see him from different angles with the visual noemata cohering in such a way as to present a self-same individual. What's more, her intercourse with his body fits coherently with her intercourse with his mind as mediated by his voice and gestures.
I could go on, but point is plain. There is simply no room for any practical doubt as to the beloved's reality given the forceful, coherent, vivacious, and obtrusive character of the bride's experience of him. She is compelled to accept his reality. There is no room here for any doxastic vountarism. The will does not play a role in her believing that he is real. There is no need for decision or faith or a leap of faith in her acceptance of his reality.
Our experience of God is very different. It comes by fleeting glimpses and gleanings and intimations. The sensus divinitatis is weak and experienced only by some. The bite of conscience is not unambiguously of higher origin than Freudian superego and social suggestion. Mystical experiences are few and far-between. Though unquestionable as to their occurrence, they are questionable as to their veridicality because of their fitful and fragmentary character. They are not validated in the ongoing way of ordinary sense perception. They don't integrate well with ordinary perceptual experiences. And so the truth of these mystical and religious experiences can and perhaps should be doubted. It is this fact that motivates philosophers to seek independent confirmation of the reality of the object of these experiences by the arguments that Soloveitchik and Co. dismiss.
The claim above that the awareness expressed by 'I exist' is unsustainable unless the awareness of God is part of the experience is simply false. That I exist is certain to me. But it is far from certain what the I is in its inner nature and what existence is and whether the I requires God as its ultimate support. The cogito is not an experience of God even if God exists and no cogito is possible without him. The same goes for the existence of the world. The existence of God is not co-given with the existence of the world. It is plain to the bride's senses that the beloved is real. It is not plain to our senses that nature is God's nature, that the cosmos is a divine artifact. That is why one cannot rely solely on the cosmic experience of nature as of a divine artifact, but must proceed cosmologically by inference from what is evident to what is non-evident.
Soloveitchik is making the same kind of move that St. Paul makes in Romans 1: 18-20. My critique of that move here.
I have long enjoyed the writings of Camille Paglia. But while C. P. is a partial antidote to P. C., the arresting Miss Paglia does not quite merit a plenary MavPhilindulgence endorsement. One reason is because of what she says in the following excerpt from The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia (via Mike Valle):
You grew up as an Italian-American Catholic, but seemed to identify more strongly with the pagan elements of Catholic art and culture than with the church’s doctrines. What caused you to fall away from the Catholic Church?
Italian Catholicism remains my deepest identity—in the same way that many secular Jews feel a strong cultural bond with Judaism. Over time I realized—and this became a main premise of my first book, Sexual Personae (based on my doctoral dissertation at Yale)—that what had always fascinated me in Italian Catholicism was its pagan residue. I loved the cult of saints, the bejeweled ceremonialism, the eerie litanies of Mary—all the things, in other words, that Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers rightly condemned as medieval Romanist intrusions into primitive Christianity. It's no coincidence that my Halloween costume in first grade was a Roman soldier, modeled on the legionnaires' uniforms I admired in the Stations of the Cross on the church walls. Christ's story had very little interest for me—except for the Magi, whose opulent Babylonian costumes I adored! My baptismal church, St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott, New York, was a dazzling yellow-brick, Italian-style building with gorgeous stained-glass windows and life-size polychrome statues, which were the first works of art I ever saw.
After my parents moved to Syracuse, however, I was progressively stuck with far blander churches and less ethnic congregations. Irish Catholicism began to dominate—a completely different brand, with its lesser visual sense and its tendency toward brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism. I suspect that the nun who finally alienated me from the church must have been Irish! It was in religious education class (for which Catholic students were released from public school on Thursday afternoons), held on that occasion in the back pews of the church. I asked the nun what still seems to me a perfectly reasonable and intriguing question: if God is all-forgiving, will he ever forgive Satan? The nun's reaction was stunning: she turned beet red and began screaming at me in front of everyone. That was when I concluded there was no room in the Catholic Church of that time for an inquiring mind.
