Athens and Jerusalem \  Part II  \ In the Bull of Phalaris


     God must learn from Socrates and seek help from him whose truth has become the principle of philosophy for all time. All the lugere et detestari of God Himself break against His "immutability, just as Kierkegaard's lugere et detestari break against the immutable laws of being, of that order into which he was plunged by his birth. And it remains to God only "to endure both faces of fortune with equanimity" and "through the third kind of knowledge" to arrive at the conviction that "happiness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself." According to Socrates, a virtuous man will be happy even in the bull of Phalaris; according to Kierkegaard, "Christianity" does not reveal to us a new truth but brings us an edification which, like the edification brought by Socrates, is Worse, by human reckoning, than any calamity. Luther said of God that he was "the omnipotent God who creates everything out of nothing." For Kierkegaard, God's will is paralyzed by His immutability, as man's will is by Necessity - and, indeed, in even greater measure. Before His beloved son who agonized on the cross, God feels the horror of His impotence, as does Kierkegaard before Regine Olsen whom he tortures; he feels that he must run, do something, but at the same time he is aware that he is wholly in the power of "the categories of his thought" and cannot move any of his limbs.

     Luther, it is known, spoke also of de servo arbitrio - of the bound will, but his de servo arbitrio was concerned only with man. For Kierkegaard, as for Socrates and Spinoza, de servo arbitrio extends likewise to God. There was one moment, however, when Kierkegaard resolved to seek salvation in the Absurd. By virtue of the Absurd, he tells us, God could decide for the "suspension of the ethical," could return Isaac to Abraham, could recall a dead man to life, etc. - that is, overcome His immutability. But even when he proclaimed the omnipotence of God, Kierkegaard did not succeed in ridding himself of the thought that "in the world of the spirit" there is, there must be, a certain order - different from what we observe here on earth, yet a strict, eternal order: there the sun does not rise equally on the good and the wicked, there only he who works eats, etc. Accordingly, Abraham's faith, no matter what Kierkegaard says, was not at all a "suspension of the ethical." On the contrary, in the final analysis it appears that Abraham's faith obeyed the demands of the "ethical." Despite what he has told us, Kierkegaard did not perceive in Abraham the free fearlessness of a man behind whom stands the omnipotent God; Abraham was in his eyes a "knight of resignation" (to use his own language), just as God, who abandoned His son, was only a "knight of resignation." Abraham's faith, for Kierkegaard, is not God's gift, it is his own desert. Man must believe, Kierkegaard endlessly repeats, and he who accomplishes this duty "works" and acquires by his work the right to the goods laid up for the just in the kingdom of the spirit where the sun rises only on the "just." Virtue, like faith, consists in living in the categories in which we think. God must be immutable - and He sacrifices His son: Abraham must obey God - and he raises his knife over Isaac. The life of the spirit begins beyond the boundary of the "you must" from which God is no more free than man.

     From where did Kierkegaard take this truth? The Bible does not at all represent God as immutable, and in the Bible the father of faith, Abraham, does not always obey God. When God, inflamed with anger against men, decides to make them perish through the flood, the righteous Noah does not enter into dispute with Him but locks himself in his ark, happy to save his own life and that of his dear ones. But Abraham argued with God about Sodom and Gomorrah, and God forgot that He is immutable and gave in to his "servant." It is obvious that biblical "faith" has nothing in common with obedience, and that every "you must" is located in regions where the rays of faith do not penetrate. Kierkegaard himself writes in the Sickness Unto Death about the mysterious words of St. Paul - 'all that does not come of faith is sin' (Romans 14, 23): "that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith constitutes one of the most decisive definitions of Christianity." And he repeats this several times in the course of the book. In The Concept of Dread he writes: "The opposite of freedom is guilt." But if this is so, if to sin and guilt faith and freedom are opposed, then do not Kierkegaard's reflections on the order and laws that rule in the world of the spirit show that man has neither faith nor freedom and that he knows only guilt and impotent virtue? Does it not appear that Kierkegaard has drawn his Christian edification not from the Absurd that he glorified, not from the Bible that he considered as the revelation of truth, but from the "knowledge" that the wisest among men brought us after eating from the fruits of the tree of knowledge?

     Speaking of the first man, Kierkegaard declares with assurance in The Concept of Dread: "Innocence is ignorance. In the state of innocence man is determined not as mind but as soul, in unmediated union with his nature. The mind is still dormant in man. This idea is in harmony with the Bible which denies to man in the state of innocence knowledge of the difference between good and evil." Indeed, the Bible says that in the state of innocence man did not know the difference between good and evil. But this was not a weakness, a defect; on the contrary, it was a power, a tremendous advantage. Man as he left the hands of the Creator did not know shame, and this also constituted a great advantage. The knowledge of good and evil, as well as of shame, came to him only after he had tasted the fruits of the forbidden tree. This is incomprehensible to us, just as we do not understand how these fruits could bring him death. And relying on the infallibility of our reason, we wish with all our powers that the mind should be dormant in the man who does not know the difference between good and evil. But the Bible does not say this. The Bible says, on the contrary, that all the misfortunes of man come from knowledge. This is also the meaning of the words of St. Paul quoted by Kierkegaard: 'all that does not come of faith is sin.' In its very essence knowledge, according to the Bible, excludes faith and is the sin par excellence or the original sin.

