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I still love Kierkegaard (aeon.co)
189 points by lermontov on Nov 16, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

Whenever I see Kierkegaard referenced, I can't help but think of Michael Swaine's comments (1998) on how it influenced Stroustrup as he developed C++:

> Is modesty a virtue in a programming language? Stroustrup thinks so. Invisibility, even. "If you know what language you are using," he says, "there is something wrong. You shouldn't be able to tell." The "you" in this case is the user, I guess. Even Bjarne isn't modest enough to suggest that the programmer shouldn't be able to tell the difference between C++ and Java. But he may be mystical enough. Red Herring notes that Stroustrup's thinking was heavily influenced by the Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard. Gosling, as we know, was influenced by an oak tree growing outside his window.


When I'm feeling contemplative, I really want to read something continental for the evening. But when I have shit to do, I snap into an analytic frame of mind.

I feel the same way about programming languages; the Kierkegaardian crowd (C++, Perl) are great for evening enjoyment, but I'd prefer something from the more analytic tradition to language design when there's work to be done.

I tend to agree... for me, C++ is a great solution for problems I don't tend to have in my workaday life.

For a lot of what I do (large-scale, scientific computing), C++ is exactly what I need: it's expressive/compact when I need it to be, and its compile-time metaprogramming lets me do things faster in ways no other language can.

For testing and interactive analysis, I can easily use pybind11 to generate bindings. And because python integration is so easy, I can know many other people will be able to use it.

That's the balance I like best.

so you program in prolog or coq when you really need to get stuff done?

It's just an analogy, and I didn't claim it's perfect :-)

But there's a divide between language authors who sound like engineers/mathematicians and language authors who sound like continental philosphers.

I'd include languages like Java, Python, Go, Haskell, OCaml to be in the "analytic tradition" as well. And yes. lots of people get lots of work done in those languages :-)

I'd agree that Python and OCaml are analytic. But personally I find Java much more "continental" than C++, in that it combines aesthetics and function in a way that is both time-tested/consistent and expressive. C++ has always felt like a programming language designed with the same philosophy in mind that Frankenstein had when creating his monster.

Comparing C++ to Frankenstein is a bit of a dis-service to the time spent developing this language.

There's some bad innards from C compatibility, but that's only a small sliver of the overall language. The language overall is very big, but has a high level of consistency and.... dare I say orthogonality.

The open-ness of the language at the outset, especially around the breadth of available overloading, means that future improvements can work in an extremely wide space. It's one of the few languages that stays true to the "every type is a class, no type is special" philosophy.

It's powerful stuff and gives you more control than you can find almost anywhere else, especially with the more modern improvements that pull in a lot of goodies from other languages.

I'd say the biggest wart is the compiler-linking process... the fact that the preprocessor is still a thing is rough.

C++ is configurable in all the wrong ways. Its orthogonality is only with respect to a C-oriented perspective on the world; it doesn't have a philosophy, so much as "like C but let me customize most of the underlying operations". That it is usable at all is mostly down to enormous amounts of effort and careful selection of idioms. Writing C++ reminds me a bit of playing chess: if you're deep in the idiom, there are only a handful of moves to consider, but if you're out of it, there are so many mistakes you can make.

I like the "pit of success" analogy. In design (whether it's API or language, or even physical mechanisms), doing the right thing should be the easiest way to go. C++ has a narrow ridge of success, with cliffs not far from either side.

A more orthogonal, more powerful and even more controllable language, to me, would be some variant of Scheme or Lisp that let you produce fully typed ASTs or even target code for the places where you need absolute control over performance, but high level enough to focus on the business domain problems most of the time. C++ demonstrably simply can't climb very far in the abstraction stack; people don't write web apps in C++. That's the metric that matters in the end.

> Comparing C++ to Frankenstein is a bit of a dis-service to the time spent developing this language.

Bolting more bits onto Frankenstein wouldn't make him less of a monster.

Hm. I tend to think more in terms of how using the language makes me feel than in terms of what the language design reminds me of.

I see what you mean, though.

Whether or not you intended this as a joke: As a matter of fact, I actually do!

I always preferred Kierkegaard's contemporary, N.F.S. Grundtvig. If Kierkegaard was "you have to be a good Christian before you can be a good person," then Grundtvig was, "you have to be a good person before you can be a good Christian." As the ideological founder of the folk high school system in Scandinavia, he's had a long and lasting impact on the importance of education.

My son is named Soren after Kierkegaard. I was a Theology/Philosophy Major and there isn't a single theologian/philosopher that means as much to me.

I figure if I named my son after him he will have to read some of his writing and POSSIBLY gain some thoughts that lead to other thoughts that he will always hold dear.

> if I named my son after him he will have to read

Why am I reminded of Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"?

( https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnnycash/aboynamedsue.html )

Sören/Søren or Soren? They're not the same.

But they are... Unless you want to be pedantic.

They're not pronounced at all the same, no. Naming your child Soren after Sören makes about as much sense as naming a child Ålän after Alan. You do realize that the "o" and "ö" are different letters representing different sounds, right?

Edit: As a dane you should realize how stupid it sounds for you to argue that Soren and Sören are the same, both with swedish and danish pronunciation. It's not at all being pedantic. Do you also think that ч is a 4 and н is a h? The only thing that "ö" and "o" have in common is that they're vowels.

I mean, neither the letter ø nor the sounds /œ/ or /ø/ exist in English, so presuming the GP lives in an English speaking country they probably didn't want to curse their kid with a name that nobody could pronounce. So, as has been an American custom for a long time, they modified the name slightly by substituting out a visually similar character with vaguely similar phonological characteristics (the /ɔ/ in "Soren" is rounded, open-mid like /œ/). And as they say, it's the thought that counts!

Also it is common in English and most other countries to have different spellings for the same name. In English it is called Anglicisation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglicisation

Jesus was never called Jesus (probably). His name was Yehoshua (Joshua but Hebrew has no J) but when translated to Greek we get Jesus. In French Jacob is pronounced James due to some name meaning of James being having a limp. The New Testament Book called James in English is Jakob in Greek. These things happen for a thousand times.

