Fear and Trembling Reviewed

I wanted to like this book because it was recommended by a friend but honestly the whole thing makes no sense whatsoever to anyone but a philosophy major. At first I thought perhaps it was the time, language and culture difference that made the book so hard to understand but it turns out after some research that the author’s contemporaries didn’t like him or the book anymore than I do, and they got it right.  One other reviewer said “from the contents of this work Kierkegaard’s primary audience was obviously ethical philosophers.”  That means there are seven or eight people out there who will like it.

I knew I wouldn’t love the book because I think philosophers, especially Christian philosophers, ought to get their heads out of the clouds, put down their books and actually go love someone. I am not surprised by the fact that I didn’t like it and I’m glad I read the book to get more granularity around what it is I dislike so  much about philosophy.

Here’s an example of the foolishness, and it actually is not as incomprehensible as most of the book. If you understand what he is saying, you will enjoy the book.

“What is education? I should suppose that education was the curriculum one had to run through in order to catch up with oneself, and he who will not pass through this curriculum is helped very little by the fact that he was born in the most enlightened age.”

Or how about this one…

Let us consider a little more closely the distress and dread in the paradox of faith. The tragic hero renounces himself in order to express the universal, the knight of faith renounces the universal in order to become the individual. As has been said, everything depends upon how one is placed. He who believes that it is easy enough to be the individual can always be sure that he is not a knight of faith, for vagabonds and roving geniuses are not men of faith. The knight of faith knows, on the other hand, that it is glorious to belong to the universal. He knows that it is beautiful and salutary to be the individual who translates himself into the universal, who edits as it were a pure and elegant edition of himself, as free from errors as possible and which everyone can read. He knows that it is refreshing to become intelligible to oneself in the universal so that he understands it and so that every individual who understands him understands through him in turn the universal, and both rejoice in the security of the universal. He knows that it is beautiful to be born as the individual who has the universal as his home, his friendly abiding-place, which at once welcomes him with open arms when he would tarry in it. But he knows also that higher than this there winds a solitary path, narrow and steep; he knows that it is terrible to be born outside the universal, to walk without meeting a single traveller. He knows very well where he is and how he is related to men. Humanly speaking, he is crazy and cannot make himself intelligible to anyone. And yet it is the mildest expression, to say that he is crazy. If he is not supposed to be that, then he is a hypocrite, and the higher he climbs on this path, the more dreadful a hypocrite he is.

Occasionally, when reading the book I would just start to think I was understanding what he was saying and then he would confuse me again. I think the point of the book, if there is one, is that people who think walking by faith is somehow inadequate and needs more are wrong because they misunderstand the essence of faith and what it really looks like to live by faith.

At the end of the day, I don’t know any real person who would be helped by reading this book although I’m sure many academics think that opining about how wonderful it is would be a great way to spend an afternoon.