     Contrary to what Kierkegaard asserts, it must be said that it was precisely the fruits of the tree of knowledge which lulled the human mind to sleep. This is why God forbade Adam to eat of them. The words that God addressed to Adam, "As for the tree of knowledge of good and of evil, you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die," are in complete disagreement with our conception of knowledge as well as our conception of good and evil. But their meaning is perfectly clear and admits of no tortured interpretation. I repeat once more: they constitute the only true critique of pure reason that has ever been formulated here on earth. God clearly said to man that he must not put his trust in the fruits of the tree of knowledge, for they carry with them the most terrible dangers. But Adam, like Hegel later, "opposed distrust to distrust." And when the serpent assured him that the fruits were good to eat, that having eaten of them men would become like God, Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation. This is what the Bible tell us. This is how St. Paul understood the biblical account, it is also how Luther understood it. St. Paul says that when Abraham went to the Promised Land he departed without knowing where he was going. This signifies that only he attains the Promised Land who takes no account of knowledge, who is free of knowledge and of its truths: where he arrives will be the Promised Land.

     The serpent said to the first man: "You shall be like God, knowing good and evil." But God does not know good and evil. God does not know anything, God creates everything. And Adam, before his fall, participated in the divine omnipotence. It was only after the fall that he fell under the power of knowledge and at that same moment lost the most precious of God's gifts - freedom. For freedom does not consist in the possibility of choosing between good and evil, as we today are condemned to think. Freedom consists in the force and power not to admit evil into the world. God, the freest being, does not choose between good and evil. And the man whom He had created did not choose either, for there was nothing there to choose: evil did not exist in paradise. Only when man, obeying the suggestion of a force hostile and incomprehensible to us, held forth his hand towards the tree did his mind fall asleep and did he become that feeble being, subject to alien principles, that we now see. This is the meaning of the "fall" according to the Bible. This appears to us so highly fantastic that even men who considered the Bible an inspired book attempted by every means to attach to it commentaries that would modify its meaning. Kierkegaard in this respect was, as we have seen, no exception. According to him, following the sin man, having learned to distinguish good and evil, awoke from his sleeping state. But then what kind of sin would this be? Would we not in that case have to admit - as Hegel thought -that it was not the serpent but God who had deceived man?

     Kierkegaard could not resolve to acknowledge this openly, but it is to this conclusion precisely that his commentaries in fact lead. He declares: "I shall say frankly that I cannot form any precise idea of the serpent. Above all, the serpent places us before the difficulty that the temptation comes from outside." No doubt, according to the Bible, the temptation came from without. And it is likewise beyond doubt that there is here something monstrous for our reason and still more so for our morality. But did not Kierkegaard himself invoke the Absurd, did he not speak to us in an inspired tone of the "suspension of the ethical?" Why then, in the face of the most troubling enigma that the Bible poses to us, does he turn again to reason and morality? Whence did this "temptation" come to him? From without or from within? And is there not here something more terrible, infinitely more terrible, that temptation? Kierkegaard could not form any precise idea of the serpent, and yet he himself has told us of the fearful anxiety experienced by the man who feels that he must run as quickly as possible but that a mysterious force paralyzes him and prevents him from making the slightest movement! And not only Kierkegaard but God also is in the power of this force that has paralyzed His will. What then is this force? Is the biblical serpent, perhaps, merely a symbol, merely an image of that which determined Kierkegaard's fate, which determines all men's fate? Is not to forget the serpent under the pretext that it is impossible to bring it into our thought equivalent to renouncing that truth that the biblical account of the fall reveals to us by substituting for it theories drawn from our own "experience?"

     Kierkegaard does not raise such a question. He wishes unconditionally to "understand," to "explain" the fall, and yet he never stops repeating that it is inexplicable, that it does not admit of explanation. Accordingly he tries in every way to discover some lack, some defect in the state of innocence. This state, he says, includes peace and calmness, and yet there is in it something else still; this is not disturbance nor struggle - there is nothing for which one could struggle! What then is it? - Nothingness! What result does this nothingness produce? It produces anxiety. The profoundest mystery of innocence is that it is at the same time anxiety... Psychology has never concerned itself with the concept of anxiety, wherefore I must draw attention to the fact that it is necessary to sharply distinguish anxiety from fear and other similar states; the latter always relate to something definite, while anxiety is the reality of freedom as possibility before all other possibility." Again we ask ourselves: "whence did Kierkegaard take this? Who revealed to him the secret of innocence? The Bible says not a word of it. According to the Bible, shame and anxiety came only after the fall and proceed not from innocence but from knowledge. Thus anxiety is not the reality of freedom but the manifestation of the loss of freedom. Even more: in the Bible the anxiety that was born after the fall is strictly bound up with the threat of numerous calamities - you shall eat your bread in the sweat of your brow, you shall bear children in pain, sicknesses, privations, death, all the sufferings that came to the afflicted Job, the no less afflicted Kierkegaard and Abraham himself, at least potentially, for Abraham stood to lose what was dearest to him in the world.