Serendipitous that I should stumble this morning upon Mike V.'s Facebook linkage to the America interview, what with my recent thinking about Luther and Kierkegaard's Lutheranism and both of their opposition to what they take to be musty Medieval monkishness and mysticism and monasticism with its asceticism and emphasis on works in general, when justification is by faith alone, as they see it. This led to such abuses as the sale of indulgences. (Later, perhaps, I will quote the relevant S. K. passage.)
But for now a quick poke or two at Paglia. You know about Kierkegaard's three stages or existence-spheres. Paglia seems stuck in the first of them, the aesthetic. The second poke is that she quit Catholicism for a very bad reason, because "there was no room in the Catholic Church of that time for an inquiring mind." And how did Paglia get to that conclusion? From a possibly overtaxed nun's impatience with what might have been a smart-assed question from a very bright but also very rebellious and willful girl, who might have given the overworked nun trouble in the past. (I speculate, of course, but not unreasonably.) I should think that SEX and the desire to indulge in it had a lot more to do with the quittage than any process of reasoning, however non-sequiturious. Here is an excellent account of the three spheres of (personal, subjective) existence in Kierkegaard by the late D. Anthony Storm:
Kierkegaard posited three stages of life, or spheres of existence: the esthetic, the ethical, and the religious. While he favored the term "stages" earlier in his writings, we are not to conceive of them necessarily as periods of life that one proceeds through in sequence, but rather as paradigms of existence. Moreover, many individuals might not traverse a certain stage, for example, the religious. The esthetic sphere is primarily that of self-gratification. The esthete enjoys art, literature, and music. Even the Bible can be appreciated esthetically and Christ portrayed as a tragic hero. The ethical sphere of existence applies to those who sense the claims of duty to God, country, or mankind in general. The religious sphere is divided into Religiousness A and B. Religiousness A apples to the individual who feels a sense of guilt before God. It is a religiousness of immanence. Religiousness B is transcendental in nature. It may be summed up by St. Paul's phrase: "In Christ". It consists of a radical conversion to Christ in the qualitative leap of faith. Kierkegaard also mentions intermediate stages, each of which he calls a confinium, or boundary. Irony lies between the esthetic and the ethical, and humor lies between the ethical and the religious.
There are three existence spheres: the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The metaphysical is abstraction, and there is no human who exists metaphysically. The metaphysical, the ontological, is, but it does not exist, for when it exists it does so in the esthetic, in the ethical, in the religious, and when it is, it is the abstraction from a prius [prior thing] to the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The ethical sphere is only a transition sphere, and therefore its highest expression is repentance as a negative action. The esthetic sphere is the sphere of immediacy, the ethical the sphere of requirement (and this requirement is so infinite that the individual always goes bankrupt), the religious the sphere of fulfillment, but, please note, not a fulfillment such as when one fills an alms box or a sack of gold, for repentance has specifically created a boundless space, and as a consequence the religious contradiction: simultaneously to be out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet be joyful. Just as the ethical sphere is a passageway—which one nevertheless does not pass through once and for all—just as repentance is its expression, so repentance is the most dialectical (Stages On Life's Way, p. 476f.).
D. F. Swenson, as quoted by W. Lowrie, defines Religiousness A and B.
Religion A is characterized by a passive relation to the divine, with the accompanying suffering and sense of guilt. But it is distinguished from religion B, or transcendent religion, in that the tie which binds the individual to the divine is still, in spite of all tension, essentially intact.... The distinctive feature of transcendent religion can be briefly stated. It consists in a transformation or modification of the sense of guilt into the sense of sin, in which all continuity is broken off between the actual self and the ideal self, the temporal self and the eternal. The personality is invalidated, and thus made free from the law of God, because unable to comply with its demands. There is no fundamental point of contact left between the individual and the divine; man has become absolutely different from God (A Short Life of Kierkegaard, p. 173f.).
I plan to spend a few days next month at a Benedictine monastery in the desert outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The suggestion was made that I give some of the monks a little talk. I think "A Philosopher Defends Monasticism" would be an appropriate title. So I have been reading up on the subject.
This morning I looked to see what Kierkegaard has to say on the topic of monks and monasteries in his late works For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself! They are bound together in an attractive English translation by Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton University Press, 1990).
Of course I did not expect old Kierkegaard to have anything good to say about the monastic ideal, but I was slightly surprised by the harshness of his tone.
