The Relationship between Faith and Ethics in Soren KierkegaardJune 27, 2021
Abraham receives a message from God. This is a truly terrible message: Abraham must sacrifice his only son Isaac. İbrahim falls into an emotional turmoil. He loves his son; but he is a devout man and knows that he must obey God’s commandments.
In a story taken from Genesis in the Old Testament, Abraham takes his son to the top of Mount Moriah and lays him on a votive stone, sacrificing his son with his knife, as God intended. But at the last moment, God sends an angel to stop him. Instead, Abraham sacrifices a ram caught in the nearby bushes. God rewards Abraham’s faithfulness by allowing his son to live. This is a story with a message. What can be morally deduced from this is generally thought to be “have faith, do what God tells you, and everything will get better”.
The key is not to doubt God’s word. For Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, however, the matter is not so simple. In his book “Fear and Trembling” (1842), he tried to imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind, the fear, pain and questioning he felt for three days on the way from his home to the mountain where he believed he would kill Isaac.
Kierkegaard was a rather strange person and did not adapt easily to Copenhagen, where he lived. This little man is often seen during the daytime chatting with a friend on the streets of the city, and he liked to see himself as Socrates the Danish. At night, he stood at his desk surrounded by candles and wrote. One of his strangest acts was to enter the hall when a play was interrupted and make everyone think as if they had been there all along, having fun; however, he had never watched the play and would have been busy writing at home the whole time.
He worked hard as a writer but had to make a painful choice in his private life. He had fallen in love with a young woman, Regine Olsen, and proposed to her. Regine accepted the offer. However, Kierkegaard worried that he was too pessimistic and religious to marry. Maybe he did give justice to the surname “Kierkegaard”, which means “cemetery” in Danish. He wrote to Regine that he could not marry her and sent her engagement ring back. She felt very bad for making this decision, and then cried in her bed for nights. Regine was naturally devastated and begged him to return. Kierkegaard denied this. It is no coincidence that after this incident, much of his writing was on the difficulty of deciding how to live and knowing that you made the right decision.
Decision making was embedded in the title of his most famous work: Either/Or. This book offered readers the choice between enjoying pleasure and chasing beauty or sticking to traditional moral codes, a choice between aesthetics and ethics. However, the point he constantly came to in his work was belief in God. Abraham’s story is at the heart of the matter. For Kierkegaard, believing in God is not a simple decision, it even requires stepping into the dark, and making decisions based on faith can go against traditional ideas of what to do. It would be morally wrong if Abraham had not stopped and killed his son. A father’s primary duty is to take care of his son, and he should never put him on a votive stone and cut his throat in a religious service. What God required of Abraham is to ignore morality and to blind him. In the Bible, Abraham is shown as someone to be admired for ignoring right and wrong in the normal sense and ready to sacrifice even his son Isaac. But couldn’t he have made a terrible mistake? What if the message had not really come from God? Maybe it was a hallucination, maybe Abraham had gone mad and started hearing voices. How could he be sure? Things would have been easier for Abraham if he had known in the first place that he would change God’s command. But when he raised his knife to spill his son’s blood, he truly believed it would kill him.
According to the scene described in the Bible, this is the main emphasis. His faith is so impressive because he relied on God over traditional ethical concerns. Otherwise there would be no faith. Faith involves risk; it is also irrational, not based on reason. Kierkegaard believed that the usual societal views, such as that a father must always protect his son, are sometimes not of the highest value. The duty of obedience to God rises above the duty of being a good father, indeed of all other seers. From a human point of view, Abraham may seem hard-hearted and immoral enough to consider sacrificing his son. But God’s command, whatever that order, is like the ace of the card that wins the game. There is no higher card in the deck and human ethics no longer make sense. However, a person who strays from ethics for the sake of faith makes a painful decision, risks everything, does not know how what he is doing will benefit or what will happen, and cannot be sure whether the message really comes from God. Those who chose this path were all alone