I just finished rereading Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. I read it for a philosophy course in college and returned to it at the urging of my book club.
One of the questions discussed during our meeting was what we got out of reading the book. I recognize the value of such a pragmatic criteria for book reading and use something similar more often than not. I’ve abandoned plenty of books because I didn’t think I’d get anything from them or felt like I’d learned enough from the pages I did read. Business books are especially prone to bloat and I drop them faster than a lot of other works.
The difficulty with using such a pragmatic criteria to evaluate Kierkegaard is my lack of religious faith. I waffle between describing myself as an atheist or an agnostic, but I’m certainly not a mainstream believer. Kierkegaard was a believer, but he wasn’t mainstream, in fact he disliked the church of his time more than I do the churches of today.
So I think it’s hard to get a practical fact out of reading Fear and Trembling that I can apply to my everyday life.
The best I’ve been able to come up is the difficulty of faith. What makes Kierkegaard interesting, even to a person who doesn’t share his religious belief, is the psychological struggle he describes as being central to the action of faith. For Kierkegaard faith is hard, perhaps the hardest action a man can perform. I sympathize with that difficulty because the movement of faith is difficult for me as well.
I also like the idea that the movement of faith is an individual move, an action that can’t be done by, or at the urging, of a group of people. Ethics is something universal and shared by the group, but faith is absolute and particular. Part of the reason I distrust so many organized religions is the missing individual component. Sometimes faith seems to easy for a fundamentalist. Of course the personal experience may be different than the appearance of outward activity. It’s this distinction between inwardness and outwardness that is most valuable to me and hopefully of value to other believers.