Existentialism

Be Known


To know
And be known
A heart’s anxious desire
From you all beauty grows
From you all folly spreads

For family to know
Beyond the burden
For highlights and low
Are etched eternally
Beyond consciousness

For friends to know
What delights them is but shadow
Of the shocking unknown
Bringing relief for a lifetime
Without inspection

To be known does not come between men any longer
Why go on?
An insult
In jest
Is folly
An opinion
Interjected
Is a rift
Why seek to grasp the wind?

– by M. Landers, June 2014

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Further Reading

Wendell Berry’s Greatest Poem

Gal. V & VII by M. Landers

Wendell Berry On War And Children

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Kierkegaard On “How” Philosophy


“Though he very rarely characterized himself as a philosopher, that is how world history remembers Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. And yet, while Socrates was his sage and he profoundly respected Kant, Kierkegaard ultimately became a virulent critic of philosophy, especially of the academic ilk. G.W.F Hegel was the regnant philosopher king of early to mid-nineteenth-century European philosophy. While Kierkegaard, in his early career, admired the speculative German thinker, he ultimately concluded that Hegel and other intellectual system builders “are like a man who has built a vast palace while he himself lives next door.” Writing in his journal, Kierkegaard insists, “Spiritually, a man’s thoughts must be the building in which he lives–otherwise it is wrong.” (JN, vol. 2, Journal JJ: 490, p.279). In addition to being unable to bring their scholarly studies to quotidian life, Kierkegaard complained that philosophers neglected the question of how to communicate the wisdom that philosophers (lovers of wisdom) are supposed to care about and ultimately possess.

Plato wrestled with the question of whether or not the written word was an aid or impediment to the good and just life, but for the most part the focus in philosophy has always been on the what, on the content of thought, as though wisdom in life were a mere matter of information capable of being directly disseminated en masse. With their emphasis on reason, Hegel and other virtuosi of abstractions spent little time pondering how it would be best to communicate their conclusions. Indeed, philosophers can seem almost narcissistic in their indifference to the subjective coordinates of their readers. They reason through an issue such as “What is love?” and then publish the argument, usually in a treatise form accessible only to the likes of philosophy professors.

Unlike other members of the Socrates guild, Kierkegaard grappled with the question of the how, as opposed to the what, of communication. Someone with an epistemological interest might conclude that while most philosophers probe the question of knowledge, Kierkegaard made a study of belief; Kierkegaard, however, was concerned with more that nodding intellectual assent.”

– From the Introduction to “The Quotable Kierkegaard”, edited by Gordon Marino
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As a college student studying theology, philosophy, and aesthetics, I quickly grew to distrust the tendency of intellectual academia to ponder all heady subject matter and comfortably sink into complacency in personal action and advocacy. At the same time I realized that the men whose lives I admired were founded on simple and consistent action rather than deep contemplation. Reality tells us that all men are invariably hypocrites at some point, but it has proven more life-giving to experience life with open men of conviction and action than to admire the thoughts and art of self-assured and selfish men.

I was first surprised by Kierkegaard when I started reading “Fear And Trembling.” I was completely caught off guard both by the creative style and intimate content of the work. The self-exposure required to open your own existential questions surrounding a Biblical narrative is starkly different from a treatise expounding on how neatly you’ve completed your understanding of the concepts involved.

While I cannot attest for the personal lives of authors and thinkers like Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton and Albert Camus, their candor, down-to-earthness, and even comic qualities show a confidence to be themselves and a capability to attack heady subjects without looking down on the laymen.

I look forward to writing a future post including a selection of potent quotes from The Quotable Kierkegaard.

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Further Reading

Kierkegaard On Gettin Rid Of Faith

Keats’ Fear Of Creative Death

G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday

How To Get Rid Of Faith


“What those ancient Greeks (who also had some understanding of philosophy) regarded as a task for a whole lifetime, seeing that dexterity in doubting is not acquired in a few days or weeks, what the veteran combatant attained when he had preserved the equilibrium of doubt through all the pitfalls he encountered, who intrepidly denied the certainty of sense-perception and the certainty of the processes of thought, incorrigibly defied the apprehensions of self-love and the insinuations of sympathy–that is where everybody begins in our time.

In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be. . .going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days of weeks. When the tried oldster drew near to his last hour, having fought the good fight and kept the faith, his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten that fear and trembling which chastened the youth, which the man indeed held in check, but which no man quite outgrows. . .except as he might succeed at the earliest opportunity in going further. Where these revered figures arrived, that is the point where everybody in our day begins to go further.

