“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.  No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”

The Sickness Unto Death

“And when the hourglass has run out, the hourglass of temporality, when the noise of secular life has grown silent and its restless or ineffectual activism has come to an end, when everything around you is still, as it is in eternity, then eternity asks you and every individual in these millions and millions about only one thing: whether you have lived in despair or not.”

The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”

“One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?”

According to this non-religious interpretation, Kierkegaard’s main message is that we cannot rely on other people or on the facts of the world to provide us with answers to the most basic moral and philosophical questions. We are the ones who will have to live with our personal decisions. We are the ones who will be accountable to our conscience for our moral choices. We should therefore act according to our own personal convictions; we should do what makes sense to us.

_The Sickness Unto Death_ is a good place to start reading Kierkegaard. It is shorter than most of his works, and provides a good overview of his most important concepts. One such concept is man’s intense desire to understand or somehow obtain proof of the existence of God. Because of our intense fear of death, we are constantly seeking out ways to relieve our doubt concerning the immortality of the soul. Kierkegaard examines this death-drive with remarkable insight, stating that it is in some ways noble, but in other ways is a gross imposition upon God, and a disrespect for God’s privacy. In one passage, Kierkegaard suggests that we seek out reasons to experience despair simply in order to drag God across hot coals; that is, in order for us to reach a satisfactory understanding of the existence and/or goodness of God, we have a tendency to go out of our way to find reasons NOT to believe in God. Sometimes these reasons consist in outward examples of atrocities and widespread acts of destructive evil. Other times our despair is of a more inward form, in which we seek to disprove God because of our own shortcomings in avoiding sin. In other words, if we are evil, and consider ourselves to be abnormally bad sinners, we have a vested interest in disproving God; because of our fear of punishment, the existence of God runs counter to our best interests. On the other side of the spectrum, Kierkegaard portrays the more virtuous type of faith as one that avoids higher levels of understanding. Considering the over-abundance in this world of acts we percieve to be evil, it stands to reason that God does not WANT to be fully understood. On page 98, Kierkegaard states: “Is it such great merit or is it not rather insolence or thoughtlessness to want to comprehend that which does not want to be comprehended?” On p.38 he states: “to believe is indeed to lose the understanding in order to gain God”. All of this is not to say that Kierkegaard is an anti-intellectual or nihilist. Kierkegaard, who once admitted that he “gropes for the tragic in every direction” in a perverse and convoluted desire to “see” God, is just as guilty as anyone of this “imposition” upon God. His intention is simply bringing to light the dynamics of our strange tendencies to unearth the tragic and the role of death and fear in propelling our desire to understand God. Kierkegaard is not judgemental or admonishing in his treatment of these natural human drives towards knowledge; he just wants to enlighten us on why we act the way we do, and what are the inner springs of our creativity and curiosity. The sources of these creative drives do not always present a pretty picture, but Kierkegaard is honest with himself and with the reader in exposing the dark forces underlying our seemingly innocent intellectual curiosity.