Also I went to college in Minneapolis and Swedish is used as frequently as Spanish is in most Northeast cities. I met dozens of Sorens and none of them pronounced it differently.

The argument about anglicized names usually works because there are lots of shared names by way of shared religion. Иван can be anglicized as John because it's an important name in the foundation of both western and eastern european religion, not because someone just decided they seem similar.

> I met dozens of Sorens and none of them pronounced it differently.

And none of them were named the same as Søren Kierkegaard, being named Soren and all.

Being from MN, by the way, you would think actually naming your kid the same as the person you're naming them after wasn't such a big deal, considering there's lots of scandinavian heritage there.

I think the big takeaway here is that americans, for all their talk of heritage and mixed culture are still super resistant to actually embracing and getting things from other cultures right. In general I'd say native English speakers are extremely lazy when it comes to other languages.

This assumption that you can remove umlauts and diacritics from letters and everything will be fine is everywhere in US media and it's pretty ridiculous. Both umlauts and diacritics specifically mark a difference in pronunciation. That's their entire purpose.

> Being from MN ...

I went to college in Minneapolis. I'm from Connecticut.

> I think the big takeaway here is that americans, for all their talk of heritage and mixed culture are still super resistant to actually embracing and getting things from other cultures right.

When it is actually IMPOSSIBLE for me to spell my son's name with anything other then what is possible with the English Alphbet your just coming off as Pedantic - overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.

Ha, I am from Minneapolis and knew a few Sorens as well.

I would suggest listening to Hubert Dreyfus's lectures on Kierkegaard. You can find some on youtube[0].Tried to read Kierkegaard before and did't really understand anything. But these lectures give some good context.

[0] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKIWraaouu4

I took Dreyfus's Existentialism in Literature and Film class at Berkeley, and it is my favorite class to date. It had a profound effect on my life. It was sad to hear he did earlier this year[1].

The thoughts of Kierkegaard that made him great had nothing to do with religion, so those who are unable to read him due to his religiosity (see other comments) are missing out.

It may seem like hyperbole, but I agree with:

> He was an existentialist a century before Jean-Paul Sarte, more rigorously post-modern than postmodernism, and a theist whose attacks on religion bit far deeper than many of those of today’s new atheists. Kierkegaard is not so much a thinker for our time but a timeless thinker, whose work is pertinent for all ages yet destined to be fully attuned to none.

Ahead of his time? Absolutely. Think about all the men in the news and not in the news toady who use their power over women for sex, and then read this: http://www.readingtheology.com/the-king-and-the-maiden-by-sø...


[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14259009

and then read this

I read that and it seemed to end abruptly, so I looked for a full version elsewhere on the internet. No, that's the full version. Why did you link to it? It's like half a story a child would write.

As for men using power for sex, well yeah. That's why we're humans and not still lungfish.

Kierkegaard annoys the crap out out of me, as almost all philosophers do.

But I will say this for the guy: He had humour. A weird, understated, tangled one, but he had it.

Mind you, it is so tied up with his native language and culture, it ought not travel well. And judging by whatever translations I have seen, it hasn't. His worldwide fame is still a mystery to me.

And by the way, correct pronunciation is something like Kierkegore. Fittingly, it means churchyard.

I loved Kierkegaard for his prayers and parables. As for me being a Theological student in grad school his "Practice in Christianity" was read in one sitting at the library, I just picked it off the shelf to see. I ended up buying the same exact library edition on EBay for my birthday. He isn't an easy read but the journey is worth it to understand what he was trying to get across. I always try to get people to read his later works.

His earlier books can drive a person crazy on one hand and his thoughts will never leave you on the other. Fear and Trembling is written from as a non-believer, Johannes DE SILENTIO, trying to understand God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The conclusion after 160 pages? He still had no idea. That journey of thought through the book 20 years later still travels with me. I'm okay not understanding or having an opinion on everything. That unusual for Theologian students (Not professors). Faith doesn't always = understanding or a complete knowledge. Now is important and those around you are. (Also helps to think that way after my 15 year old sister passed away from brain cancer and my son at 12 from bone cancer)

Also the BIG one for me was the idea of the Demonic Despair where a person's identity was in the tragic absurdness of themselves when not whole. Once we understand that we alone are responsible for having an identity in our experiences and to something higher then us lead me to a conversation with my mom. My mom is now an Licensed Counselor and her final thesis was based on Soren's "Acts of Love."

Thanks for your comments. Does Kierkegaard by any chance suggest a way out of this “Demonic Despair”? A path to follow to find “an identity in our experiences and to something higher than us”?

It leads to the most famous of his ideas and the worst translation of his works. His "Leap of Faith" which really is the "Leap onto Faith." Deciding that what you currently have isn't what you can stand to be the rest of your life and to leap out away from despair and into faith when you don't have faith.

As a cancer dad who has lost a child I am in fairly large network of families that have also lost their child. There has been many times when the grief for friends have gotten so great that they ran into a life crisis. (Usually happens years after the death of their child)They think they are crazy and that they should have gotten to a place of acceptance (That doesn't really happen, at least in my case). There comes a place when you can't just accept your lot without just losing one's self. This leap onto faith seems to have happened with a few families and it really changed people's lives.

For a translation of his humor into English, see The Humor of Kierkegaard, ed. Thomas C. Oden. Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, like his description of the ridiculousness of state religion:

"Rather than taking part in official Christianity with the thousandth part of my little-finger nail, I would rather engage in the following display of seriousness. A flag is purchased at a hardware store, it is unfurled; with great reverence I approach it, lift up three fingers and swear fidelity to the flag. Thereupon, rigged out in a cocked hat, a cartridge-belt and sword (all from the hardware store), I mount a hobbyhorse, proposing in union with others to make an attack upon the enemy, with contempt for the mortal danger into which I am evidently casting myself, with the seriousness of one who knows what it signifies to have sworn fidelity to the flag."

Kierkegaard's "Attack upon 'Christendom'" [277-78]

Oh man, I couldn't even understand what he meant, let alone find the humour in it.

