Which Faith of Kierkegaard’s?
Reading Merold Westphal’s new book is like taking an insightful tour along the manifold paths that compose the landscape of Kierkegaardian faith. Kierkegaard, as is well-known, wrote many of his essays pseudonymously, adopting not only different names but also different personas, each exemplifying a unique style and a distinct point of view. Accordingly, while it is never a simple task to account adequately for a philosopher’s view, in the case of Kierkegaard a further complication is added due to the fact that major themes of his philosophy are often addressed from various perspectives and accordingly are given very different accounts. One of the prominent merits of Westphal’s book is that it elegantly brings together some of Kierkegaard’s different voices and incorporates them into a coherent, clear-sighted account of faith.
Focusing on five essays with three pseudonyms, who are nicely linked by their names — Johannes de Silentio, Johannes Climacus, and Anti-Climacus — Westphal presents a comprehensive picture that connects the different aspects of Kierkegaard’s polyphonic discussion of faith. At the core of the picture is this idea, beautiful in its simplicity: for Kierkegaard, faith is first and foremost a personal relationship with a personal God (Westphal often refers to faith in this sense as ‘biblical faith’).
Westphal explores the significant implications of having such a ‘biblical faith’ by presenting twelve aspects, or theses, of faith. Through a discussion of Fear and Trembling we learn that faith is a “task for a lifetime”, that it expresses “trust in divine promises” and is “obedience to God’s commands”. We also learn that it is a “teleological suspension of reason” and “the highest passion”. Through a discussion of Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments we learn that faith is a “reception of revelation”, a “happy passion that overcomes offense”, and “a passionate appropriation of an objective uncertainty”. We are told that faith is “a leap and a striving” and, more specifically, that it is “a striving pathos that goes against reason”. Finally, through a discussion of The Sickness unto Death and Practice in Christianity we learn of faith as “willing to be oneself — before God” and as “contemporaneity with Christ — without offense”.