Thursday, April 8, 2010

A move toward 'radical faith'

Last class I brought up my concern about Kierkegaard's belief in faith being a push toward radical movements, such as suicide bombings and whatnot. (In other words, the justification of insane actions through religion, not a new concept) The class seemed to kind of push this idea aside, saying that these acts of violence are not the same as the test of faith that Abraham was put through. The argument seemed to me to be that God asked for a violent act to be carried out by Abraham, yet did not make him carry it out, thus God does not ask for REAL acts of violence. But Kierkegaard argues very vehemently that this is an isolated incident, that each act of faith is completely individual and that none [other than the faithful in question... maybe] will understand or experience the same test. So then my question is, how can we in any way shape or form make claims on what God will or will not ask of his faithful? I would offer the obscure movie Sunshine [2007, its really good I recommend it] if I thought that it would help my point at all, yet as most have probably never heard of this movie, I will support my claim with a much more controversial but better known incident. Please do not be offended if this example hits too close to home, that is not its intention.

Imagine that Osama Bin Laden himself had ascended the Ethical sphere, and now gained an absolute relation with the absolute. For the sake of my argument, imagine that then God charged Osama with a seemingly impossible task. Perhaps it would happen something like this:

God [Allah]: Osama, I have been very impressed with your devotion to me and the law that governs my people. I now have a task designed specifically for you. Will you serve me in this difficult charge that I lay before you?

Osama Bin Laden: I am here Allah, as you command, I will do.

God: I am pleased with your answer. Now in the western lands of my creation, my children have forgotten the path to heaven. They obsess over the trivial materialistic experiences that 'life' has to offer. I charge you to awaken within them their dormant spirits. Can you do this for me Osama?

Osama Bin Laden: Tell me the process of awakening and it shall be as you will it.

God: You must create an elite group of warriors willing to sacrifice themselves to me. Lead them to attack the land's most valued governmental buildings. Do this in such a way that eliminates the lives of many, and destroys the families of more. This act will awaken the slumbering spirit of this immoral nation, and when all has been carried out, there will be peace in the land like never before.

And after Osama carried out his plans, almost completely successfully, America felt a great grief for its lost brethren. With nowhere else to look, the nation came together, and began to pray. And for a short time [no matter how brief] there was a nation wide peace, that was unlike anything the young country had ever experienced... [Epilogue: Until all hell broke loose several days later and people began wrongfully accusing any middle eastern families of being affiliated with terrorists]

In this scenario [which I in no way support of believe in], Osama Bin Laden could be seen as a knight of faith, following God's orders, whether they were truly God's or just figments of his imagination coming to him in a dream, all of this is subjective and unknown, yet in Kierkegaard's understanding, as faith is so personal, it is possible that it was indeed an act of faith. So then my question is, doesn't this extreme definition of faith serve as a gateway into the extreme attempts to prove faith?

Either way, my answer is to seek out Nietzsche and kill God. That will solve the problem of faith f0r me I think :) haha. Just some thoughts [I hope you enjoyed my creative writing section of this blog, I thought it was kind of a fun experiment]


  1. I find your example problematic. Osama bin Laden cannot be a knight of faith. His acts are those of a man seeking a global platform, and he has succeeded in doing so. Using this platform, bin Laden continually offers justification of his actions, something a knight of faith would never do. If you try, I think you can understand bin Laden on some level, regardless of how appalling you might find his actions. I don't think bin Laden is crazy (as we presumably would view a knight of faith). I instead find him hateful and dangerous. Also, those actually acting in this thought experiment (suicide bombers) never talked to God. Bin Laden, with whom we have said God spoke, sacrifices nothing himself, instead becoming a mediator of "the word of God." Also, if you don't believe in God, this seems to negate the possibility of God speaking with anyone and further, turning them toward radicalism. In this scenario, Kierkegaard's characterization of faith is meaningless, rather than dangerous.

  2. I think some of Will's points about why Osama couldn't be a knight of faith are correct. However, I don't think disproving this individual case ruins Colin's point. Couldn't we still imagine a case in which some figure like Osama met all the external requirements so that we couldn't definitively say, "No, he cannot be a knight of faith? To me, at least, it seems possible.

    However, I still disagree with Colin's point. I think that the most you could say is that Kierkegaard's characterization of faith doesn't allow us to know for sure whether or not some radical action was in fact an act of faith. Aside from that, I guess we could also say that some crazy person who hears voices could legitimately think he is a knight of faith. (Certainly though, because it is not actually God speaking to him, Kierkegaard would not call him a knight of faith.) However, this is not the same as her characterization of faith encouraging these types of acts.

    Abraham was not seeking out some radical opportunity to prove himself prior to God's request. He was just a good Christian, doing his thing.

  3. Well said. Your point is well taken, and my example is faulty. But does it actually negate the worries that I express? The bin Laden's of the world are indeed somewhat understandable, but is it not possible that a man acting completely on his own who, out of the blue, participates in terrorism without affiliations, is it not possible that if this man existed, he would indeed be a violent knight of faith? maybe its not possible, but I can't help from finding it still problematic.

  4. While I do see what Colin is driving at, there is one other potential flaw in his argument. Perhaps one of the most important things to Kierkegaard regarding faith is its practice in privacy. Clearly in this example there is nothing private about either the act or the explanation of the action. In this case, the action is explained repeatedly, and to Kierkegaard, a need to explain an act of faith negates the act as faithful in the first place (or at least, that's what I gather).

  5. I do understand what you're getting at, I think - but it has more to do with interpretation than with actuality (well, actuality in the case of what Kierkegaard's laid out for us). Perhaps someone could use teleological suspension of the ethical as an excuse for doing something unethical, and use Kierkegaard to back them up, but I think in the true case of a knight of faith, you'd probably have to trust God that what's happening is okay. That requires acceptance of Christianity, on one hand, and this explanation of it, on the other - but we still probably wouldn't have to deal with deciding whether someone is a true knight of faith or not. According to Kierkegaard, we should judge those who break ethical rules accordingly, and knights of faith are no exception - and so we should just let God choose what bad deeds are to be done.

    Also, agreed - a true knight of faith wouldn't tell us that God made him do it, or be very public about it, probably. But it's still irrelevant in the sense that we should punish them with equal judgment.


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