Yeah, translations need to take into account changes in writing style over the centuries in addition to changes in language.

Here's the joke in "modern English":

Instead of joining the state's church, I propose instead the following. I will buy a flag, a uniform, a gun, and one of those battery-powered toy jeeps that little kids drive around their yards. Then, with grave seriousness, I will declare my faith in God's protection, furl out my flag, and call for the members of the state's church to follow me into battle. I will then hop in my toy jeep and begin driving toward the battle field.

Maybe I'm slow, but I still don't get it. Is he saying that members of the state's church will follow him blindly (making them out to be dumb / sheeple)? Or is he saying that even such a ridiculous sight is less ridiculous than the church? Maybe he's satirizing the state's enthusiasm for war? I feel like I'm missing context here. Or maybe this is why people say his humor is weird...

It's funny to think of a grown man on a little toy jeep/horse all dressed up for war and taking seriously his trip to the front line and into the battlefield. That's the "funny" part of the joke. And it's not weird funny, it's just normal funny.

The deeper point being made isn't possible to ascertain from just this snippet; you'd have to put the joke back into its context and find the larger point being made in the text around the joke. (edit: but, see racer-v's explanation)

I see, thank you, so he's making fun of how silly swearing fidelity is and taking it seriously is.

Yes; there's a certain unwholesome smugness in a person who conflates civic duty (e.g. fighting for his country) with religious purpose, which Kierkegaard mocks here.

The comparison is to a ritual that feels very important and profound to those involved, but to an outside observer is clearly a childish imitation of the real thing (like a hobby-horse):



Ah, thanks, I thought a hobbyhorse was some kind of actual horse, so it looked to me like he was just serious.

why would a philosopher be annoying. confusing, certainly, but annoying?

Socrates was annoying enough to get himself poisoned.

Is it really right to call him a philosopher? I would more fairly consider him a "writer", in the vein of (though nothing like) a GK Chesterton -- capable of opining on philosophical topics but with none of the rigour or fairness expected of an actual philosopher.

Can I ask which philosophers don't annoy you?

Not the OP but to me a non-annoying philosopher would be someone like Russell, Quine or Dennett.

A good philosopher takes the time to define terms, explain the problem clearly, explain other possible views on the matter in a fair and accurate way, then explain their own view as clearly as possible, and then ideally pre-emptively discuss several possible objections or misunderstandings. A good philosopher understands that the subject matter at hand is already very difficult, and therefore the philosopher has an obligation to be clear.

Russell as philosopher may not be annoying but he's a smug prat when writing about contemporary politics and society.

But being precise limits you to those subject that afford precision. Philosophy shouldn't accept such a limitation, and entertain discussions even on subject where absolute precision cannot be achieved.

I am the OP, and you just about summed it up.

If I wish to ascertain the current status of the universe and the human ways of interacting with it, then any day, give me physics, math, brainscans, and controlled experimentation rather than longwinded twaddle from some dude believing his random personal ramplings to be somehow normative.

I prefer reinforcement learning to mind-body philosophy. I think RL has more clear and concise concepts that can be tested and has the potential to create intelligence, something philosophy can't do. I replace the word "consciousness" with "agent" and the word "emotion" with "value function", "sensing" with "neural network based representation" then suddenly so many mind-body debates become easier to grasp. "Reasoning" is just simulation of consequences in the mind, something called model-based RL, the babble of a baby looks like a LSTM learning to generate text, and the chaotic movements of a newborn look like pretraining RL agents for motion control.

Then I visit philosophy forums and people still insist on "qualia this" and "free will that". Qualia is just sensation + action value associated with it, it feels like something because it occupies our perception and value judgement, and determines actions. So many fake mysteries in philosophy, created by fluffy suitcase words like consciousness.

Yeah, but why would sensation and value function feel like anything? Why aren't we p-zombies one might ask? Because we are agents in the world and not being good agents means death, so we have to feel to exist. RL and sister domains like evolutionary algorithms explain consciousness by the opposite of it - death. For example, what is consciousness if not that thing necessary for you to eat, protect yourself and reproduce - in other words, to beat death?

P-zombies don't fear death. Even if one existed, it would not have the drive to protect itself and it would be damaged or destroyed soon enough. So it's like something that can only exist for a short time and not benefit from evolution or RL, similar to a traditional computer program. I wholeheartedly agree with a recent article that put the blame of stagnating philosophy of consciousness on the shoulders of Chalmers and the (philosophically) useless concepts he produced. The "hard problem" is just dualism in disguise. Call something "a hard problem" and it becomes a category of its own, apart from science, in the realm of metaphysics, an euphemism for dualism.

Replacing terms doesn't make the problem go away, nor does providing a possible evolutionary reason. You're advocating a behaviorist approach, which Chalmers and everyone else has been aware of for half a century or more.

And you misunderstand the p-zombie argument. It's functionally and behaviorally equivalent, because it's physically identical. Of course it would seek to avoid death as all life forms do.

The behaviorist approach is good enough to beat us at Go today. I'd say it's not the same as what philosophers rejected 50 years ago. On the other hand, the "hard problem" is just dualism in disguise. It's declaring something "hard", thus "special" and apart from the physical world that can be studied and understood.

> Why aren't we p-zombies one might ask? Because we are agents in the world and not being good agents means death, so we have to feel to exist.

> P-zombies don't fear death. Even if one existed, it would not have the drive to protect itself and it would be damaged or destroyed soon enough.

You missed the point, like many others who think they can 'explain away' consciousness in a 4-paragraph post on an internet forum.

What you described is a difference in external behavior (eating, death avoidance, reproduction, etc). That is not what the problem of consciousness is about, and it's a dead giveaway that you don't understand the issue you're pontificating on.

External and internal are united - if you fail externally, you're dead 'internally' too. You try to separate consciousness from the external world and study it under a microscope (metaphorically), and that's wrong. The agent is part of the world, it can never be anything outside, it can never be understood on its own. By labeling my argument as "behaviorism" and rejecting it because of it's "external" argument, then you ignore the very source of experiences that create consciousness. Then we hear people searching for the "neural correlates of consciousness" like it's a kind of brain secretion that just needs to be found - it's the external world that correlates with consciousness, when you're an AI agent or a brain. Every sensation, every reward and the body itself come from the world, the structure of experiences encountered in the external world creates the contents of consciousness, and yet we search for its explanation just in our brains.

