Infinite Rebinding II: God and (as) Subjectivity

As was briefly stated in “Infinite Rebinding: Preliminary Thoughts on Religion”, Kierkegaard took Hegelian philosophy to task for its posing as a purely objective system which holds true for all specific existing individuals.  From Kierkegaard’s standpoint, it is quite obvious why this is not possible: so long as one is a subjective individual, it is impossible to transcend one’s own subjectivity in order to achieve perfect objectivity.  To do so would require that one no longer exists as a subjective individual, for even to say that a subjective individual could attain pure objectivity is nonsense.  However, “[i]n a logical system,” Kierkegaard writes concerning Hegel’s attempt at achieving this pure objectivity through logic, which is supposed to transcend the relativities of the subjective individual who makes use of it, “nothing may be incorporated that has a relation to existence, that is not indifferent to existence”[1].  Kierkegaard goes on to write that, “[t]he infinite advantage that the logical, by being the objective, possesses over all other thinking is in turn subjectively viewed . . .”[2].  And herein lies the problem: objective or not, as soon as a logical system is employed by a subjective individual, the objectivity has been destroyed.  One may think of an analogy wherein a tree exists in the world and its existence is not contingent on being perceived by a human person[3].  However, my sensory experience of the tree and your sensory experience of the tree are by definition not the same, but subjective.  We may agree in the details of our description, but at the end of the day, my experience of the tree is uniquely my own and can never be fully and purely shared with another.  It is similar with the problem of logic.  While we may recognize the same rules of logical reasoning, not only were these rules invented at some time by a subjective individual, but as soon as we appropriate them and rifle them in the favor of our own particular argument, they have been subjectivized by the subjective individual.

Furthermore, Kierkegaard writes that “[t]he system begins with the immediate and therefore without presuppositions and therefore absolutely, that is, the beginning of the system is the absolute beginning”[4].  Again, the same problem applies: “If the system is assumed to be after existence . . . the system does indeed come afterward and consequently does not begin immediately with the immediate with which existence began . . .”[5].  In other words, to postulate the necessity of an “absolute beginning”, one is claiming that the beginning is prior to existence, as, insofar as it is absolute, it must necessarily be the beginning of existence.  However, the assumption of this necessity arises from the logic created by an already existing thing (namely, Herr Professor), and therefore an absolute beginning cannot be attained.  To do so would require one to step outside of one’s own existence in order to begin from this absolute beginning, but one must exist in order to begin from the absolute beginning!  Therefore, it is absurd.

From these objections, Kierkegaard determines that a system of existence is in fact impossible and that instead, truth must be discovered subjectively.  After all, though one may try to begin from an “absolute beginning” and thereby attain an objective system of existence, “. . . existence possesses the remarkable quality that an existing person exists whether he wants to or not”[6] – that is to say, one can try all one wants to construct a system of philosophy which requires one to deny one’s own existence as a subjective individual, but in the end it will prove impossible[7].

As was alluded to in part one, the exact critique that Kierkegaard levels against Hegel could be leveled against Christian apologetics—simply substitute Christian apologists with Hegel.  When God is made the object of deductive argumentation, s/he is no longer a subject, but, as Jaspers was previously noted as saying, a thing in the world—more specifically, a thing that can be grasped, conceptualized, made to fit within our logical systems.  However, as Jaspers goes on to say, “God is not an object of knowledge, of compelling evidence”[8] and as soon as God is presented as such, s/he does not exist.  The God of the philosophers, the God that is an object, does not exist.  Such a God is not conceptually possible, for such a God would be a conceivable God, an oxy moron.

To what, then, do we refer when we name God?  According to Kierkegaard, “God is a subject, and therefore exists only for subjectivity in inwardness.”[9]  Such a view corroborates what has been said above, i.e., that the God that is an object does not—indeed, cannot—exist.  Instead, God is a subject and can only be known subjectively.  Alternatively, Richard Kearney speaks of a God who may be—a God who is “the possibility to be, which obviates between the extremes of being and non-being.”[10]  This God says to Moses, “I am who may be if you continue to keep my word and struggle for the coming of justice”[11].  Kearney calls this a hermeneutics of the possible.  Finally, John D. Caputo, taking his inspiration from 1 John, speaks of a God who “is a how, not a what”[12] in order to articulate a theology of the event.  Such a God is not an objectively existing being above and beyond our sphere of existence, but something so intimately tied to our actions that God becomes instead a way of being—i.e., she who loves unconditionally may be said to be “God-ing”.

What all three of these different ideas concerning God have in common is that they challenge the typical western Platonic assumptions that demand that God must be timeless, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc.—a list of characteristics, which, aside from being internally inconsistent, render God a wholly immobile, impersonal being who is impotent to interact with the world of subjects and subjectivity.  Instead, all three of the above thinkers challenge us to widen our concept of God, to expose God to the dangers of subjectivity, to allow God to not predetermine or dictate our lives, and to open ourselves to the inbreaking (un)kingdom of God and allow it to invade and manifest itself within our relationships, our actions, and our possibilities.  This is a God who is so real, so close, so intimately a part of our lived experience that we cannot say just what s/he is, for we cannot extract ourselves from the reality of, and look objectively at, God, nor would we be so crude as to make God the conclusion of a deductive argument.  God is much too real and, by extension, much too mysterious, for that.  Such a God may be weak and unstable in comparison to the Platonic God, but such a God is also the only God who can mean anything for our lives.

Notes


[1] Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (in part), Nineteenth Century Philosphy, eds., Forest Baird and Walter Kaufmann (Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1997), 274.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This is, of course, assuming that we are not Berkeleians.

[4] Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (in part), Nineteenth Century Philosphy, eds., Forest Baird and Walter Kaufmann (Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1997), 274.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. 279.

[7] One is tempted to use the term “logically impossible”, but it seems that Kierkegaard would disapprove.

[8] Karl Jaspers, “Way to Wisdom.” A Concise Dictionary of Existentialism, ed. Ralph B. Winn. (Philosophical Library: New York, 1960). 41.

[9] Soren Kierkegaard, “Concluding Unscientific Postscript.” Winn, 41.

[10] Richard Kearney, “God Who May Be: A Phenomenological Study.” Modern Theology 18.1 (2002).  75-87.

[11] Ibid.

[12] John D. Caputo, On Religion.  (New York: Routledge,  2001), 135.

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One thought on “Infinite Rebinding II: God and (as) Subjectivity

  1. Pingback: Mutual Aid and The Kingdom of God: Toward A Christian Anarchist Hermeneutic | Living the Greys

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