The Committed Self
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The Committed Self is a clear and compelling introduction to Existentialism, the root of Postmodernism and, according to Victor A. Shepherd, still the most significant philosophy of our times. Focusing on Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Buber, Heidegger, and Sartre and their passionate commitment to the authenticity of the self, Shepherd maintains that Existentialism has much to say to Christians with its understanding of:
  • What it is to be a human being
  • How diverse forces operative in the world and in the psyche shape human self-awareness
  • The manner in which radical commitment forges and forms that "self," which is nothing less than a new birth
Shepherd believes that an acquaintance with Existentialism will aid Christians in negotiating the minefield they think life has become. And he persistently draws attention to the manner in which Existentialism recalls theology to its proper vocation whenever theology appears to be in danger of becoming a species of rationalism that uses religious vocabulary.



Publié par
Date de parution 03 janvier 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781772360028
Langue English

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The Committed Self
An Introduction to Existentialism for Christians

Victor A. Shepherd

BPS Books
Toronto & New York
Copyright © 2015 by Victor A. Shepherd
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in 2015 by BPS Books Toronto and New York
A division of Bastian Publishing Services Ltd.
ISBN 978-1-77236-000-4 paperback ISBN 978-1-77236-001-1 ePDF ISBN 978-1-77236-002-8 ePUB
Cataloguing-in-Publication Data available from Library and Archives Canada.
Cover: Daniel Crack, KD Books Text design: Pressbooks

To Maureen & Matthias Benfey and Deborah Sawczak in gratitude for their unfailing encouragement, generosity, and affection
Contents Dedication An Introduction to Existentialism for Christians Victor A. Shepherd Preface 1. What Is Existentialism? 2. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Dialectic 3. Søren Kierkegaard: Subjectivity, Abraham, and Other Key Themes 4. Søren Kierkegaard: What Is Faith? What Is a Christian? 5. Søren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling 6. Friedrich Nietzsche: Superman and the Last Man 7. Friedrich Nietzsche: The Gay Science and Twilight of the Idols 8. Martin Buber: I–Thou and the Primordium of the Person 9. Martin Buber: Two Papers by Emil Fackenheim 10. Martin Heidegger: Dasein in the World 11. Jean-Paul Sartre: Possibility, Meaning, and the Weight of Freedom Bibliography Index

