News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Texas George Rex Judas (2a)

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Texas George Rex Judas (2a)

Bush's statement about history and death, though, might strike a believing Xtian as nihilistic as well. Though I have many arguments with Xtians, I do think they have an understanding of the fundamentals of their faith. One of those fundamentals is that there's an accounting for one's deeds after death. The idea that you'll be dead and not have some sort of settling up with God about what you did would strike such a believer as indicative of an atheist, not a religious person, especially a Christian.

While I am not going to debate the existence of an afterlife, I do think that the Xtian fundamentalist would have a point. Kierkegaard, a religious thinker by any measure, once wrote:

To study the demonic properly, one needs only to observe how the eternal is conceived in the individuality. ...[W]hoever has not understood the eternal correctly, understood it altogether concretely, lacks inwardness and earnestness. (CA, trns. Hong, p. 151)
The eternal here can mean a life--in some form--that continues after death. But Kierkegaard's point is that one's relationship to that concept of eternity will determine who and what I am and how I act in this life toward myself, others, and the world. If I see the world and its meaning in a certain way, I will act honestly and sincerely with the world and others or not. My motivations determine whether I act ethically or not.

One way that Kierkegaard understands eternity is as possibility. That is, the individual--I or you--is comprised of dualities, necessity and eternity, actuality and possibility. The eternal, in this sense, means all those things that I imagine and see as potentially open to me to become. As indicated, the eternal is infinite; just as possibility is infinite. Everyday life brings the problem of bringing the infinite demands of conscience and dreams and other terms of possible behavior into relationship with the other side of the equation: necessity or actuality.

Actuality includes the world I am born into in all its dimensions. These aspects make me who I am before I even begin to attain a sense of who I am. They include genetics, environment, biology, physiology, and social and cultural constraints. These things determine who and what I am. They are the necessary, the actual, as I encounter them in becoming human.

Just as the world has a natural, political, and social history, individuals have histories too. The individual's history is comprised of the history of the world as well as of those behaviors I enact in response to that other history.

To become an individual is not an easy matter, according to Kierkegaard--something many adolescents know all too well. But it's not only teens who experience crises of identity and motivation. Throughout life most humans encounter problems--personal and social--that undermine their understanding of the world.

The modern world seems to pose more of these identity problems than traditional societies. This fact has posed the major issue for many religionists and political thinkers. Since a society requires stable identity-forming processes and thereby stable personalities to function, the dissolution of such processes throws traditional cultures into disarray and breeds certain forms of alienation and nihilism.

As part of what sociologists call the socialization process, we find not only family and friends trying to tell us what to do or be, we also experience biological and psychological drives pushing and pulling us in different directions. But the modern crises of identity, creates crisis after in this regard.

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