The Meaning Of Faith Essay

1833 words - 7 pages

FAITH is a strong word. Its utterance can evoke powerful emotions and spark lively discussions. But when one tries to probe deeper into its subject matter, the need for a clearer definition emerges. The question that drives people's interest sounds ironically simple: What does it mean to have faith? Many philosophers have dealt with the concept of faith. Evidence of this can be found in Kirkegaard's Fear and Trembling and Nietzsche's The Gay Science. These works present the reader with engaging attempts to answer the aforementioned question.

Nietzsche introduces various notions of faith in his book. Only one, however, represents true faith. He asserts that "Few people have faith in themselves. Of these few, some are endowed with it as with a useful blindness or a partial eclipse of their spirit" (Nietzsche, p.229). To understand the concept of "useful blindness" one must learn about certain distinctions Nietzsche makes. Specifically, a fundamental distinction is made between the universal and the individual. To the universal he attaches "healthy common sense" and "rationality"(Nietzsche, p.130). Although these may sound like desirable elements of human nature, Nietzsche argues that they are to be regarded as oppressive. From his perspective they restrict individualism. Nietzsche supports this claim by maintaining that people in the universal submit to a "law of agreement"(Nietzsche, p.130). This law of agreement he defines as "the discipline of the mind that mankind has received"(Nietzsche, p.130). The quotation shows that instead of questioning this given "rationality" many people accept it blindly. Being disciplined to give up one's autonomy leads to the transformation of the individual into " a mere function of the whole"(Nietzsche, p.93). In other words, when a human being becomes a simple function of the universal he or she acts to "his [or her] own ultimate disadvantage but `for the general good'"(Nietzsche, p.93). This ultimate disadvantage is reflected in the fact that persons who are in the universal are satisfied with a certain kind of knowledge- a knowledge that merely aims to reduce something strange to something that is familiar (Nietzsche, p.300). Evidently, a basic flaw in universal thinking is that what is familiar is known. Once one is able to realize that the reversed is true, namely, that what is familiar is hardest to know, one might be able to begin thinking faithfully.

Kirkegaard's interpretation of faith seems contradictory to that of Nietzsche at first glance. Upon further analysis, however, one comes to recognize the similarities in their reasoning. Kirkegaard identifies three realms: the realm of the religious, the ethical and the esthetic. The realm of the religious is where true faith can be found. To make the contrast between the realms more apparent, their specific attributes should be outlined. "The ethical as such is the universal"(Kirkegaard, p.54) says Kirkegaard. The universal here can be equated to...

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