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Walter Kaufmann writes, "Kierkegaard would have us to be Christian." in his book "Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sarte."

I'm having a hard time understanding this concept. Unless my professor misrepresented Kierkegaard's position, we should be Christian because it is the most absurd decision that one could make and is completely irrational. That is, by being a Christian we have to believe that an infinite being made himself into a human form and that the eternal became the temporal, when Christ came to this earth.

  1. Is that really Kierkegaard's position, or a gross misrepresentation of it?

  2. If that is in fact his position, what about any and every other possible absurd belief? One could believe that he was abducted by aliens, or that the government planted chips in his brain, among other unfalsifiable, absurd beliefs.

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    When someone is committed to a system any other will look strange and absurd. I'd suggest Kierkegaard is arguing why one should not become an atheist, rather than becoming Christian. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 21 '14 at 8:58
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I think your professor has misled you deeply or ironically. But Kaufmann is probably no better of a source either about Kierkegaard.

For Kierkegaard, you should be a Christian, and it is absurd in certain senses, but it is not we could say "metaphysically" absurd. Instead, it's that it will appear as absurd for someone who has not taken the leap, and it will always appear absurd from the standpoint of the "system" (which here refers to the Hegelian system that claims it can comprehend everything). Or to put it another way, Kierkegaard thinks that "objectively speaking" (here meaning from the standpoint of the system) it is absurd because it requires the man to stand outside of the system and declare its incompleteness.

Believing the other things on your list won't work for Kierkegaard, because they in fact are not true (on his view). This might serve as a type of criticism -- Kierkegaard does not think the truth of Christianity can be demonstrated objectively. Thus, the error in your professor's presentation (or your understanding) lies somewhere above.


Now on to Walter Kaufmann. Kaufmann has a bone to pick in this fight. Kaufmann is quite the fan of Nietzsche -- reading him as an existentialist. I've read the chapter in question and I'd say he doesn't understand Kierkegaard very well or intentionally misrepresents him. In the chapter, (which I read maybe 7 years ago), I seem to recall him thinking the use of pseudonyms is really dumb. But he doesn't seem to understand how the pseudonyms are a tool in terms of irony or as a response to a system that claims everything is comprehended.

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I had always been under the misapprehension that belief because, rather than in spite of, the absurd was Kierkegaard's own innovation, but it actually dates back to the early theologian Tertullian. In both Kierkegaard and Tertullian, it should be taken not as meaning that one should embrace all absurd beliefs, but that irreducible absurdity is a sign of something so beyond human understanding that it manifests in our thought systems as a massive paradox.

Thus, these religious claims are not ordinary absurd beliefs, but ones which display a special quality which is not fully explained (although, if memory serves me, Kierkegaard describes the manifestation of the infinite God in finite form as the greatest possible paradox, the most absurd possible belief). In general, paradox serves for Kierkegaard as a signpost of greater truth, in a manner perhaps best summarized by a quote from physicist Niels Bohr:

"The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth."

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