Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self: C. Stephen Evans
by Robert Cheeks
Given the spiritual disorder of our age, the ever-present pneumopathology of consciousness, we might be forgiven for being bit confused, anxious, and just a little depressed. Consequently, it falls to each of us to ignore the “autonomous” philosophers, who are in reality the closed system philodoxers (sophists) demanding the end to the quest and search those dusty old tomes wherein we might stumble across order, truth, and a suggestion or two on just how to address the “reflective action” inherent in the concrete human being. To be sure the quest is a formidable challenge, but no one said life is easy, after all Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates had to contend with their own Sophists!
So, if you are inclined to engage in the act of philosophizing, you should understand that a real philosopher is one “whose psychic sensorium responds to eternal being.” And, to make a finer point, Ellis Sandoz of Louisiana State University, wrote, “A (second) consequence is plainly a substantial, even revolutionary redefinition of the meaning of philosophy itself, especially in the decisive points of: (a) underling the loving tension toward the divine Reality in open existence as central; (b) attenuating or abandoning the Scholastic convention separating faith and reason as supernatural and natural, respectively; and (c) discarding as egophany (defiant self assertion claiming independence from a transcendent ground) the arrogant pretense of autonomous reason as its originator in self-sufficient human speculators.”
One philosopher who adheres in many ways to Sandoz’s revolutionary definition, is Soren Kirkegaard, often identified as the “father of existentialism.” And, a book that both broadly and deeply explores the philosophy and theology of Soren Kierkegaard is Baylor University Professor of Philosophy, C. Stephen Evans’s Kierkegaard: On Faith and the Self, Collected Essays (Baylor University Press, 2006).
Evans tells us that Kierkegaard’s project was to challenge not only the Danish government in its establishment of a national religion, thereby de-emphasizing personal responsibility for one’s own soul, and “to legitimize the status quo of an emerging bourgeois culture,” but also to challenge the notion that Europeans of his era were intellectual giants rather than “imaginative midgets, lacking the deep ‘‘passions’’ that make human life worth living.”
Significantly, the “challenge” in which Kierkegaard engaged was a critical response to the formidable Enlightenment philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel and his claim of developing a “system” that had the deleterious effect of bringing philosophical discourse to “finality.” Kierkegaard vehemently denied not only Hegel’s systemic pomposity but also his hubristic efforts to defend Christianity in an objective language.
Evans has segregated his book into six parts of three to five essays each. The “parts” each develop a pertinent theme: Part One is the Introduction, Part Two: Kierkegaard the Philosopher, Part Three: Kierkegaard on Faith, Reason, and Reformed Epistemology, Part Four: Kierkegaard on Ethics and Authority, Part Five: Kierkegaard on Self: Philosophical Psychology, and Part Six: the Conclusion.
The critical argument that the author puts forth is that Kierkegaard has, by and large, been misread. That our assumed understanding of the philosopher’s project are, in fact, “misinterpretations,” caused in large measure by the French existentialist, Albert Camus. Evans’s project is to examine the notion that Kierkegaard is an “irrationalist” both in terms of beliefs and choice. “At the same time that I dispel the myths about Kierkegaard the irrationalist,” Evans writes, “I must clear the way to hear the Kierkegaard who demands that we reject the view that human reason is a timeless godlike faculty. Instead of talking about Reason, we need to focus on the actual reasoning of historically situated, subjectively conditioned, finite human beings.”
Evans describes Kierkegaard as “perhaps the greatest Christian thinker since the Middle Ages.” One example is Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel’s response to Kantian skepticism, where he argues that human beings are indeed capable of “knowledge of the external world” but only by incorporating “faith or belief.” The author explains that Kierkegaard shows that the only objective truth the person may know “as actual” is his own reality, that “the actuality of those other realities that is believed” is described by Kierkegaard as an “approximative’’ type of knowledge.”