Faith, Truth and the Transcendence of the Individual Self
A Discussion on Soren Kierkegaard's Existentialism
The essence of Kierkegaard’s arguments is that the crowd only exists as a collection of individuals and the truth can only be accessed and understood through individuals. Individuals must, on their own, find the eternal truth within themselves. The eternal truth is found through faith and, as we shall see shortly, within faith.
Kierkegaard argues that Abraham is conflicted when God asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham, then, must come to terms with the conflict within himself in order to teleologically suspend his ethics and, within his mind, sacrifice Isaac as God commanded. Abraham’s faith allows him to suspend his ethics and sacrifice Isaac, but he is still conflicted. In this perspective, faith is the belief that God works in mysterious ways, but "He" is the ultimate expression of goodness and ethics, therefore, He must be obeyed. His Words are the Truth and, thus, they are always justified, rather we understand them or not.
Where I disagree with Kierkegaard is in the notion that Abraham had an inner conflict on his way to sacrificing Isaac. One could argue that at one point Abraham was conflicted, but the fact remains that Abraham showed no inner conflict when Kierkegaard assumed he did. On the contrary, scriptures suggest that he knew what was going to happen and, since he had that knowledge, he could not have had an inner conflict. While Abraham did love his son, he also had the knowledge that, in the end, he would be sacrificing a lamb. This is, in fact, clearly shown in Genesis 22:4-6 and 8.
Genesis 22: 4-5
“4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”
Genesis 22: 8
“8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”
These scriptures suggest that either Abraham deliberately lied to the young men and to his son, or he knew that God would, at the end, spare his son. If one is to consider that he lied, then one must come to terms with the fact that Abraham was not truly a faithful servant of God and that he was not truly ethical. It is far more likely that Abraham was faithful and had a deeper knowledge of God’s plan.
Another problem with Kierkegaard’s argument is that Abraham would have to be simultaneously conflicted and faithful. But how could Abraham be simultaneously conflicted and faithful? He couldn't, because such an inner conflict would imply that he lacked faith.
On the Nature of Faith
A better argument would call into question the concept of faith. Faith is most often conflated with a blind belief, a form of trust. However, careful study of many different sections of the Bible would lead one to a very different conclusion about the nature of faith.
Take, for instance, Jesus’ account of faith. In Mark 4:26-32, Jesus says that the faith of a tiny mustard seed grows it into a large tree.
Mark 4: 26-32
“26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
27 And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
28 For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.
29 But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
30 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?
31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
32 But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”
What Jesus is really talking about is what we know, today, as the genetics of a tiny mustard seed, which is capable of producing a large mustard plant. The genetic information maps out the specific patterns of interaction of that individual mustard plant, and realizes that information as the collection of interactions that the plant performs within its lifetime. This suggests that Faith is the knowledge of truths unseen, beyond an individual's perspective. The individual may not fully understand it, but the individual can perceive it and, thus, use it. Faith is a deeper perception of reality, from the perspective of God.
That inner conflict that we see in Abraham's story only exists if one is to perceive it objectively, from an external point of view, and without the knowledge of God (faith). This inner conflict did not exist from Abraham's perspective because he already had the knowledge of God, he already knew what was going to happen, though he did not understand how or why. Paradoxically, the awareness of this deeper knowledge he possessed diminishes the meaning of his actions from our perspective. There was no teleological suspension of ethics for Abraham, because he already knew the outcome. The teleological suspension of ethics only happens objectively, from the perspective of an external observer.
Faith is the knowledge of God, the consciousness of Him and His mind, therefore, Abraham could not have been conflicted. Instead, his consciousness was in a deep state of congruence with his inner self, he had a deeper knowledge that transcended the reality that someone without faith would perceive. Faith is, then, a higher form of consciousness.
The Eternal Truth and the Path to Salvation
Faith is not the belief in the eternal truth, it is the possession of the eternal truth. It is a supreme deeper universal knowledge that transcends the individual. But how, then, thus one attain faith?
In reality, it is impossible to attain faith, because faith is far beyond the limited perspective of our conscious individual ego. In order to attain faith, one must, then, surrender the individuality of their conscious ego in order to find the unique individuality of their true selves, which leads them to natural, effortless, self-expression.
This means that, paradoxically, one finds oneself by surrendering their selves, losing their individuality and finding the eternal truth within themselves. This eternal truth is beyond the confines of their individuality and can only be found individually, by each individual on their own, within themselves. The eternal truth within ourselves is our unique individuality, beyond our conscious mind, that makes us who we are. Through the surrendering of one's individuality, one's ego, one can connect with their inner universal selves and find the truth within themselves. By doing so, they find their unique truth, which frees them to become who they truly are, who they were born to be. This is known as “salvation” and “the Kingdom of God”.
When the individual finds the Truth, through faith, the individual transcends existence as an individual and becomes an expression of the eternal truth of God, which is manifested through their actions. In this, the individual's ego is dissolved and he or she becomes their true natural self, their spirit, which is a manifestation of God. The individual becomes an expression of God's image, they become who they were meant to be. This view is in congruence with James's view of actions (or "works") as a necessary part of the possession of faith. Ethics, then, is the expression of the eternal truth of God.
James 1: 23-25
“23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
Knowledge Without Knowing, Action Without Acting
Faith is a deep knowledge that is not necessarily based on logical understanding. Having faith, one may know something without understanding the reason behind their knowledge. This is why faith is often confused with belief.
The result of faith, of this eternal truth in congruence with oneself and God, is a form of action that is natural and seemingly indifferent. One who acts in faith, acts naturally, without being detracted from the goal, but without being focused on the goal either, because the goal is not fully understood. This form of action is in complete congruence with one’s individual essence. Acting in faith preserves an individual’s connection with their inner universal selves, their unique expression of God.
Faith is expressed in actions that are congruent to the universal order, based on a deep connection between the individual and their true inner selves. It is the consequence of the transcendence of the individual beyond their egos, and the connection with their pure selves, their unique identity in relation to all other individuals, their identity as a unique part of the crowd, distinct from it and yet within it.
Faith, this deep connection with God through our loss of individuality and the expression of our true inner universal selves through our acts, is the deep recurring meaning within the Bible. The Bible is a book about this existential conflict within ourselves, where we try to gain a deeper understanding of our unique individuality and express that unique individuality through our actions within this reality we exist in. This is the knowledge of the Eternal Truth.