Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
In this short book, Kierkegaard lays the groundwork for his later philosophical work Either/Or. He begins the book by writing about the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham when told to sacrifice his son on an altar for God does so with complete and total obedience only to be stopped and told that now God knew that he “feared God”.
Kierkegaard points out a few key points about the Biblical story. First, Isaac was the promised one. Isaac was the son by which Abraham’s descendents were to number the stars, were to be all across the earth and do great things. God has promised this. Second, child sacrifice was not only horrific but also illegal during Abraham’s time. For God to ask Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son in such a terrible manner would be both lying and sinning- things that God just doesn’t do.
However, then did Abraham necessarily know this as he pulled the knife out to kill Isaac. Kierkegaard answers no because, he writes, God saw what was in Abraham’s heart- a will of obedience, a certain faith and hope that defies the absurdity of God’s command. This kind of unconditional faith, while seeming very absurd, to Kierkegaard is the pinnacle of all religious and philosophical endeavors.
Kierkegaard uses this story to lay the groundwork for what he believes to be the stages of moral development- the aesthetic where one simple engages in carnal desires, the ethical where one pursues logical truthes, and finally the religious where one relinquishes reason and gives it all up to God- taking the leap of faith. This religious person, Kierkegaard writes, is the “Knight of Faith”. Only by doing this will we, quite ironically, discover a truth that we can live with.