In One’s Nothingness Before God Every Instant Is A Revolution Made Legitimate

TokyoMoving Away From Ego Subjectivity Spirals Into Nothingness

Jan. ’78 Book Report Continued

It is false to think that we—mind, soul, and/or consciousness (take your pick) — are here to lord it over the rest of creation. From inside our “citadel of selfhood,” we are wrong to look out at everything else, whether human or nonhuman, as other. We are wrong to think of God as the prime mover, the “watch maker,” or the king of the universe. Until I read Nishitani’s book, I didn’t know that we in the West were so shallow, so practical, so business like, and so wrong.

Nishitani, obviously critical of the Western tradition, was still drawn to the study of this tradition, or at least to the study of the existential response to the meaninglessness at the root of man’s being. That response originated in the Germanic-European tradition, not the Anglo-American tradition. The existentialism of Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard grew out of the ruins of Greek-Christian thought and belief structures. For the most part, the American culture of commonsense realism– practical, simplistic, Utilitarianism, the political philosophy of John Locke, and the God-centered idealism of Bishop Berkeley—was diametrically opposed to the Taoist-Buddhist principle of harmony espoused by Asian culture.

The European Existentialists, from their rational-religious despair, spoke to Nishitani. From a no-God, no-meaning world, wherein all human values came to naught in death, surged, from the pens of those self-conscious thinkers, new meanings–meanings that were not totally opposed to Buddhist-oriented culture. Ultimately, for Nishitani, it was sunyata that filled the gap separating man’s being from his religious awareness. This organic awareness, common to Asian religions, would be necessary if the experience of “oneness” were to be made manifest in the West. Existentialism was deficient here, but at least it was a major step in the right direction.

A “movement away from ego” was held in common by both Nishitani and the Existentialists. Whatever else mysticism was about, it certainly was about integrating the self–the ego—with something more meaningful and larger than “I,” “me,” or “mine.” The more one’s gaze was directed inward, the more one found himself/herself farther a field, more connected, and ironically, less substantial. Connectivity and the concept of nothingness were mysteriously tied to one another in the mystical tradition.

Kierkegaard and Heidegger both demonstrated a major backing away from ego in their respective philosophies, but automatically, any comparison between Heidegger and Kierkegaard dead-ends with the appearance of God. The all knowing, infinite, and “means to salvation” God of Kierkegaard was never encountered by Heidegger. Even so, both men traversed a lot of the same territory. Although Heidegger would never have called Being-in-the-world, God, Being-in-the-world did have a spiritual side to it, albeit a pantheistic one. More importantly, for Heidegger (as well as Kierkegaard), cutting through the dross of life required a sensitivity to nothingness that was inversely proportional to one’s self-concept; in other words, one’s deepest subjectivity spiraled away from ego into a nothingness where, at bottom, Kierkegaard found what he called “nothingness before God,” and Heidegger found what he called “Being-in-the world.”

For both men becoming aware of the veiled human condition was the problem. Finding a solution to the problem required, for Kierkegaard, working through a kind of dialectic of despair, and then committing to a relationship with the eternal. For Heidegger, becoming aware of death’s significance, and then becoming authentic was the sought after goal. Progress, for both men, meant finding day-to-day existence unacceptable. Developing a relationship with the Absolute, for Kierkegaard, and being called back to the facticity of the totality of the relational involvement of Dasein, for Heidegger, required that one be dissatisfied with day to day living until a more meaningful relationship with ‘being” could be found.

For Kierkegaard, no amount of objective information could satisfy his thirst. The solution to the problem of understanding oneself in existence, if a solution could be found at all, had to come from the inner reaches of ones own subjectivity. “I contemplate the order of nature in hope of finding God, and I see omnipotence and wisdom,” he said, “but I also see much else that disturbs my mind and excites anxiety.” What he saw was that the entire world’s wisdom did not substitute for the inward passion used to embrace it. In fact, nothing objective could be said about that kind of truth. The existing thinker’s problem was a subjective problem. Everything else, according to Kierkegaard, was just so much “objective uncertainty.”

Kierkegaard’s Religious Stage And Heidegger’s Call To Conscience

The religious stage of life opened when the individual recognized the insurmountable nature of the demands of ethical life. Precisely by going inward, according to Kierkegaard, the individual moved forward on the road to the absolute, forward en route to the abyss that enjoined the absolute. Of those who have encountered the abyss, many have become causalities. They returned to a life of sensuality and immediacy, but not for enjoyment, for forgetfulness. Marching in lockstep with their desire to “forget what cannot be forgotten” the causalities, from that point on, would suffer an endless retreat. For those who did not find retreat an option, however, there was still hope. They found it in what Kierkegaard called “religiosity B.”