There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

given memories, things, and time.

Reading Kierkegaard was one of the low points of my philosophy studies. K writes in such a rambling, self-indulgent, muddle-headed way. Every few hundred pages there might be a small gem, but for me it was not anywhere near worth digging through all the refuse for.

As far as proto-existentialists go, give me Leopardi over Kierkegaard any day.

> K writes in such a rambling, self-indulgent, muddle-headed way.

When he chose to, it was on purpose. He was wholly capable of writing clearly. Nesting levels of meta-text, intentionally adopting a different authorial voice as a metatextual gambit, etc. were all pretty new things when he was alive.

They're trite or annoying now, but it's still important to know that he wasn't just being a whiny prat. They're signs that maybe you should or should not take this or that particular penname totally seriously. ('johannes silentio' was super prolix, etc. )

I blame the professor's reading material.

Read Soren K. when he was writing with his own name. I taught the Philosophy class on Kierkegaard every semester, because our Philosophy Chair hated him so much. We ended up being good friends and he now actually enjoys S.K. now.

S.K. is the most influential and impacting philosopher of the 20th Century (Arguably but I'm pretty sure I'm right). You might not like what you know of him but he took over almost all the theological/philosophy thought by storm 50 years after his death. Heck there were no English translations till the 1940s. He went from a forgotten Danish philosopher to the founder of Existentialism. Hegel never even knew he was alive let alone read his rebuke to his system of philosophy, but S.K. surpassed all of his contemporaries.

I cannot but appreciate the reference to Leopardi. His poetics is lucid and implacably rational, while the aesthetics of the language is fascinating, both in prose and in the poems. Definitely one of my favourite authors.

"Don't be a little Soren" -- Old professor of mine.

Soren K. was beloved and his funeral was HUGE. BUT Soren got out trolled and he became the meme of his era.

SO I have no clue about Kierkegaard, in India very few people know about him. Having seen the discussion here, I am fascinated to learn more about him and his ideas. What will be a good place for me to start? Any books or articles that are recommended?

I still prefer Hegel, particularly his Philosophy of Right.

> Kierkegaard’s greatest illustration of this is his retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling (1843). Abraham is often held up as a paradigm of faith because he trusted God so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only son on his command. Kierkegaard makes us realize that Abraham acted on faith not because he obeyed a difficult order but because lifting the knife over his son defied all morality and reason. No reasonable man would have done what Abraham did. (...) So when Abraham took his leap of faith, he took leave of reason and morality.

I don't know if Kierkegaard actually said any of this, but it's wrong. Child sacrifice is as old as time. Many myths or actual rituals involved killing one's own children. It's found in most ancient cultures from the Middle East to the Americas.

It was therefore not "irrational" to do so, but, rather, quite reasonable and normal (if horrible), esp. in dire times.

The innovation found in some books of the Bible was just the opposite: to declare that child sacrifice is in fact bad and should be avoided.

And of course Jesus is that exact same myth of child sacrifice (with a twist: he dies but lives again).

> And of course Jesus is that exact same myth of child sacrifice (with a twist: he dies but lives again).

The twist is more complex than that: it is God sacrificing his own Son, which is also Him, in place of all sacrifices. God becomes the scapegoat.

Rene Girard talks about this idea in this interview:


>God sacrificing his own Son, which is also Him, in place of all sacrifices.

The twist is more complex than that.

God is sacrificing his own son, which is also him, to himself, in order to satisfy rules that he himself also put in place so that he doesn't have to send people he created and loves infinitely to be tortured forever in a place he created because they broke rules they couldn't understand with consequences they couldn't comprehend.

As someone in the tech field and an Orthodox Christian doing a masters in theology, I find it incredibly frustrating that there is absolute sheer ignorance about Christian theology.

Literally ALL basic tenets of Christianity are misunderstood and distorted. And while I acknowledge that part of the problem is the ignorance of some Christian leaders and ministers, it's definitely not the whole problem. Intellectual honesty demands of us that we properly understand a viewpoint before rejecting it.

>God is sacrificing his own son, which is also him, to himself, in order to satisfy rules that he himself also put in place so that he doesn't have to send people he created and loves infinitely to be tortured forever in a place he created because they broke rules they couldn't understand with consequences they couldn't comprehend.

You claim this is the Christian view of the atonement. Where do you get this? Is it scriptural? Patristic?

Don't speak on behalf of Christianity if you do not understand it. And let me tell you in case this isn't clear: You do not understand it.

How can someone reject Christianity when they haven't done the due diligence of looking at __primary sources__ for the Christian position?

Traditional Catholic here, former seminarian in a traditional seminary.

>How can someone reject Christianity when they haven't done the due diligence of looking at __primary sources__ for the Christian position?

Intellectual laziness. They just repeat what they see on reddit or sound-bytes they've heard from others who have no idea what they're talking about.

If they want to know what Christianity truly teaches have them read St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, St. Augustine, The Council of Nicaea, The Council of Jerusalem, The Council of Trent, Cornelius a Lapide commentary, Haydock Commentary, the Catena Aurea, the Latin and Greek fathers.

It is amazing how incredibly prideful and intellectually dishonest people are. If they took even 20-30 hrs of historical and theological study of what the Church always believed before the Protestant revolt, they would quickly realize that they know next to nothing about Christianity or History in general.

> Intellectual laziness.

It's more of a coping mechanism, is it not? I've read roughly half of the things you've listed, but definitely don't remember most of the nuances.

By default, people don't know (or care) about philosophy, and religion is a type of philosophy. It's a bit like bashing people for not taking the time to read Kant.

It's a bit like bashing people for not taking the time to read Kant.

I think that thebproblem is that people that haven’t taken the time to read Kant most of the time do not attempt to criticize or discuss his work.