The present writer is nothing of a philosopher, he has not understood the System, does not know whether it actually exists, whether it is completed; already he has enough for his weak head in the thought of what a prodigious head everybody in our day must have, since everybody has such a prodigious thought. Even though one were capable of converting the whole content of faith into the form of a concept, it does not follow that one has adequately conceived faith and understands how one got into it, or how it got into one.”

– Soren Kierkegaard (under the pseudonym Johannes De Silentio), excerpt from the Preface of Fear And Trembling.
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This sarcastic little preface starts one of the key works of existentialism, a book that champions faith. It turns out that Kierkegaard is, contrary to his claims, capable of presenting very dense philosophical concepts. His goal in this preface seems to be to validate self-doubt in a culture of self-presumption and faith in a culture that assumes it can discover all that there is to know. Doubt and faith exist as check and balance that should last a lifetime, keeping us honest about the nature of the things we believe and helping us to more deeply trust what we have recognized as reliable truth.

The interesting point here is that “our day” for Kierkegaard was the early 1840’s. It is sometimes hard to remember that the troubled ideas of a modern age brimming with scientific discovery are not new. Just because we are only recently making rampant “discoveries for discovery’s sake” does not mean we are the first or second or fifth generation to assume we can get somewhere based on discoveries alone. Humanity has eternally presumed and desired a mysterious completion of (or in) discovery rather than faith in anything. But isn’t that a form of faith in scientific discovery?

Kierkegaard is humble enough to assume that he will never be able to Systematize existence. Just as he calls our implicit faith in sensory-perception and process-of-thought into question, he questions whether faith itself, even if we claim to understand what it entails, can be pulled out and set aside from ration.

When I read this piece I immediately think about how ready we are to hurl a slew of random statistics and scientific studies at problematic points to prove our emotionally-based opinions. There are studies and statistics available to validate nearly every opposing viewpoint available to choose from today; so much so that, though we haven’t created self-presumption and human omnipotence, our generation has nearly perfected the use of them.

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Related reads

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby

What Christians Can Learn From Athiests

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

Author Quotes: Albert Camus’s Atheist Perspective On Christianity, Part I


“Inasmuch as you have been so kind as to invite a man who does not share your convictions to come and answer the very general question that you are raising in these conversations, before telling you what I think unbelievers expect of Christians, I should like first to acknowledge your intellectual generosity by stating a few principles.

First, there is a lay pharisaism in which I shall strive not to indulge. To me a lay pharisee is the person who pretends to believe that Christianity is an easy thing and asks of the Christian, on the basis of an external view of Christianity, more than he asks of himself. I believe indeed that the Christian has many obligations but that it is not up to the man who rejects them himself to recall their existence to anyone who has already accepted them. . .

Secondly, I wish to declare also that, not feeling that I possess any absolute truth or any message, I shall never start from the supposition that Christian truth is illusory, but merely from the fact that I could not accept it. . .

Having said that, it will be easier or me to state my third and last principle. It is simple and obvious. I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think (insofar as I can judge of it) in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all. On the contrary, what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as is silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds. This is tantamount to saying that the world of today needs Christians who remain Christians. The other day at the Sorbonne, speaking to a Marxist lecturer, a Catholic priest said in public that he too was anticlerical. Well, I don’t like priests who are anticlerical any more than philosophies that are ashamed of themselves. Hence I shall not, as far as I am concerned, try to pass myself off as a Christian in your presence. I share with you the same revulsion from evil. But I do not share your hope, and I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die.”

– Albert Camus, from his 1948 essay, The Unbeliever and Christians
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Although he tended to shy away from the categorizations, Noble-prize winning author Albert Camus is known as an important figure of both Absurdist and existential schools of philosophy. He was also an atheist who knew how to speak respectfully to those with whom he had fundamental disagreements. Here we have him not only spelling out the ideals that led him to this perspective but also putting them into play. The above mentioned essay was originally the introductory statements of a lecture he gave at the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg.

I use social media and I live in America. Every day I see articles and endless comment threads spewing violently anti-dialogue hatred. As of recently I have also had the personal pleasure of entering into a couple of lengthy, social media based conversations with those of drastically opposing world-views. It brings me immense joy to be able still to find and honestly give the title of “friend” to those opposite who are interested in expressing themselves without contempt for their fellow human beings. We need more authentic dialoguers.

I approach the body materials of Camus’s The Unbeliever And Christians in Part II.

Viktor Frankl on How Love Survived the Nazi Death Camps


The Bully Pulpit

Auschwitz

“As we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the…

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