A couple of years ago I read a book called Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy by Lev Shestov which inspired me to read Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard.
I think when we read something depending on what is on our minds we can get very different things out of it, so I do not claim the central themes of either work were this, but what I got out of them was the idea “dare to hope”.
Shestov goes into great detail about a worldview that almost certainly we all share, which he associates with the Greeks, the philosophers. Using the tools of reason and empiricism we seek to and have fantastic success at understanding the world – and in understanding the world we discover terrible things. We discover the impossible – we discover that not only must we die, on its own a tragedy – but worse, that it could not be otherwise, the nature of the universe makes our death a banal inevitability, a hardly noteworthy, yet harshly immovable, fact.
Then he (and I think both of them) do something that makes you feel almost confused, they suggest with what seems to be audacity, that you should hope that this banal truth, is not in fact true. That we should dare to hope that it could in fact be otherwise, despite every physical law of the universe protesting, despite the fact everything we know to be true about life sternly shaking its head. Maybe death is not inevitable?
Oh but death is inevitable, from the cellular to the civilisational level life screams its finiteness at every turn. From the impending death of the sun, to the entropy death of the universe, from the collapse of Rome to the quiet fading away of a sick octogenarian.
Bodily resurrection? A laughable absurdity, we know it, everything tells the same story. They knew it then too, in ancient times, when writing was as novel as vlogging, there was much they didn’t understand but they knew that much, so much closer to the land than us, they saw what really became of the body, that we are all food for something. Did they imagine their transfigured bodies emerging like a butterfly from the carrion? Our bodies are built from the same matter as other bodies, we don’t admit to cannibalism but we have eaten our dead.
How can we dare to hope that everything is false? When we know it is true, when it serves us so well as truth. And yet people have believed. That is the astonishing thing. That anyone could have even a tiny speck, an atom, a neutrino of faith.
Dare to hope, dare even to believe…
I have never managed to believe, and hardly have the strength to hope – but it is such an intriguing thought. And it reminds me of another impossible hope, more abstract but deeply emotive for me. The idea of peace. A time when the lion can lay with the lamb and yet retain it’s lion-ness. No concept of a lion as I can imagine can do this, because as soon as I make it do it (for I can command my imagination to force the image of a lion to do anything I wish) it becomes less an image of a lion. A lion is what it is, and it’s majesty requires it to be what it is, it is right and proper that a lion does what a lion does. To have peace is to destroy so much that is good, and a sterile peace is not what I dream of when I dream of peace.
Peace, the right kind, for me is to “square the circle”, just as immortality is. Yet sometimes on a cold clear night, or a bright sunny day, when my heart is light and the world seems somehow more colourful – I dare to hope. Maybe death is not an inevitability, maybe true harmony – peace without annihilation – will someday dawn. Maybe we could grow and change – and last forever.
Does it matter to us now, as grey clouds obscure the sun, while we do our taxes and eat our dead? I think it matters, a lot.