Kant isn't directly used in ways which oppress or abuse people. His works are generally not used as the foundation of unpleasant systems. Children are not raised to think of Kant as infallible, nor are they punished for failing to follow his dictates.

People criticize religion without extensively reading the theology because religion is a lived experience in a way that Kant isn't.

The stakes are clearly higher here (or claimed to be, as you like it)....no one has condemned you to the lake of fire for not knowing Kant :-)

>Intellectual laziness. They just repeat what they see on reddit or sound-bytes they've heard from others who have no idea what they're talking about.

Wow that's incredibly judgemental from someone claiming to be a christian. I see you've learned the lessons from those books well and are applying them in your daily life.

He's actually being very Christian and completely scriptural. I will omit referencing, in order to fully illustrate the point he made.

Is he wrong?


That's the view of the atonement as presented in fundamentalist / evangelical circles. Reduced to snarky absurdity, but the theology is itself absurd.

Perhaps this is different than your own experience or reading, but it doesn't make this experience less valid. Considering this is the dominant form of Christianity in the US, I think it's safe to say the snarky statement above accurately describes Christianity as how a majority of us experienced it.

My childhood spent in a very restrictive environment, and watching how "Christians" behave, definitely gives me the right to speak on behalf of Christianity, and the right to reject it completely as the fraud it is. I understand it completely well.

All I have to do is observe what they do. From the near-abuses of my own experience, to how the Orthodox have been perfectly willing to embrace Putin and other cruel leaders, to how women and gay people are frequently treated. There's the cruelty dispensed by the faithful over the millennia. In your own response there's no shred of Christ's love or humility. You offer nothing but cold, empty judgements rushing to defend and insult.

All of this shows there is little to nothing of worth in the system, and wasting hours of my irreplaceable life reading men (and it's always men) debate how many angels can fit atop a pin, is not going to convince me otherwise.

Indeed as I said earlier part of the problem is the kind of theology that is taught especially in the US. I never said it was an invalid experience but only said that it cannot be a representation of Christianity - for one to get that they would need to look into works by Christian authors throughout the years.

I'm sorry to hear you were personally negatively affected by the Church. Btw Orthodox is a big umbrella, I'm not sure what you're referring to with Putin, I'm not Russian Orthodox.

I recognise that my comment may have been flippant. But you can't judge Christianity based on its misuse or the inadequacies of Christians. I am just sick and tired of hearing that my beliefs are irrational, or "out of date", and that I need to "get on with the times" and abandon myths and legends about God and Christ. This has been a consistent impression I get from others especially in the tech field. And upon talking to people who believe this I find that they really have done no research on their part and so end up with superficial understanding of everything. I only ask that people do their due diligence and read Christian texts to judge for themselves. I encourage you to completely abandon the current messy Christian debates (including my comment) and look into Christian texts of the first few centuries.

Indeed a lot of writers are men due to the cultural reasons of old times. But you can find sayings by women: https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Desert-Mothers-Sayings-Chri...

I would strongly disagree with you. Christianity can and should be measured by the behavior of its believers. The behavior is the one and only metric we have regarding the efficacy of the faith, since the supernatural claims are something we can neither prove nor disprove.

Christianity is supposed to remake people into something better. Paul had a concept of the "new man" in Christ. If Christians are no better than the secular population, and if the Christian leadership are just as prone (if not more so) to being corrupted by power and money as secular leadership, then it becomes obvious Christianity does not work. Or at least, does not work for the majority of its adherents. There are truly holy women and men out there, but, it's quite clear these are outliers and not representative.

In my personal experience, and in looking at history, it's quite clear Christians are the same, or worse, in most observable behavior as their secular counterparts. Though I'm shouldn't single out Christians. Any faith, which aspires to personal transformation, falls short. I was briefly involved in the American Zen Buddhist community, and then I discovered the faults and greed of the so-called zen masters. If "enlightenment" doesn't free someone from the desire for money, for temporal power, for sexually abusing members, then what good is it? Islam also falls short in many, many ways.

You can certainly believe in whatever you want. I'm sorry you feel harassed about it. But religion is as much a lived experience as it is a product of philosophers and theologians. For many of us, it was an unpleasant experience which no theologian can redeem. And for many others, they see religion used as a lever for power and an excuse for cruelty. When you feel criticized, keep those things in mind. The criticism is not directed at you personally, but is rather a reflection of the person, and their own experiences, making the criticisms.

Don't allow the inadequacies of others to get in your way towards Christ whom you yourself recognise love and humility in. We Christians always fall short of Christ.

New man in Christ indeed, but that's not a magical transformation that happened some time in the past, a time where I can say "I was saved". The transformation is a life-long journey. The new man vs old is a daily struggle, a life-long struggle...

This is not something that can be observed and tested, it is something that can be lived and tested.

>How can someone reject Christianity when they haven't done the due diligence of looking at __primary sources__ for the Christian position?

I find it incredibly unsurprising that a christian like yourself would assume you know everything about my understanding of religion based on a single snarky comment on an internet forum.

I also find it incredibly unsurprising that a christian like yourself assumes that your understanding of christianity is the one that's right, and most Christians agree with you.

>Don't speak on behalf of Christianity if you do not understand it. And let me tell you in case this isn't clear: You do not understand it.

Holy shit. Literally. There was no place in my statement that I claimed to be speaking on behalf of christianity. Go ahead and keep 'splaining away to that strawman you constructed.

Having read a small amount of theology[1], I speculate that the broad and sometimes conflicting Christian perspectives throughout history make it difficult for the layperson to really grasp "true" Christianity (if there is such a thing.) Even going from say, St. Augustine to Kierkegaard, there's noticeable shifts in thought. I think the burden of proof squarely lies in advocates of Christianity, not the other way around.

[1] It's also been many years since I last touched the subject.

> As someone in the tech field and an Orthodox Christian doing a masters in theology, I find it incredibly frustrating that there is absolute sheer ignorance about Christian theology.

Can you come up with an explanation that is succinct and correct? All the christian apologetics I read end up saying virtually the same thing, they just pretend they aren't by saying the same thing in a 10,000 word treatise.

