Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Kierkegaard’s use of emotive coercion to tug on heartstrings rather than a philosophical persuasion sets him apart in his crusade to convince readers that his belief in Abraham as the exemplary of faith is well founded. While some may balk at the lack of reason in his arguments, this emotion based tactic works well with the material he is covering. Religion cannot be understood with reason, it must be felt, and Kierkegaard uses this revelation to his advantage.
Paradoxes abound in Christianity which reason cannot give meaning to. Kierkegaard seizes on this with his sentimental narrative style in Fear and Trembling. His passionate response stays true to what he feels is the very essence of Christianity. Kierkegaard, as Johannes de silentio, says Christianity “requires passion. Every movement of infinity occurs with passion and no reflection can bring about a movement” (71). No amount of cerebral reflection can replace what is gained by using one’s own inner passion. Relying on emotion and feeling is how the individual develops a relationship with God. If Abraham had relied on his reason rather his passion and faith, then he certainly would not have been willing to sacrifice his beloved son, no matter what his pious conscience bid him to do.
Christianity is fraught with unintelligible “histories” that human reason cannot comprehend. Kierkegaard uses his emotive arguments and examples “not to make Abraham more intelligible… but in order that his unintelligibility might be seen more in the round” because it is impossible to “understand Abraham, [one] can only admire him” (136). Admiration derives from emotion rather than pure reason, and Kierkegaard argues that this is the way to appreciate Abraham’s exemplary faith. Kierkegaard would have swiftly lost plausibility had he attempted to use reason filled rhetoric to persuade his readers that Abraham was right to put his faith in the absurd and that he was correct in his acquiescence to God.
When Kierkegaard addresses the question of the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical while postulating whether Abraham was right in his willingness to kill his son, he must pull on the reader’s emotions. Arguing that God sometimes requires the individual to go against the ethical is not an easy feat and it is one that can only be convincing if a passionate response is manipulated. Anxiety, surely one of the strongest emotions, is the driving force behind Abraham’s tale of faith. Thus, the most compelling argument in favour of Abraham would have to address this angst with an equally strong passion. Fear and Trembling masterfully utilizes these zealous feelings while relying on the innate human trait, emotion.
Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. Trans. Alastair Hannay. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Kierkegaard, Niels Christian.