I myself am highly sympathetic to the ideal. Had I been born in the Middle Ages I would have been a monk for sure. I fantasize my having been Thomas Aquinas' amanuensis and intellectual sparring partner. And although I love to read Kierkegaard and about him and have been doing so all of my philosophical life, there are two things about him that put me off. One is his anti-mysticism, which is of course connected with his anti-monasticism. The other is his anti-rationalism. But these two add up to a third, his fideism, which I also find off-putting. Well, more on all of this later. Now let's look at some quotations.
One of S.K.'s objections, perhaps his main objection, to monks and monasteries and 'popery' is straight from Luther: it is to the idea of earning merit before God by good works:
To want to build upon good works -- the more you practice them, the stricter you are with yourself, the more you merely develop the anxiety in you, and new anxiety. On this road, if a person is not completely devoid of spirit, on this road he comes to the very opposite of peace and rest for his soul, to discord and unrest. No, a person is justified solely by faith. Therefore, in God's name, to hell with the pope and all his helpers' helpers, and away with the monastery, together with all your fasting, scourging, and all the monkey antics that came into use under the name of imitation. (Judge for Yourself! 193, emphasis added)
You cannot justify yourself before God by your own efforts: "a person is justified solely and only by faith." (193) In these later works of direct communication, S. K. speaks in his own voice and is here clearly endorsing the thought of Luther on justification.
A few pages earlier S. K. speaks of the highest life:
No, it is certainly not the highest to seek a solitary hiding place in order if possible to seek God alone there. It is not the highest -- this we indeed see in the prototype [Christ]. But although it is not the highest it is nevertheless possible . . . that not a single one of us is this coddled and secularized generation would be able to do it. But it is not the highest. The highest is: unconditionally heterogeneous with the world by serving God alone, to remain in the world and in the middle of actuality before the eyes of all, to direct all attention to oneself -- for then persecution is unavoidable. This is Christian piety: renouncing everything to serve God alone, to deny oneself in order to serve God alone -- and then to have to suffer for it -- to do good and then to have to suffer for it. It is this that the prototype expresses; it is also this, to mention a mere man, that Luther, the superb teacher of our Church, continually points our as belonging to true Christianity: to suffer for the doctrine, to do good and suffer for it, and that suffering in this world is inseparable from being a Christian in this world. (169)
S. K. here sounds his recurrent theme of Christianity as heterogeneity to the world. The heterogeneity to the world of the monastic life, however, does not go far enough. A more radical heterogeneity is lived by one who remains in the world, not only living the doctrine, but suffering for it. No doubt that is how the Prototype lived, but he was and is God. How is such a thing possible for any mere mortal?
If true Christianity requires suffering for the doctrine, if it requires persecution and martyrdom, then true Christianity is out of reach except for those who, like present-day Christians in the Middle East, are even as we speak having their throats cut for the doctrine by radical Muslim savages as the rest of the world looks on and does nothing. In the Denmark of Kierkegaard's day (1813-1855), when Christianity was the state religion and the object of universal lip-service, true Christianity was out of reach for S. K. himself by his own teaching. The true Christian must be prepared for persecution and martyrdom, but it is difficult to see how they can be "inseparable from being a Christian in this world."
So add this persecution extremism to the off-putting factors already listed: the anti-mysticism, the anti-rationalism, and the extreme fideism.
But what a prodigiously prolific writer he was! What a genius, and what a fascinating specimen of humanity.
My 1995-1996 Turkish Journal contains quotations from, and commentary on, some of S.K.'s journal entries. Unfortunately, I don't have complete bibliographical data, just the entry numbers. What sent me back to my Turkish Journal was London Karl's request that I dig up Kierkegaardian passages that smack of anti-natalism.
S. K. on Women, #4998. ". . . there is a moment in her life when she deceptively appears to be infinitude herself -- and that is when man is captured. And as a wife she is quite simply -- finitude."
S. K. seems to be alluding to the Platonic-Augustinian idea that woman (man too in Plato) can be either a deceptive appearance or a sort of reminder of Transcendence, a waker-upper from our Cave-like amnesia. (Anamnesis doctrine).