It's like every time I read about how $deity isn't a violation of cause and effect, it always ends up being some long winded special pleading.

> You claim this is the Christian view of the atonement. Where do you get this? Is it scriptural? Patristic?

Could you break down each part of the fairly short sentence and explain how it's wrong? Preferably without the quantum jesus that both is and is not god.

I'll break it down first and explain why it's incorrect -- (sorry this came out longer than I expected) the atonement is a big topic let me know if you have questions or if something needs clarification. I can provide sources for everything that I'm saying as well if you wish.

"God is sacrificing"

This makes it sound like Christ was a passive agent in the events of the passion and resurrection, which he is not -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have the same will.

"God is sacrificing his own son, which is also him"

Note how this statement must be false because it's contradictory. How can X "sacrifice" Y, when X == Y? This comes from a misunderstanding of the phrase "Jesus is God" -- that phrase means that Jesus is 'homoousious' in Greek or 'has the same nature/essence' with God the Father. However some people understand it incorrectly as "Jesus is the same person as the Father".

The idiom for Jesus is not God (which is never mentioned in the NT or the nicene creed -- never it is said that "Jesus is God") but the idiom is 'Son of God'. This idiom is the one language that is used by the council of Nicaea to formulate the creed. And to explain what 'Son of God' means the creed goes on to say that Jesus is homoousious with the Father.

"to himself"

The popular and incorrect understanding of this is that God just wanted someone to be punished instead of humanity (note how that doesn't even make sense how humanity is reconciled to God if someone else took the punishment! And how is Jesus supposed to die instead of humanity when he later rose from the dead? the whole thing is absurd!) but this understanding of the atonement (called 'penal substitution') is part of 16th century reformation theology. In the firsth 10 centuries of Christianity we have ZERO authors who thought about the atonement that way (have a quick look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity for a general view of this). The reason all Christian apologists believe this and try to defend it is because they are protestant.

"in order to satisfy rules that he himself also put in place"

This just portrays God as one who needs to find a 'loophole' in the system which he himself has put in place. How can this be even intelligble? God can do whatever he wants and he could have forgiven humanity easily. It's just that what humanity needed was more than forgiveness: human beings needed to be made alive again after being subject to death because of sin. Again just to be clear: the death because of sin is not a punishment -- it's the natural course of events when a human being turns their back to the source of life -- God.

"so that he doesn't have to send people he created and loves infinitely to be tortured forever in a place he created"

The popular image of God throwing people in a pit of fire and torturing them for eternity is not a Christian image. It first made its way to Christianity long long ago (which is probably why it's still prevalent) with the apocalypse of Peter -- a document that was influenced by pagan ideas (I'll put a reference here because this is important: this is from Bruce Metzger's The canon of the NT)

Any Christian should completely understand, indeed expect, "that there is absolute sheer ignorance about Christian theology."

That's not "more complex". That's the high school kind of "religion is absurd" reaction, and is a naive literal reading that even the people of the bible era were above.

The key is that there are no "rules that he himself also put in place" etc. (as he doesn't exist and even if he did it wouldn't matter). The rules were formed by people (obviously) and codify societal practices and philosophies towards morality and right. The story of Christ, as such, codifies a different approach contrary to those older practices -- which is why it was the basis on a whole different mentality that shaped Europe and ended in things like the "human rights" and modern ethics.

(Or course this can be difficult to fathom in places were Old Testament beliefs are still championed, along with very crude literal meanings of religion, in the name of "Christianity". But this wasn't the case in later Rome and Europe, not even in the Inquisition era).

I was raised in one of those places where Old Testament beliefs are still championed and they believe in a literal bible. They absolutely believe as I described it, though they would not connect those beliefs together like I did.

There are millions of Christians like this in the US alone, let alone the rest of the world. I'm not sure what you're trying to push with your interpretation of christianity, but it's certainly not common, given that it assumes their god doesn't exist.

Biblical literalism and fundamentalism are a relatively new innovation developed in the past century and half. Taking a deeply complex work like the Bible and attempting to read it "literally" just spawns more approaches and complications; it doesn't mean that fundamentalists have discovered the one approach that's true to the text.

I was also raised in a fundamentalist / evangelical church. I'll back you up on this as your interpretation is completely correct. coldtea's interpretation would be completely alien in any of the churches of my youth. In the United States at least, it would be completely alien outside of academia.

The history of fundamentalism, an Anglo-American creation (not to mention the history of the existence of the U.S. itself) is but a fraction of the history of Christianity.

Indeed it is. However, it will be the dominant experience of Christianity for many of us. Hence the previous snarky statement, and how that statement is correct for those of us who endured that experience.

You are correct. This notion that Christians don’t “really” believe in God is the latest marketing gimmick of a desperate Church. It’s sad, really. All four of my grandparents would be deeply upset by it.

It’s hard to imagine who Augustine wrote his Confessions to or on whose behalf Galileo was killed, if all these people were just talking about metaphors.

Historically, people have been killed for way less than metaphors.

If you built a power structure on top of a religion, or if you think that preserving respect to certain ideas leads to a more harmonious society in general, you can very easily prosecute people that undermine them, whether you believe them as real or not.

>There are millions of Christians like this in the US alone, let alone the rest of the world. I'm not sure what you're trying to push with your interpretation of christianity, but it's certainly not common, given that it assumes their god doesn't exist.

What I'm getting at is that it doesn't have to assume their god doesn't exist, as this is a negligible detail (implementation detail) on the respective worldview and its results in everyday life, culture, etc (not in the coarse grained debates in the US 15th-21th centuries, but in the course of 2 millennia of European and global history).

>But this wasn't the case in later Rome and Europe, not even in the Inquisition era

I'm skeptical that throughout the history of Christianity, everyone took the "parable" interpretation of the bible (rather than taking most or all of it seriously). Are you claiming that the... inquisitors (?) weren't killing based on a literal lack of belief in god, but rather were killing because people weren't morally up to snuff? I'd love to be educated here, theology and the history thereof are well out of my wheel house.

