A zealous humorist and a light-hearted fanatic
An earnest and yet humorous attempt to elucidate the question of religious faith, Fear and Trembling is one of philosophy’s most engaging and unconventional texts. In his introduction, philosopher Jonathan Rée describes Kierkegaard as ‘a Christian and a scourge of Christianity … a zealous humourist and a light-hearted fanatic’, giving us some measure of the author’s complex and contradictory character. Raised by a pious father, he for a time pursued the life of a debonair man-about-town, propelled by dreams of becoming a literary star. At university he was struck by what he saw as the dullness of such celebrated thinkers as Descartes and Hegel. On graduating he pursued an ambitious goal: to present anew the problems of theology and thus safeguard religion from the claims of philosophers who, in his view, overstated their grasp of essential truths.
'Read it with an open mind, and watch it waltz off with the pin'
Fear and Trembling was Kierkegaard’s third work. Published in 1843, it centres on the story of Abraham, who agrees to God’s request that he sacrifice his only son. At the last moment, God stays his hand: in resigning to God’s will, Abraham has amply demonstrated his faith. But what do we make of a creator who sets such a test? br> And in what sense is Abraham to be seen as epitomising faith? Kierkegaard poses as the learned but light-hearted Johannes de Silentio, who first presents four versions of Abraham and Isaac’s experience. In the second half, Kierkegaard’s dialectical approach reveals his concerns about the limitations of philosophical thought in the face of the ineffable. By questioning received wisdoms, Kierkegaard underlines the paradoxes inherent in the story of Abraham and the model of faith that it represents. Paul Scheruebel’s fascinating paintings present Abraham’s choice from Kierkegaard’s multiple perspectives.