It is my thesis, and the premise of this book, that greater exposure to the philosophy of Existentialism [1] will assist Christians in coming to terms with their world, with the faith they uphold, and, finally, with themselves. I maintain that Existentialism has much to say to Christians with its understanding of what it is to be a human being; how diverse forces operative in the world and in the psyche shape human self-awareness; and the manner in which radical commitment forges and forms that “self” that is nothing less than a new birth. An acquaintance with Existentialism will aid Christians in negotiating the minefield they think life has become.
Of course, Existentialism itself is a bit of a minefield for Christians. Anyone who listens to formal media interviews or overhears informal conversations at social gatherings is aware of how the philosophy of Existentialism is praised or blamed for an outlook on life that some people relish and others abhor. Christians in particular are frequently nervous at the mention of this philosophy, fearing it to be no more than a contemporary legitimization of that “selfism” traditionally associated with sin. On the other hand, people who hail secularism as release from the restraints of religious arbitrariness welcome the philosophy’s emphasis on freedom, authenticity, and uncompromising confrontation with life’s unavoidable (albeit often semi-consciously denied) anguish, uncertainty, unfairness, and death.
In addition, ready access to electronic communication has brought the world not merely into North American living rooms but above all into North American minds: to learn how people elsewhere live, think, and behave, and not least to learn what they are prepared to defend, has left many of us Christians more aware than ever that Christendom has retreated—never to return, we fear. No one can pretend that it is easy, if even possible, to claim that “our” way has to be the right way, if only because it is the only way.
In response to this state of faith and intellectual affairs, some Christian denominations attempt to reassure members that the disappearance of Christendom is not a liability but may even be God’s way of calling the church to a profounder understanding of its essence and mission. The same denominations, however, no longer speak with anything resembling a unified voice on matters pertaining to doctrine, ethics, or politics. Within the church the philosophy of Existentialism is hailed for having helped us shed the shackles of cloying traditionalism; or else it is cursed for having fostered a subjectivism that gleefully rejects reasoning as rationalization, convention as groundless, and propriety as the death rattle of social privilege.
What are we Christians to do in this welter of uncertainty as to how life is to be both understood and lived? I maintain that we can benefit from probing the philosophy of Existentialism as we recognize its core tenet—self-commitment—as akin to the biblical notion of faith, the faith by which one becomes a new creature in a renewed cosmos. To be sure, while such an affinity between such thinkers as the theologian Luther and the philosopher Kierkegaard is plain (the latter, we should note, was a lifelong Lutheran), the repudiation of any such affinity in an Existentialist like Sartre is stark. Nevertheless, by reading Existentialist thinkers we will find ourselves asking repeatedly, “Wherein is Existentialism one of the unpaid debts of the church? Why did Nietzsche, whose father and grandfather were pastors, vehemently repudiate the gospel? What is it about the church’s articulation that compromises the credibility of its message?”
The seeds for this book were sown decades ago in a course I took from Professor Emil Fackenheim at the University of Toronto. Fackenheim was, at that time, according to many, the brightest luminary in the university’s Department of Philosophy. The year-long course was concerned chiefly with Hegel, but in the last few weeks attention was directed to the anti-Hegelian protests of Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre.
While Hegel intrigued me (not least because he considered his philosophy to be the self-articulation of reality itself, and therefore the terminus of philosophy), it was the protesters who electrified me. Fackenheim reminded us frequently that the Existentialist protest was always concerned with the  difference  philosophy made to life  lived , as opposed to abstractions merely thought. In other words, it addressed the whole person in all of life’s opportunities, threats, and contradictions.
Years later, at an informal social gathering, I casually asked Fackenheim, “Whom do you regard as the greatest thinker in Christendom?” I expected him to favour either Augustine or Aquinas, but without hesitation he named Kierkegaard. I thought this was at least in part because of Fackenheim’s decades-long immersion in European philosophy and his reputation as an expert in Hegel. Whenever I repeated this remark to colleagues, however, they were quick to assure me otherwise. And then one day in the course of leisure reading I came upon the opinion of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Cambridge philosopher who, unlike Fackenheim, made no religious profession and whose work in philosophy pertained to other orbits; Wittgenstein, too, maintained Kierkegaard to be the pre-eminent Christian thinker. Obviously Kierkegaard was too important to be ignored, and those who dismissed him with borrowed clichés (“He’s nothing more than a subjectivist who affirms truth to be whatever you think it to be”) had simply not taken the trouble to understand him.
Kierkegaard, of course, carefully distinguished subjectivism from subjectivity. Far from being the arbitrary elevation of one’s own thoughts as truth, subjectivity was the transformation of the person, born of radical commitment, ultimately, to the God who summons us to an existence no less absurd than that of Abraham on Mount Moriah. For there Abraham came face-to-face with  the  absurdity: the contradiction between God’s promise (descendants as numberless “as the sand which is on the seashore” [2] ) and God’s command: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering….” [3] If Abraham declined to obey, he would have no descendant  in faith  (and, in light of the covenant, therefore no descendant at all); if he obeyed, he would just as surely lack even one descendant. Thrilled by Kierkegaard’s subtle, anguished discussion of this event—and its contrast with, for example, the suffering of the person who dies out of loyalty to an ethical cause—I read more widely in Kierkegaard, and have never stopped.
More recently Tyndale University College & Seminary, where I teach, asked me to offer a course dealing with the Existentialist roots of Postmodernism, the  Zeitgeist  that has prevailed since World War II ended the “modernity” that began with the Renaissance. The features of Postmodernism, indisputably the “ism” operative in our culture, are well-known. The most salient of these features are the loss of confidence in technoscience as unmitigated blessing; loss of confidence in human progress; loss of confidence in reason; the disappearance of truth (or at least an acknowledgement of the arbitrariness and non-universality of truth-claims); and the rise of consumerism, as well as the tacit understanding of its implications concerning the human. Social scientists readily point out that “reality” is socially configured. Philosophers have no difficulty illustrating that the concept of “nature” is not scientifically determined but rather socially constructed. (We need only think of the widely differing views of nature as “mother” or as “red in tooth and claw”; as a “great teacher” or as that which “teaches” nothing except, perhaps, survival of the fittest.) Philosophers and social scientists alike recognize that reasoning is subject to countless determinations: social, for instance, as well as economic, intrapsychic, religious, and historical. It is indisputable, Postmodernists maintain, that reasoning is the serva

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