S. K. #5000. ". . . Christianity and all more profound views of life take a dim view of the relation to the opposite sex, for they assume that getting involved with the other sex is the demotion of man."
A problem for S. K. If the human race ought to come to an end, if procreation and propagation of the species is better not engaged in, then where will the souls come from to share in the divine life? Or does S. K. believe in the pre-existence of souls? Cf. #3970 where S. K. seems to endorse pre-existence.
Again the tension of Platonic-Gnostic and Jewish-Aristotelian elements in Christianity.
But, given problems like these, would it not be absurd to give up the quest for metaphysical truth and sink into a mundane existence?
S. K. #5003. To marry a woman is to be finitized and mediocratized by her. [A paraphrase, apparently, not a quotation.]
S. K. #5005. "Man was structured for eternity; woman leads him into a side remark."
S. K. 5006. "An eminently masculine intellectuality joined to a feminine submissiveness -- that is the truly religious."
Whereas the extrovert finds himself in socializing, the introvert loses himself in it: he experiences the loss of his inwardness, which is precious to him, a pearl of great price, not willingly surrendered. The clearest expression of this dismay at self-loss that I am aware of finds expression is an early (1836) journal entry of Søren Kierkegaard:
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; witty banter flowed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I came away, indeed the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ------------------------------------------- wanting to shoot myself. (The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Peter P. Rohde, p. 13)
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Vermischte Bemerkungen), ed von Wright, tr. Winch (University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 53e:
I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.)
It says that all wisdom is cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights that you can forge iron when it is cold.
The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor's prescription. -- But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. -- (I.e. this is how I understand it.) Once you have been turned around, you must stay turned around.
Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
Sound doctrines are useless? It would be truer to say that faith as a mere subjective passion is useless. The fideisms of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein fall far below the balanced positions of Augustine and Aquinas. The latter thinkers understood that sound doctrine, though insufficient, was an indispensable guide. They neither denigrated reason nor overestimated its reach. Reason without faith may be existentially empty and passionless, but faith without reason is blind and runs the risk of fanaticism.
He is an animal, but also a spirit -- and thus a riddle to himself. He reasons and speaks, he objectifies, he says 'I' and he means it. Thus he does not parrot the word 'I'; uttering 'I' he expresses self-awareness. Man has a world (Welt), not merely an environment (Umwelt). Man envisages a Higher Life, a higher destiny, whether within history or beyond it. And then he puzzles himself over whether this is a mere fancy, a delusion, or whether it presages the genuine possibility of a higher life.
More than an animal, he can yet sink lower than any animal which fact is a reverse index of his spiritual status. He can as easily devote himself to scatology as to eschatology. The antics of a Marquis de Sade are as probative of man's status as the life of a St. Augustine.
Kierkegaard writes that "every higher conception of life . . . takes the view that the task for men is to strive after kinship with the Deity . . . ." (Attack Upon Christendom, p. 265) We face the danger of "minimizing our own significance" as S. K. puts it, of selling ourselves short. And yet how difficult it is to believe in one's own significance! The problem is compounded by not knowing what one's significance is assuming that one has significance. Not knowing that it is or what it is, one cannot minimize it.
Kierkegaard solves the problem by way of his dogmatic and fideistic adherence to Christian anthropology and soteriology. Undiluted Christianity is his answer. My answer: live so as to deserve immortality. Live as if you have a higher destiny. It cannot be proven, but the arguments against it can all be neutralized. Man's whence and whither are shrouded in darkness and will remain so in this life. Ignorabimus. In the final analysis you must decide what to believe and how to live.
You could be wrong, no doubt. But if you are wrong, what have you lost? Some baubles and trinkets. If you say that truth will have been lost, I will ask you how you know that and why you think truth is a value in a meaningless universe. I will further press you on the nature of truth and undermine your smug conceit that truth could exist in a meaningless wholly material universe.
The image is by Paul Klee, Engel noch tastend, angel still groping. We perhaps are fallen angels, desolation angels, in the dark, but knowing that we are, and ever groping.