Personally, it seems reasonable that "Jesus" was a Joseph Smith type of con man who managed to spin yarns and somehow create a following.

There is no such thing as "the parable interpretation" of the bible and "the literal interpretation" of the bible.

Here is a passage from a truly fascinating Christian author from the 2nd century. He starts by saying "we shall be told that these are fictions, no better than fables, like the rest of the strange stories about Jesus." (funny how arguments against Christianity haven't changed for 2000 years)

Origen's reply is this:

Our answer is that to reconstruct almost any historical scene, even if true, so as to give a vivid impression of what actually occurred, is exceedingly difficult, and sometimes impossible. Suppose some one to assert that there never was a Trojan war, mainly on the ground that the impossible story of a certain Achilles being the son of a sea goddess Thetis and a man Peleus is mixed up with it; or that Sarpedon was the son of Zeus, or Ascalaphus and Ialmenus sons of Ares; or that Aeneas was Aphrodite's son: how could we dispose of such an objection? Should we not be very hard pressed to explain the strange blending of a fiction with the universal |74 belief that there was war between Greeks and Trojans at Troy? Or let us suppose some one to doubt the story of Oedipus and Jocaste, and of their sons Eteocles and Polynices, because that a sort of half-woman, the Sphinx, is mixed up with the story; how should we clear up the difficulty? Well, the prudent reader of the narratives, who wishes to guard against deception, will use his own judgment as to what he will allow to be historical, and what he will regard as figurative; he will try to discover what the writers meant by inventing such stories; and to some things he will refuse his assent on the ground that they were recorded to gratify certain persons. And this we have premised, having in view the history of Jesus as a whole contained in the Gospels; for we do not invite intelligent readers to a bare unreasoning faith, but we wish to show that future readers will have to exercise prudence, and make careful inquiry, and, so to speak, penetrate the very heart of the writers, if the exact purport of every passage is to be discovered. -- Philokalia of Origen CHAP. XV. 15

Interesting, sounds a lot different than how literalists understand the bible.

>Are you claiming that the... inquisitors (?) weren't killing based on a literal lack of belief in god, but rather were killing because people weren't morally up to snuff?

The inquisition were killing for many reasons (and not as much killing as its mythologized), but most of them were political. See for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_revision_of_the_Inq...

No, this isn’t a Jordan Peterson video. Christians really believe that there really is a God.

No, this isn't some provincial US fundamentalist town.

Christian refers to billions of people through 2 millennia, and their approach to religion and belief is far more nuanced than what stupid fundamentalists (which is a newish invention) have.

When was the last time you went to church?

As the other poster stated, this is a snarky dig at Christian doctrine by someone who has never actually examined Christian teaching within the philosophy of religion. I would strongly recommend reading e.g. Richard Swinburne's Responsibility and Atonement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) for a reasonable depiction of Christian belief in this area. There are atheist critiques of the doctrine of the Atonement, of course (and disagreements between Western and Eastern Christianity concerning it), but one has to actually confront the claims in their fullness instead of posting that disingenuous, one-paragraph copy/paste snark.

>As the other poster stated, this is a snarky dig at Christian doctrine by someone who has never actually examined Christian teaching within the philosophy of religion.

That's a pretty bold claim from someone who only knows me from a few comments on a website. Just because I can snark about this, doesn't mean I'm unaware of the things you mention. Though since you called be disingenuous, you must have expected that as well.

But on the other hand, my time studying christianity ended a decade ago, and I have no unmet spiritual needs, so I doubt I will be taking another look at them at this time.

If you were familiar with actual literature in philosophy of religion, then why didn’t you cite that instead of a copy/pasta? I think it is quite reasonable to doubt the knowledge of the literature of someone who can’t even cite something.

> I have no unmet spiritual needs

A lot of work in philosophy of religion concerning a particular religion, is done by people who find its particular claims interesting (whether they can be defended or attacked) but who are not in the game for "spiritual" reasons. It’s like saying that linguists would only study languages because they have the need to communicate with its speakers; no, most of them just enjoy studying the language as an abstract.

Well it wasn't copy/pasta, nor was I trying to make some theological point. But given the latter part of your comment, you're very keen on reading many things into what I type here that I've not said. So I'll just let you continue to have both sides of the conversation.

Why should "Christian teaching within the philosophy of religion" be a better measure than "Christian teaching as taught to Christians by churches"? This seems like one of those finger/moon things.

The "snarky dig" is an accurate description of what American fundamentalists / evangelicals believe. If you want to complain about that particular bit of theology, you're complaining to the wrong person.

I highly recommend watching Jordan Peterson's lecture series on the bible stories.

You are doing yourself a huge disservice by thinking about religion in this way.

> You are doing yourself a huge disservice by thinking about religion


Thanks, but I'll pass on that. It's not a topic I find interesting any more. I was just trying to point out that you can continue throwing in more details and complexity, albeit it in a snarky manner.

A single comment on hacker news encompass my thinking about religion. You are doing yourself a huge disservice by making such assumptions about other people.

That's fair, these are all very small bits of information we are exchanging of course, but I would still encourage you to watch the Peterson lectures, at least the first one, to see how an intelligent and very well read non-religious person confronts these stories.

I am saying this from a genuine position of good will. I will try to be better about not making assumptions about people.

We can complain about the problem or be grateful for the Solution. The outcomes remain and the choice is ours.

Or you can say "that's absurd" and move on with your life.

As for Kierkegaard, he did all three.

Best comment in whole thread - thanks

A better twist would be if god ate his kids

This is the basis of perhaps one of the most disturbing paintings of Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son:


It is also worth recalling that many Christians, myself included, believe that in the Eucharist we are devouring The Son.

It is a strange world we live in.

edit: I copied my previous comment to be in reply to jmcqk6 where it makes more sense -- sorry I actually signed up for an account here just to say it so this is my first post and I wasn't sure how to "mention" someone?

I am a Christian and was describing the sacrifice of Christ on The Cross in terms of the earlier conception of child sacrifice, tying in Girard's insights.

