11 June 2011


In the side of my desk-bookcase I have a Gary Larson cartoon.  It's just a single frame, with a befuddled man standing in front of two doors.  Above one it reads "Damned if you DO" and above the other "Damned if you DON'T"  

Behind him is a tall creature with a goatee, horns on its head, a tail, and two hooves for feet, poking the man in the back with a trident.  "Come on, come on," says the devil, "It's either one or the other."

Agency doesn't mean having easy choices.

Coincidentally in that same book case is Kierkegaard's book "Either/Or" (1843), written under a pseudonym "A" as was his wont.  In it, Kierkegaard writes about different ways of living.

Most people when they hear this name think of the expression "Leap of Faith" - under the somewhat mistaken understanding that Kierkegaard somehow intellectually justified exercising faith in God.  In a roundabout way, he did.  He postulated that most people live their lives in one of two ways: the Aesthetic Life, where we live in the present and have beauty in some form(s) as our goal.  Another way to live is the Ethical Life, where we try to live in accordance with the truths of morality.  Kierkegaard found both to be unsatisfactory for a thinking, rational individual.  He proposed as an alternative a third way" living a Religions Life - but acknowledged that this wasn't really a rational choice, either.

Kierkegaard distinguished between Objective Truth and Subjective Truth. Objective Truth is a scientific undertaking, designed to sync our beliefs with the external world around us. Subjective Truth on the other hand was where the relationship between an individual and the world around her/him is built into the system of belief. However, there are internal contradictions (at least in the religious traditions that Kierkegaard was aware of at the time he wrote this book): How could Jesus, for instance, be both God and man at the same time? Kierkegaard felt that a Leap of Faith was required to reconcile oneself with Subjective Truth. To believe in God in order to conform to society is worthless; even in the 19th Century, most nations had a State-sanctioned religion. We must instead make a passionate leap into a faith-based, subjective belief - this is the only way Kierkegaard felt we could achieve fulfillment as human beings.

Lost you yet?  This has been a problem with most philosophers: their turgid prose was comprehensible to few but contemporary philosophers.  To that end, you will not see a summary on this blog of Immanuel Kant.

But if you re-read the summary above, you can at least say you sort of understand one famous philosopher. I admire Kierkegaard for trying so hard with what little he had. Personally, I find that there is an utterly pragmatic and self-consistent philosophical framework underlying my LDS faith. One of the greatest compliments ever given to Shakespeare by contemporaries (and my Shakespeare professor at Berkeley) was that he could talk to two or even three different audiences at the same time, occupying the different tiers of the old Globe Theater in London.

My perception of LDS doctrine, however, is that it can talk to all human beings in a manner consistent with their current intellectual development. More than just broadly satisfying, it helps us all understand this life in a manner that makes it incredibly satisfying. Like Objective Truth, however, it is also consistent with everything I have encountered in this world and beyond (see my earlier blog entry on Hymns and Cosmology).

I pity my atheist friends - but not too much.  We all must sleep in the bed we make ourselves.  At the same time however, I am satisfied that no matter how wasted their time on this planet may be, they will be taken care of, too.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink: God will force no man to heaven.

While I periodically worry about my inactive kids, I know that the meaning of family is far greater than changing diapers and paying for college - it extends to helping each other through all generations of time.  The template is in the Atonement.  In the meantime, I won't try to mess with their agency - that would be a terrible thing for anyone, especially anyone I love.

Agency is the most important key and characteristic of godhood.  

Sure must be scary for some people in the Final Foxhole, however.  


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