S. Kierkegaard/J. Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Swenson and Lowrie tr., Princeton UP, 1941, pp. 154-155, emphasis added):
All honor to him who can handle learnedly the learned question of immortality! But the question of immortality is essentially not a learned question, rather it is a question of inwardness, which the subject by becoming subjective must put to himself. Objectively the question cannot be answered, because objectively it cannot be put, since immortality precisely is the potentiation and highest development of the developed subjectivity. [. . . ] Systematically, immortality cannot be proved at all. The fault does not lie in the proofs, but in the fact that people will not understand that viewed systematically the whole question is nonsense, so that instead of seeking outward proofs, one had better seek to become a little subjective. Immortality is the most passionate interest of subjectivity; precisely in the interest lies the proof. [. . . ]
Quite simply therefore the existing subject asks, not about immortality in general, for such a phantom has no existence, but about his immortality, about what it means to become immortal, whether he is able to contribute anything to the accomplishment of this end, or whether he becomes immortal as a matter of course . . .
I agree that the question of immortality is primarily an existential question, a question for the existing individual, and not primarily a learned or scholarly or 'scientific' or objective question. And surely there is no immortality in general any more than there is a chamber pot in general. Mortality and immortality are in every case my mortality or immortality and it is clear that I have an intense personal interest in the outcome. I am not related to the question of my own immortality in the way I am related to a purely objective question that doesn't affect me personally, the question, say, whether the universe had a beginning 15 billion years or only 5 billion years ago, or had no beginning at all, etc. Such questions, as interesting at they are from a purely theoretical point of view, are existentially indifferent. What's more, occupation with such questions can serve to distract us from the existential questions that really matter. Finally, I agree that one is not immortal as a matter of course, but that immortality is at least in part a task, a matter of the free cultivation of inwardness, the ethical constitution of the self.
So far, then, I agree with SK. Unfortunately, SK exaggerates these insights to the point of making them untenable. For surely it is preposterous to maintain, as SK does maintain above, that the immortality question has nothing objective about it. Let us suppose that how I live, what I do, whether and to what extent I cultivate my inwardness, and whether or not I lose myself in the pseudo-reality and inauthenticity of social existence does affect whether I will survive my bodily death. Suppose, in other words, that my immortality does depend on the highest development and potentiation of my subjectivity and that soul-making is a task. Well, if this is the case, then this is objectively the case. And if it is the case that immortality is a possibility for beings like us, then this is objectively the case. It is not the case because of some subjective stance or attitude that I might or might not assume. I cannot make it be the case if it is not the case by any potentiation of inwardness. I cannot will myself into immortality unless it is objectively the case that immortality is a possibility for beings like us. Furthermore, if we do not become immortal as a matter of course, then this too is objectively the case if it is the case.
And because the question of immortality has an objective side, it is important to examine the reasons for and against.
Kierkegaard/Climacus comes across as a confused irrationalist in the above passages and surrounding text. If a question is primarily existential, it does not follow that it cannot be "objectively put," for of course it can. If a question is primarily subjective, it does not follow that it is purely subjective. And if immortality cannot strictly be proven, it does not follow that there is nothing objective about the issue. This is another, fairly blatant, confusion. Has any one succeeded in strictly proving that the soul is immortal or strictly proving the opposite? No. Is the question an objective question? Yes.
It is simply false to say that "viewed systematically the whole question is nonsense." What is true is that, if the question is viewed SOLELY in a systematic and objective way it is nonsense. For it is clear that the question affects the existing individual in his innermost being. What is troubling about SK is that he cannot convey his insights without dressing them up in irrationalist garb that makes them strictly false.
Does my interest in my personal immortality constitute the proof of my personal immortality? Of course not. So why does SK maintain something so plainly preposterous? For literary effect? To serve as a corrective to Hegelian or other 'systematic' excess? But surely the proper response to an extreme position is not an equal but opposite extreme position, but a moderate and reasonable one.
The following passage from Concluding Unscientific Postscript embodies a penetrating insight:
. . . the legal authority shows its impotence precisely when it shows its power: its power by giving permission, its impotence by not being able to make it permissible. (p. 460, tr. Swenson & Lowrie)
My permitting you to do X does not make X permissible. My forbidding you to do X does not make X impermissible. My permitting (forbidding) is justifed only if what I permit (forbid) is in itself permissible (impermissible). And the same goes for any finite agent or collection of finite agents. A finite agent may have the power to permit and forbid, but it cannot have the power to make permissible or impermissible. Finite agency, then, betrays its impotence in exercising its power.
