Søren Kierkegaard was a nineteenth century Danish philosopher and theologian, who wanted to deepen our inward relationship with God by emphasizing individual existence. In so doing, he became the founding member of existentialism, the movement made famous in the next century by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen in 1813. If one was born in Denmark during that time, one was born a Christian since proof of citizenship was based on baptismal records. Christianity was also made part of the culture through education and practice. Being a Christian was automatically assumed and easy. Kierkegaard thought that real faith was not confirmed by a certificate or validated by simply going along with what everybody thought at the time. What if the individual came across Christian ideas in a world where none believed, or where others thought differently? Being a Christian then would require much more individual effort and commitment. To Kierkegaard, believing by default or through logical argument would always omit the fear and trembling that the individual must experience to make an authentic leap into Christian faith and to fully experience Christianity.
For myself, making such a leap need not be restricted to Christianity or even a belief in God.
At some point in our lives, each of us as individuals must decide to rely on our own selves and jump into the complete unknown to follow our dreams. This is done without a safety net, and with no guarantee of success. For myself, calling such an action simply a leap of faith is not visceral enough. Imagine free climbing a mile-high cliff with no ropes—nothing but chalk, shoes, and fingers that use tiny half-centimeter cracks and ledges as footholds and handholds. Fall from that height, and it’s over. Would you dare to make the climb? Probably not. Yet I think to really step into our own shoes as our own authentic selves requires something similar. The question I have is why does it have to be so hard to step out and into life with nothing but an idea and a dream in one’s pocket?
I think the answer lies in our instinctual and genetic need to be part of a group and to agree with whatever our peers decide or believe. It’s our default setting. After all, we depend on others for safety and comfort when infants or children. But what about when we become adults? Do we just continue with that reliance? At what point do we dare to keep our own council and do what we alone believe to be right?
I’ve seen such conflicts in horses. There is a lead mare, and it is up to her, not the stallion, as to who is part of her group. To be cast out of the herd is a death sentence. Perhaps that equine fear of death by isolation is the same as ours and just as strong?
To humans, the stakes certainly feel the same. Do I comply with what I’m told to do? Do I agree? Should I do what I think is best, or what others think is better? There are a thousand voices in our heads that tell us to be reasonable, to not make waves, and to go along. In addition, there are another thousand whispers in our minds that tell us that we’re strictly smalltime and not to bother with our dreams. There are an infinite number of reasons not to be who we should be, and only a single voice that quietly disagrees—our own. To follow that solitary voice takes conviction, and to confirm and sanctify it requires that we make a leap of faith into believing in ourselves and following our chosen path, despite the dread we feel, and the trauma we might experience. In the long run, reason is essential, but reason will never sustain us when the chips are down. Only our unwavering faith in ourselves and in the Divine will do that. That is real faith and Søren Kierkegaard got it right.
Dare I yell, “Geronimo!”? You betcha.