The Absolute Paradox As The Absurd

The second dialectical problem confronting the subjective thinker in Christianity has to do with the qualification of eternal, essential truth itself as the absolute paradox and the absurd as a result of having entered into the temporal realm at a specific moment in time. Climacus warns first of all against conceiving this coming into existence speculatively as an eternal-historical event in which 'the coming into existence of the eternal in time is supposed to be an eternal coming into existence', for in that case Christianity is changed into 'an ingenious metaphysical doctrine' and, a la Feuerbach, 'all theology is anthropology' (CUP i. 579).22 'Speculatively to transform Christianity into an eternal history, the god-in-time into an eternal becoming-of-the-deity, etc., is nothing but evasion and playing with words', Climacus contends (578). The difficulty lies in basing one's eternal happiness on a relation to something historical, which is incongruous in itself, and especially so when it is based on something historical that can become historical only against its own nature. By coming into existence the eternal essential truth now stands outside the individual, who must lay hold of it in time via a relation to the eternal in time. The absurdity of the paradox, or the fact of eternal truth's having come into existence, thus introduces an element of objective certainty, namely that objectively it is absurd, and a heightened repulsiveness that qualify both the definition and the intensity of Christian faith as 'this absurdity, held fast in the passion of inwardness' (210). For Climacus, then, Christian faith has essentially two tasks: 'to watch for and at every moment to make the discovery of improbability, the paradox, in order then to hold it fast with the passion of inwardness' (233). Passion and paradox thus form a perfect fit wherein

the strongest expression of inwardness or subjectivity occurs. An objective uncertainty as such is not outside the range of the probable, but the absurd or improbable excites the highest pitch of passion by refusing to be understood, permitting the understanding (Forstand) to understand only that it cannot be understood.23 For to base one's eternal happiness on something historical that has the added peculiarity of being absurd by virtue of the fact that it contains a contradiction and to hold fast that it is essentially incomprehensible requires a breach with all our customary thinking. The absolute paradox, then, can only be believed, not known or understood. But in order to believe against the understanding, one must use one's understanding, first of all, to understand what it means to break with the understanding (to understand that one cannot understand), and second, to distinguish the Christian paradox, which one believes, from nonsense, which one cannot believe against the understanding precisely because the understanding 'will penetratingly perceive that it is nonsense and hinder him in believing it' (568).24

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