For example, the moral permissibility of killing in self-defense is what it is independently of the State's power to permit or forbid via its laws. The State cannot make morally permissible what is morally permissible by passing and enforcing laws that permit it. Nor can the State make morally impermissible what is morally permissible by passing and enforcing laws that proscribe it.
Here below Might and Right fall asunder: the powerful are not always just, and the just are not always powerful. But it would be a mistake to think that the mighty cannot be right, or that the right cannot be mighty. The falling asunder is consistent with a certain amount of overlap.
The State is practically necessary and morally justifiable. Or so I would argue against the anarchists. But fear of the State is rational: its power is awesome and sometimes misused. This is why the State's power must be hedged round with limits.
We don't know whether or not God exists. But we do know that nothing is worthy of being called God unless it is the perfect harmonization and colaescence of Might and Right, of Power and Justice, of Will and Reason.
Tough questions: Could such a transcendental Ideal (in Kant's sense) be merely a transcendental Ideal impossible of existence in reality? And could anything impossible count as an ideal? But if God is possible would he not have to be actual?
He presupposes the truth of Christianity. The question for him is not whether it is true but how it is properly to be lived. His concern is the existential appropriation of what is antecedently accepted as true. This is reflected in his otherwise absurd dictum, "Truth is subjectivity." So Heidegger was right when he called him, not a philosopher, but "a religious writer."
Kierkegaard dreaded ending up the property and preserve of professional scholars. But who reads him apart from professors of philosophy, of religion, of divinity, of Danish literature, and their students? The professors read him for professional purposes, to make a living; the students also read him for professional purposes, to prepare for making a living. His works have become fodder for the career game, just as he feared. But there is something worse, as S. K. would be the first to point out, namely, a man's filling his belly from the fact that another man was crucified. The Kierkegaard scholar merely fills his belly from the fact that a man reflected lifelong on what it might mean to follow the one who was crucified.
. . .I once spoke quite zealously about how no positive religion could be tolerant, precisely because, with its claim to be revealed religion, it must insist that it is the only true religion, and it would have to consign the others to untruth. From the point of view of positive religion, a general religiousness, 'a religion in general,' must therefore be a nonentity. As I eagerly developed this idea, I happened to repeat the expression 'a religion in general,' and adopted as my principle that a religion (i.e., a positive religion) in general is a nonentity. 'Yes, and so is a chamber pot in general,' said K., thus putting a damper on my zeal.
Lev Shestov and Kierkegaard have much in common. Both are irrationalists, to mention the deepest commonality. Husserl and Kierkegaard have almost nothing in common except that both are passionate truth-seekers each in his own way. So I find it amazing that it was Edmund Husserl, of all people, who introduced Shestov to Kierkegaard's writings. As Shestov explains in In Memory of a Great Philosopher:
. . . during my visit to Freiburg [im Breisgau, where Husserl lived], learning that I had never read Kierkegaard, Husserl began not to ask but to demand - with enigmatic insistence - that I acquaint myself with the works of the Danish thinker. How was it that a man whose whole life had been a celebration of reason should have led me to Kierkegaard's hymn to the absurd? Husserl, to be sure, seems to have become acquainted with Kierkegaard only during the last years of his life. There is no evidence in his works of familiarity with any of the writings of the author of Either-Or. But it seems clear that Kierkegaard's ideas deeply impressed him.
It testifies to the stature of both men that they sought each other out for dialogue despite the unbridgeable gulf that separated them.
Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach protested that the philosophers have merely interpreted the world in various ways, when the point is to change it. (Die Philosophen haben die Welt verschieden interpretiert; aber es kommt darauf an, sie zu veraendern.) His century-mate, Soren Kierkegaard, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, but sharing Marx’s disdain for mere theory, might have said that the point was to change oneself, to become oneself. Both thinkers were anti-contemplative and anti-speculative, but in such wildly divergent ways! The social activist Marx denied interiority by trying to merge the individual into his species-being (Gattungswesen) while the existentialist Kierkegaard fetishized interiority: “Truth is subjectivity” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).