Date: Thu, 28 Mar 1996 20:36:56 -0800 (PST)
From: Michael Gregory <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> On Sun, 25 Feb 1996 Jeff Irvin <jirvin@UOFT02.UTOLEDO.EDU wrote:
> > In fact, I would
> > say that "staring into the abyss" is a prerequisite to becoming an
> > existentialist, or a Christian for that matter. I believe Kierkegaard said
> > the same thing in his writings. Paraphrased, I believe Kierkegaard would
> > have written something like, "It is the realization that life has no
> > meaning or purpose that leads us to despair, and it is this despair which
> > leads us to belief in God.">
To which Jim Good responded:
> Is Kierkegaard right about this? Must one experience profound despair in
> order to be a "true" Christian? I've always thought Keirkegaard
> overstated his case on this point. He seems to assume his experience is
> the "true" experience.
How about "The Dark Night of the Soul"?
Date: Fri, 29 Mar 1996 11:55:54 -0400
>> On Sun, 25 Feb 1996 Jeff Irvin <jirvin@UOFT02.UTOLEDO.EDU
>> > In fact, I would
>> > say that "staring into the abyss" is a prerequisite to becoming an
>> > existentialist, or a Christian for that matter. I believe Kierkegaard said
>> > the same thing in his writings. Paraphrased, I believe Kierkegaard would
>> > have written something like, "It is the realization that life has no
>> > meaning or purpose that leads us to despair, and it is this despair which
>> > leads us to belief in God.">
>To which Jim Good responded:
>> Is Kierkegaard right about this? Must one experience profound despair in
>> order to be a "true" Christian? I've always thought Keirkegaard
>> overstated his case on this point. He seems to assume his experience is
>> the "true" experience.
>How about "The Dark Night of the Soul"?
Jeff Irvin responded:
I would respond to this point by saying that it is my personal belief that most people who call themselves Christian never experience this "deep, dark depression, excessive misery." Therefore, Kierkegaard has only touched upon one of the many ways in which people come to the Christian faith.
I do believe though that the mystic, of necessity, must pass through this flame of doubt. Unfortunately, not all of us are of the same stuff as mystics.
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 1996 11:53:06 -0500
In reference to Jim Good's response to Jeff Irvin:
Meyer Abrams, in his classic study of Neoplatonism, _Natural Supernaturalism_, locates Kierkegaard's thought within the Romantic perspective of Carlyle in _Sartor Resartus_ , in which Carlyle describes human existence in terms of a "split personality," derived from Augustine's "two selves" and Wordsworth's "two consciousnesses." Abrams says this is a familiar Romantic (by which he consistently means Neoplatonic) theme: An I confronts a non-I. Existence begins with untroubled childhood but must confront the confusing and threatening world. This experience is followed by the erosion of all his inherited certainties.
Having lost all traditional supports, the mind moves into the "Everlasting No" of what Carlyle calls its "Fever-crisis," taking a spiritual beating whose savagery has rarely been equaled in the long history of Christian soul-crises. "Falling, falling toward the abyss," the protagonist "turns pilgrim" and carries out an "extraordinary world-pilgrimage" which is the outward correlate of an agnonized inner journey and quest."
Abrams likens Kierkegaard to Carlyle's protagonist in _Sartor_, who experiences the Angst of existence: "I lived in a continual, indefinite, pining fear...apprehensive of I knew not what," as well as a spiritual nausea, "the foredone soul drowning slowly in quagmires of Disgust!" The protagonist's "redemption" is the existentialist theodicy that maintains man can achieve resignation, wisdom and the power of insight through the use of his own mind, purified by this intense personal suffering.
Abrams is explicit in stating that Neoplatonism/Romanticism is fundamentally alien to Christianity. Though elements of the Neoplatonic world view were incorporated into its doctrinal categories by Augustine, Aquinas and Dante, these writers maintained the distinction between the literal and allegorical meanings of Scripture, whereas the Romantic tradition melds the two: "Neoplatonism, with its abstract and impersonal first principle and unending circle of procession and epistrophe" (i.e., the Romantic separation from Certainty into the cycles of grief, temporary calm and grief again before a final resolution) "is radically alien to the Christian _Heilgeschichte_, with its personal God and its plot, which occurs in time and only once for all time....We can recognize the impact of Neoplatonism by the strains it imposed on the essential Christian categories...by the assimilation of a historical religion to a timeless pagan metaphysic." (pp. 150-53).
Kierkegaard's Romantic stance toward human experience, regardless of the Christian emphasis he (like others before and after him) tried to give it, thus, as Abrams explains, undermines the spirit and substance of basic Christian doctrine, with its basic orientation of trust in a personal Creator.