Despair as

The psychological delineation of the foregoing forms of despair is preliminary to Anti-Climacus's ultimate goal, which is to provide a theological analysis of despair as sin for the edification of the single individual. Although despair is identified from the beginning as a disparity not only in one's relation to oneself but also to God, this latter disparity does not come to the fore until part 2 of The Sickness unto Death, where sin is associated with the intensification of the two forms of conscious despair (despair in weakness and despair in defiance) by virtue of being conscious of existing before God or with the conception of God (SUD 77). With this qualification the deliberation dialectically takes a new direction. The previous gradations in the consciousness of the self presuppose a merely human conception of the self, whose criterion for what it means to be a self is the human being itself. In becoming conscious of existing before God, the self acquires 'a new quality and qualification' as a theological self or infinite self in that it gains an infinite reality by having God as its qualitative measure and ethical goal (79). The greater the conception of God one has, the more self there is, and the more self there is, the greater one's conception of God (80). But the greater one's conception of self and God, the more intensified despair also becomes as a result of failing to become one's infinite self before God. Before God, therefore, despair is defined as sin or the wilful disobedience of God, which applies to all forms of sin. In agreement with Lutheran orthodoxy and against (Kantian) rationalist ethics, in which a conception of God is not necessary for the discernment of one's moral duty, Anti-Climacus claims that all sin is before God whether one is conscious of existing before God or not, although in a strict sense anyone who lives in despairing ignorance of God, such as the pagan and natural human being, does not sin since that person has a merely human conception of the self and does not consciously exist before God (80-1). Moreover, the pagan conception of sin as vice, the opposite of which is virtue, is contrary to the most decisive Christian definition of sin, according to which the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith, in which the selfwills to be itselfby resting transparently in God (82).51

51 Some commentators nevertheless construe Kierkegaard as a virtue ethicist. See Gouwens (1996: 93-121); Davenport (2001); Roberts (1998).

The Christian qualification of the self as existing before God also presents the possibility of offence to the pagan and natural mentality. The notion that a human being has or should have an infinite reality before God is offensive because it 'makes too much of being human' (SUD 87). As Anti-Climacus sees it, the Aristotelian principle of the 'golden mean', ne quid nimis (nothing too much), is the summa summarum (sum total) of wisdom for the merely human mentality, which might be willing to go along with a lesser conception of the selfbefore God, Taut too much is too much' (86-7)! Anti-Climacus thus claims that the real reason people are offended by Christianity is not because it is too dark, gloomy, and rigorous but because 'it is too high, because its goal is not a human being's goal, because it wants to make a human being into something so extraordinary that he cannot grasp the thought' (83, translation modified). Moreover, the very idea that a person exists directly before God as an individual human being whose sin is of concern to God runs counter to the speculative mind of Christian paganism, which universalizes the individual in the race and views sin as sin quite apart from whether it is before God or not (83). By contrast, Anti-Climacus claims that

Christianity teaches that this individual human being—and thus every single individual human being, no matter whether man, woman, servant girl, cabinet minister, merchant, barber, student, or whatever—this individual human being exists before God, this individual human being who perhaps would be proud of having spoken with the king once in his life, this human being who does not have the slightest illusion of being on intimate terms with this one or that one, this human being exists before God, may speak with God any time he wants to, assured of being heard by him—in short, this person is invited to live on the most intimate terms with God! (SUD 85)

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