Book: Fear and Trembling (Original Danish title Frygt og Bæven) )
Author: Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
Connection with ABC-TV’s LOST: The official LOST website is not currently maintaining their LOST Book Club entries. However, an excellent fan site, Lostpedia, has been keeping up with the books on the show. You can find the entry for this book here. The title alludes to Philippians 5:12. The book examines the paradox of faith as shown by Abraham in his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. (Genesis 22)
A copy of the book is found by Hurley in the Temple in the episode “LA X, Part 1” (from the Season Six two-hour premiere). The story of Abraham and Isaac was also referenced in “Catch-22” from Season Three. Desmond recounts the story, and this relates to his unwillingness to “sacrifice” Charlie. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham received Isaac back “from the dead in a figurative sense.” In the Two-part Season Six premiere, Charlie is back, and tells Jack, “I’m supposed to be dead.”
Fear and Trembling examines the testing of Abraham, and the idea of testing has been a recurring theme this season. Sayid is tortured by Dogen in the second part of the season premiere, and it is said that this is a test. The same test was apparently given to Claire, as told in the episode “Lighthouse.”
Review of the Book
Note: This review is based on the 2006 Cambridge edition (from the series “Texts in the History of Philosophy” ), translated by Sylvia Walsh. The excellent Introduction by C. Stephen Evans was crucial in my understanding of the text.
Søren Kierkegaard was concerned for the society of his day, and says in other works that he was was trying to create an “introduction of Christianity into Christiandom.” He was concerned that the Danish society around him had cheapened faith by their concept of ethics.
The leading philosophy of the day was Hegelianism, with its ethical absolute called the Sittlichkeit or social ethic. Unlike Kant, who believed that the knowledge of morality can be derived from reason alone, Hegel believed that the laws and customs of society should be the standard. Hegelians believed that the culture which had developed in Europe was the zenith of the “Absolute Spirit.” But Kierkegaard rejected the common idea that Europeans were all Christians because they followed the rules of their society – that the individual had actualized the universal.
Faith, [Kierkegaard] says, involves the paradox that “the single individual is higher than the universal,” a view that is incompatible with Sittlichkeit, which must judge an individual who violates social norms as sinning. (C. Stephen Evens, Introduction, p. xxiii)
Faith involves a personal connection with God, and the individual’s responsibility to him is greater than any obligation to society.
This concept of faith gets scary in that in can easily be misapplied. A mentally disturbed person may hear about Abraham’s sacrifice of his son and “go and do likewise.” And who hasn’t heard of stories where a “devoted” individual has murdered someone because “God told me to.” However, to eliminate the faith exemplified in Abraham because of these fears would transfer that devotion to “the established social-political order,” and we have seen examples (i.e. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia) of where that can lead.
Such a secularized society… would also eliminate such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., who mounted a religious critique of the established order. Most importantly from Kierkegaard’s perspective, such a secularized society would remove any transcendent meaning that gives the lives of individual humans depth and value. (p. viii)
Sittlichkeit has no room for those outside the universal – for those who through circumstance are not able to live up to the standards of society. From the Christian perspective, this really applies to all of us. Like the characters on ABC’s LOST, we have all lost our way (Isaiah 53:6) and need healing for our souls.
Only through true faith in God can we find the healing and help we need to find our way. The best social ethic cannot offer that; it only shows us we are lost.