If a relationship with the absolute is to be sustained, an intense personal relationship (subjectivity is truth) with God becomes necessary. But, according to Kierkegaard, a person lacks the strength to sustain a relationship with the absolute, thus another inexhaustible struggle ensues: the harder one struggles to attain that relationship, the more distance that opens between God and the struggling person. It is here that the individual becomes ripe for Christian conversion because, for Kierkegaard, it is here that God gets called upon for help.

The finite and the infinite come together in Jesus Christ. The fact that through Jesus God became man and man became God was and is the Christian paradox. Only with the affirmation of this paradox does it become possible to sustain a relationship with the absolute. In the “leap of faith” the individual is brought into an absolute relationship with God. With that leap one’s whole existence is forever changed. The religious person shows no outward signs, but inside his or her passion grows exponentially.

Being a Christian, for Kierkegaard, was not easy. It was sustained by the “passionate will to believe.” And, for Kierkegaard, it was precisely in doing something before God that one did nothing before God. “In nothingness before God,” Kierkegaard said, “every instant is a revolution made legitimate.” The task of religiosity was to make the individual become wholly nothing, and exist thus before God. Standing at the edge of this unbridgeable chasm, with one’s spiritual existence at stake, the religious person, in defiance of all reason, took the leap— into Christ, and into salvation. Kierkegaard said, “To become is a movement from the spot, but to become oneself is a movement at the spot.” A leap into the nothingness that binds man to God is also a leap into that place where the opposites of infinity/finitude, temporal/eternal, and freedom/necessity dissolve.

That despair, which Kierkegaard turned into faith in the Lord, played a significant role in the thought of Martin Heidegger. A comparative concept to Kierkegaard’s “despair over the despair of willing to be oneself,” was also found in Heidegger’s “conscience calling us back to our own most potentiality for being.” For Heidegger, it was the angst-ridden call of conscience that called a person back to a freer, richer existence, an existence not without its share of struggle. Even though Heidegger didn’t call his journey a journey out of despair, “getting faith” and “getting authentic” shared much in common, so much so that when Heidegger said, “In the field of ontology any springing from is degeneration,” I believe he was talking about Kierkegaard’s “movement at the spot.”

In the ethical world, universals were extremely important (what was good for everybody else was also good for me, but not necessarily the other way around). For Heidegger, another universal, an existential universal, was extremely important–the universal of death. Everybody died and because death was a certainty, Heidegger considered it a part of the structural whole of Dasein. When Dasein fully anticipated its Being-towards-death, the darkness hitherto cloaking Dasein’s ownmost potential Being, lifted, and Dasein became free for authenticity. Dasein’s death-not-yet was a real part of Dasein’s Being-a-whole, but, to state the obvious, Dasein was also alive. (The similarity between the human being’s contradictory aspects for both Heidegger and Kierkegaard could not be denied.)

Dasein opened to authenticity only after Dasein’s anticipation of death and the nullity that Dasein was in its thrownness merged. Thrown Dasein had a past, present, and future, but in the “moment of vision,” time stopped. In that moment, Dasein was brought back before its concern in the rapture that preceded all possibilities, in the rapture that only Being-in-the-world could produce. In the they-self, Dasein spent all its time identifying with itself. In authenticity, Dasein was brought back before (it’s own) time in Being-in-the-world. Put in slightly different terms, in Heidegger, as in Kierkegaard, in order to get it all, one had to first give it all up.


2 Responses to “In One’s Nothingness Before God Every Instant Is A Revolution Made Legitimate”

  1. sue s Says:

    Well–I read it–over and over again—and still do not understand–wish that I had the kind of mind to grasp such concepts–but do not.
    But your comments on the blogs which I write? To recieve those means the effort and the late-night blues are all worth while–we will meet in the deep green ocean one day—-

  2. dave Says:

    Yes, in the wine dark sea we will meet sometime in the future. I suspect that my 360 friends are a lot like me–meaning that comments come from the heart or not at all–as it should be. That said, what I am posting now and for sometime in the future (save a couple of posts) will not (I am assuming) illicit a comments. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, the next time I have the lights low, a wine class in my hand, listening to Miles Davis’s “Kind Of Blue” I’ll be thinking of you.
    Take care,

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