I very much admire Orthodoxy. I haven't read any formal orthodox theology, but Dostoevsky is perhaps my favorite author.

I wish you well with your studies and I hope some day to perhaps read your work.

ah I lost the context of the thread... I edited my comment and "moved" it to where it makes more sense (it's a reply to someone who replied to your original comment) sorry to have sounded rude -- this whole thing is just incredibly frustrating for me.

No problem, I understand.

Best of luck with your studies.

Thank you! All the best!

>And of course Jesus is that exact same myth of child sacrifice (with a twist: he dies but lives again)

The twist is in fact a different one -- "sacrifices, dies but lives again" is older.

The key is that the victim, normally a scapegoat the city is happy to get rid of, is this time celebrated as to be in the right. This is a turning point in putting the victim as noble (as opposed the punishers as noble), on which most of modern morality is based on (Old Testament-following puritans aside).

> The key is that the victim is this time celebrated as to be in the right

Yes, you're absolutely right -- except maybe for the part of "most modern morality"... the Latin dictum "vae victis" was embraced throughout modern times.

That said, having the victim come back from the dead is kind of cheating.

>the Latin dictum "vae victis" was embraced throughout modern times.

Indeed, but that was and will always going to be (including in modern times).

What Christianity did was shape a morality where this was increasingly considered bad (as opposed to "just the way of the world"), not shape a world where this was eliminated.

This has a large effect on many practices and beliefs.

Abrams experience foreshadowed Christ he continued to be led by God, even to the offering of his only (God given) son, still faithful to Gods promise to him.

The 'twist' is that to establish the new covenant, God provided the sacrifice and that Christ wasn't a victim, but had the power -> No man takes my life, but I lay it down...etc etc

Fear and Trembling was written under the name of Johannes DE SILENTIO. S.K. was writing under the view point of a non-believer trying to figure out God requesting Abraham to sacrifice his son. S.K. was a Christian and a Theologian and was trying to voice the opposition.

Like in mostly everything, the Bible is ambiguous about child sacrifice. A lesser known character, Jephthah, committed child sacrifice after wining a battle with the help of god, and in that case there was no scapegoat as in Isaac's tale.

The account of Jephthah is vastly different than of Abraham; though neither indicate any ambiguity on God's stance regarding child sacrifice.

Judges 11 1) The Spirit of the Lord had already come upon Jephthah before he made his vow; showing that God was already intending to give him victory. (v29) 2) Jephthah rashly made a vow to God of his own accord, which was never affirmed by God nor required by God. (v30-31)

Even on a surface level reading of the passage, it would be difficult to defend that it was ever God's desire that Jephthah sacrifice his daughter. And, if he knew the character of God as proclaimed by God himself in Exodus 34:6-7, he could have repented and received grace and he still would have had his daughter.

> he could have repented and received grace and he still would have had his daughter.

This is just modern people creating a new interpretation of old writings. Apparently Abraham also didn't know about the "grace", since he was decided to kill his son and didn't even tried to ask God otherwise. God also was not worried at all, since he didn't care to enlighten Jephthah about his "grace" (even for the sake of the child).

and meanwhile, anything related to Moloch, It-Who-Feeds-On-Children, is 10000% bad and should be destroyed on sight.

Jepthah made a vow to sacrifice whoever walked out of his front door first when he returned home; the fact that it's his daughter is portrayed as a horrible twist (I guess he was hoping to sacrifice a servant or something? How did this guy not see it coming? Though I just read another interpretation, that he expected it to be one of his animals) and the approval or disapproval of God is not recorded, nor is whether he

The point of the story seems to be that you shouldn't go round making stupid oaths, not that you should sacrifice your children.

> approval or disapproval of God is not recorded

That's the whole point, certainly this was viewed as tragic but normal. In other words, child sacrifice was not recommended but certainly was within realm of possibility for ancient jewish religion (and of course for all other religions around that area).

Søren has always kind of put me off to philosophy and existentialism. Creating foundations within religion as matter of fact then using it as a principal to state everything is meaningless... my mind couldn't make the connection.

You might be interested in André Comte-Sponville who takes pretty much the opposite direction on the same journey. What remains of Kierkegaard and Spinoza when you remove Christianity as a foundation of ethics.

Exactly. It's noncommittal, inconsistent and still at the mercy and vulnerability of magical thinking. The positive part was watering-down ideas enough to be palatable to those whom were predominantly religious. Reality is too much for most people to accept, so they lie to themselves and each other.

> still at the mercy and vulnerability of magical thinking

What magical thinking are you referring to?

religion = magical thinking

Well that's a silly thing to say. For the record, Kierkegaard doesn't claim to know or try to prove that god exist. Doubting is a crucial part of believing, and literally requires a "leap of faith" according to Kierkegaard. That's one of the major things that separates religious belief from for instance scientific knowledge. Also:

"Christian dogma, according to Kierkegaard, embodies paradoxes which are offensive to reason. The central paradox is the assertion that the eternal, infinite, transcendent God simultaneously became incarnated as a temporal, finite, human being (Jesus). There are two possible attitudes we can adopt to this assertion, viz. we can have faith, or we can take offense. What we cannot do, according to Kierkegaard, is believe by virtue of reason. If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. In fact we must believe by virtue of the absurd." https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/

Sure, but he goes on about religion a lot. And it's always been obvious to me that faith is foolish. I was reading Popper, Kuhn, Nietzsche, Camus, Kafka, Hesse and so on. And I had no patience for Kierkegaard's obsession with fantasy. I mean, I enjoy fantasy. But I know that it's fantasy.

Or, religion is, at least, a form of seeing meaning in things, which is the same category of activity as magical thinking.

It's seeing agency in things, and reality overall, I think.

You mean this idea? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_detection

There's another aspect to proto-religion which has to do with power rather than agency. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mana#Pre-animism

All this is speculative, AFAIK.

Fear and Trembling reads like the fan of an aging rock band trying to convince a bored listener that the comeback album really is as good as the old material if they just listen to it enough times.

I cannot imagine being impressed by the contorted peregrinations of its attempt at gaslighting.

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