     But Kierkegaard felt that if he admitted that anxiety was born after the fall and that it is the expression not of the reality of freedom but of the loss of freedom, he would have had to agree to something the very idea of which appeared to him unbearable: he would have had to speak aloud his "secret" and, ignoring the judgment of the "ethical," call it by its true name - or at least admit in general terms that he had broken with Regine Olsen not by virtue of the "immutability" of his nature but by virtue of the necessity" that had enchained him. This he could not resolve to do. If Kierkegaard had had a son who was as dear to him as Isaac was to Abraham, he would have had the courage to offer him up as a sacrifice. But to cover himself with shame in the eyes of the "ethical" - no, this he would not have consented to do, even if God Himself had demanded it. I think that one can say the same of Nietzsche. He accepted all the sufferings to which he was condemned but, put to the torture, he continued to repeat that necessity did not offend him, that he even loved it. Just as in Kierkegaard, the ontological category of necessity "changes itself" in him into the ethical category of "immutability" from which God can escape no more than man.

     It is in this that the result of the fruits of the tree of knowledge consists, here is the meaning of the "fall of man." In what is only an empty phantom, in nothingness, man suddenly perceives omnipotent necessity. That is why everything that the fallen man undertakes to save himself only brings him closer to the abyss. He wishes to flee "necessity," and he changes it into an immutability from which it is impossible to escape. Certainly he cannot fight against necessity, but he can hate it, curse it. But immutability must be adored, for it leads him to the kingdom of the "spirit," it gives him the "eyes of the mind" and thanks to the "third kind'>~ of knowledge" it brings to birth in him "love for what is eternal and infinite, the intellectual love of God." Kierkegaard began by perceiving in innocence and ignorance anxiety before nothingness. In order to understand and explain this anxiety, he recalled the fear that is aroused in children by frightening fairy tales. From anxiety before nothingness and from childish terror he passed abruptly to the horrors of real life with which his own existence was filled.

     We recall what Kierkegaard has told us of the horrors he underwent. One would think that he would have concentrated all his powers on rooting out of his life the principle that had introduced these horrors into it. But, on the contrary, he wishes to justify, to legitimize, to confer eternity on this principle. The anxiety before nothingness, from which have sprung all the evils of existence, he discovers in man in the state of innocence. No great perspicacity is required to perceive in this nothingness not that ordinary and impotent nothingness which is incapable of putting an obstacle to the slightest human interests, but the omnipotent Necessity before which human thought has throughout all time bowed. But if this is so, if nothingness possesses this tremendous, even though negative and destructive, power - what makes Kierkegaard say that he does not understand the role of the serpent in the account of the fall? For the serpent was just that terrible nothingness, that "monster without whose killing man cannot live," to speak as Luther did.

     Should Kierkegaard not have known this? Was it not the anxiety before nothingness that had risen between him and Regine Olsen, between God and His beloved son? It is here only that the profound meaning of the apostle's words, "everything that does not come of faith is sin," appears. Knowledge did not liberate Kierkegaard but bound him, just as it binds all of us. Nothingness is not a nothing, it is a something, and it is not given anyone to kill it, to deprive it of its annihilating power. But if this is so, the ignorance of the first man could not last forever: at a certain moment his eyes had to be "opened," he had to "learn." And this moment, despite what the Bible says, was not a fall but the birth of mind in man, the birth of mind in God Himself. The biblical revelation leads to the same result as the pagan wisdom: there is no force that can deliver men from the power of necessity, of nothingness, of the sufferings and evils they bring. We must accept all this, we must live with all this. Religion and philosophy, as well as ordinary good sense, are completely in accord here. The only thing religion and philosophy can offer us is an edification which, by human reckoning, is worse than the most frightful calamities. But we have no choice. The choice has already been made for man as well as for God. Both man and God act "solely out of the laws of their own nature and are not coerced by any one." The law of human nature is necessity. The law of God's nature is immutability or, to put it differently, necessity transformed into an ethical category. Had Kierkegaard not perceived in his relationships with Regine Olsen that very necessity which condemned God to remain a powerless spectator of the sufferings of His beloved son on the cross?

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