Fear and Trembling - The Story of Abraham and Isaac

I'm currently re-reading Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, one of my favorite books of all time: a gripping philosophical and theological analysis of one of the most macabre stories in the Bible: Abraham's unquestioning willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the son that had been promised him by God, and who was destined to start the nation that was to trace its lineage back to Abraham.

As I also re-read the biblical story, I noticed that while it tells us what Abraham did, it doesn't say a word about what went through his mind when he first heard the injunction, nor what he thought/felt when he drew the knife that was to kill his son. This silence allows Kierkegaard to explore the paradox that Abraham, as the knight and father of faith, represents.

And through a lyrical exposition (for this is not the kind of thing that can be argued for), Kiergegaard shows that Abraham's silence also implies that we can't use the universal categories of language and the ethical to understand him, since his move transcends the universal, the intelligible, the communicable. This is why Kierkegaard explores the question of whether there can be a teleological suspension of the ethical, and why, while he simultaneously admires, praises and shudders at Abraham and his conviction, he cannot understand him.

And this inability to understand, this absolute necessity for silence and absence of language, communication and rational intelligibility, is further reinforced by the fact that Kierkegaard wrote this philosophical work under the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio: even if Abraham did what was most appropriate in the particular situation he found himself in, there is nothing we can extrapolate from his choice; he cannot be understood, and his greatness, if it isn't just madness, cannot be communicated.

For Kierkegaard, faith isn't the lazy cop-out answer that's given by most believers nowadays when they simply fail to explain something they don't understand: it is something that has to be experienced permanently, in fear and trembling, because it represents a conviction that stands at the edge of the most dangerous abyss, and that is affirmed existentially in virtue of its absurdity.

Anyway, while Kierkegaards's philosophical investigation is as serious as it gets, since it deals with the nature of human existence and choice, the story of Abraham reminded me of this hilarious clip I saw a few years ago:



For those of you who are not religious, I still highly recommend this book because beneath the religious surface, Kierkegaard explores the paradoxical nature of profound existential topics that we can't help but confront, despite our secular inclinations. Agree or disagree with him, he will stimulate your mind, and you'll get to read a master of writing. Here's just a small sample:
No! No one who was great in the world will be forgotten, but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. He who loved himself became great by virtue of himself, and he who loved other men became great by his devotedness, but he who loved God became the greatest of all. Everyone shall be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy. One became great by expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became the greatest of all. Everyone shall be remembered, but everyone was great wholly in proportion to the magnitude of that with which he struggled. For he who struggled with the world became great by conquering the world, and he who struggled with himself became great by conquering himself, but he who struggled with God became the greatest of all. Thus did they struggle in the world, man against man, one against thousands, but he who struggled with God was the greatest of all. Thus did they struggle on earth: there was one who conquered everything by his power, and there was one who conquered God by his powerlessness. There was one who relied upon himself and gained everything; there was one who in the security of his own strength sacrificed everything; but the one who believed God was the greatest of all. There was one who was great by virtue of his power, and one who was great by virtue of his hope, and one who was great by virtue of his love, but Abraham was the greatest of all, great by that power whose strength is powerlessness, great by that wisdom which is foolishness, great by that hope whose form is madness, great by the love that is hatred to oneself.
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