1. (T/F) For Kierkegaard, the "Danish Socrates," the point of the Abraham/Isaac story is simply not to doubt God's word.
2. (T/F) Kierkegaard thought real Christians should find it easy to follow their faith, even if that sometimes means being irrational or abandoning ethics.
3. (T/F) Clare Carlisle says Kierkegaard perceived a complacency of faith among his fellow Christians, and wanted his readers to question whether Abraham did the right thing.
4. For Karl Marx, history was what kind of struggle, involving whom?
5. Marx's famous slogan, describing the governing principle in a post-capitalist utopia: "____ according to ability, _____ according to need."
6. Marx called religion the "____ of the people."
BONUS: Who said "the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays," and "people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use," and "life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."
BONUS+: Who said "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it," and "the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains."
BONUS++: Who said “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
1. Some people hear voices and are diagnosed as mentally ill, others respond by committing atrocities in the name of faith, while still others are esteemed as saints and spiritual heroes. If you ever hear an inner voice instructing you to do something you consider ethically wrong, what will you do? What do you say to those among us today who claim that God speaks to them and tells them to fight and slay nonbelievers? Can a civilized society tolerate acts committed in the name of a Higher Law?
2. Have you ever allowed your religion (or your irreligion) to override your commitment to following the law and behaving ethically? Can you imagine a scenario in which you would deliberately harm an innocent person in the name of your faith? Do you respect people who are willing to die and kill "for their beliefs"?
3. What do you think of Kierkegaard's distinction between Christianity and Christendom? Are those who go through the motions of faith (e.g., regularly attend church services) closer to God or more likely to gain "salvation" than those who believe but do not make any public expression of faith?
4. Is it reasonable to think that most people in a capitalist society can hope to achieve satisfying, personally fulfilling careers? Or is "alienation" and 9-to-5 drudgery an inevitable result they should just accept, and stop complaining about?
5. It's cliche to say that Marxist communism is utopian, hence unrealistic about human nature. Do you agree? Is that your experience, that most people are motivated more by greed and selfishness than by altruism and fellow-feeling? Is it possible that the cliche itself reinforces such behavior, and that if we stopped repeating it we might become better people?
6. Is religious faith a drug, distracting people from their problems and making it easier for the "haves" in our society to exploit the "have-nots"? Or does religion sometimes make people more engaged in addressing social and political problems? If a Marxist utopia ever came to pass, would religion "wither away"?
“What labels me, negates me.”
“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”
“People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.”
“To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”
“To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity.”
“It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.”
“Leap of faith – yes, but only after reflection.”
“The thing is to understand myself: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. That is what I now recognize as the most important thing.”
How did I come to be here?
What is this thing called the world?
How did I come into the world?
Why was I not consulted?
And If I am compelled to take part in it, where is the director?
I want to see him.”
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in therevolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Kierkegaard and Marx
Today in CoPhi it's Kierkegaard (and Clare Carlisle on Abraham & Isaac in Fear and Trembling) and Marx. (Not the funny one.) Kierkegaard (whose name means "graveyard") said something similar to what Hegel more cryptically assigned to the owl of Minerva, when he said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” He also said
- The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
- People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
- Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.
- The most common form of despair is not being who you are.
- Once you label me you negate me.
- To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.
- If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!
"What if Abraham was wrong?" Or delusional, or sick? His actions "can't be understood, and can't be admired, on the basis of any socially acceptable notion of morality."
And what if some modern Abraham thinks God has commanded him to (say) shoot an 11-year old schoolgirl for being “anti-Taliban and secular," i.e., for advocating girls' right to education? [Malala's story... Daily Show]
“Honor killings,” such atrocities are sometimes euphemistically camouflaged. There’s nothing honorable about them, and nothing a respectable philosopher can say in their defense.
It’s not just Islamist fundamentalists, btw, who support the abuse and murder of children in God’s name. Ophelia Benson cites an Arkansas congressional candidate who says “God’s law” decrees death for “rebellious children.”
But Clare Carlisle reads Kierkegaard's pseudonymously-delivered message as less commital, and more philosophically inquisitory: "What is faith?" Is it immoral ("morally abhorrent" in Abraham's case), irrational, and yet somehow elective and excusable? Whatever it is, she says he's saying, it's not anything to be complacent about. And it's not something you have just because you go through the motions (i.e., attend church services and criticize atheists).
Fair enough. But if "the truth of human existence can't be adequately grasped or expressed in terms of rational thought," we may be in big trouble.
David Wood, who drove down from Vandy to our campus last April to deliver a Lyceum lecture, has interesting thoughts on why we still read Kierkegaard (and Nietzsche):
Marx said some things too.
- History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy.
- As Prometheus, having stolen fire from heaven, begins to build houses and to settle upon the earth, so philosophy, expanded to be the whole world, turns against the world of appearance. The same now with the philosophy of Hegel.
- Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.
- The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force… The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.
- The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.
- The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!