Category: Existentialism

T’was the day after Thanksgiving

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m enjoying my 2-day reprieve from avoiding sugar, starches, caffeine, alcohol, and animal products (except occasionally fish). Not enough to give up tomorrow, though. Not that all decisions should be about enjoyment. Except that delaying gratification still has the goal of eternal bliss, so aesthetics are the ultimate. I haven’t yet checked to see if Kierkegaard thinks that ethics are the means to that end yet.

Artificial whipped cream and low carb fruit like strawberries can be preferable to strawberry cheesecake ice cream once you’re used to it.

We’re almost to the end of Revolution. After Philidelphia was nuked, the show has gotten pretty chaotic, but there’s enough character development and witty dialogue to keep me engaged. There was an interesting exchange between sociopath Monroe and hyper-aware Rachel regarding her moralism. He believes her to be stifled by her ethical analyses. She apparently did not have this block when she developed the science behind the event that ended up shutting off all the electricity. Sort of like Einstein not meaning to create the A-bomb. Perhaps analysis is the reflection that Kierkegaard speaks of. Hindsight is said to be 20/20.

On the other hand, how much can we trust our analyses? To completely act on one’s finite sense of morality does seem deluded. Faith does not necessarily entail complete understanding. And one cannot say one is “right” without knowing all the ramifications for each decision. Another option is blind obedience, but can one completely trust one’s authorities to give that? Another phrase is, walk in the light you have. But I think we should realize we have limited light. If one can committedly ask that it be gradually increased, and try to be willing to accept the sacrifices that will inevitably come, I think that request will be honored. But we have a tendency to rationalize not accepting all of those sacrifices.

before the rocks cry out

by Andrea Elizabeth

Another take on Don Giovanni now that I’ve finished that section of Either/Or by Søren Kierkegaard: Don Giovanni is a performer who is indiscriminate in choosing his audience. Mozart himself had prodigious talent and spent his life selling himself, but had to rely on patrons for a living. Don Giovanni is already wealthy, but lives on his art just the same. What else does one do whose uncommon talent is so entwined with his identity, and who is so dependent on a response? Robin Williams perhaps feared losing that response. It’s easy to sermonize how someone shouldn’t depend on others’, even strangers’ responses, but how uncommonly talented are these judgers/diagnosticians? Kierkegaard gives Don Giovanni praise for his liveliness. Perhaps that is better than a sermon.

Natural Law in St. Dionysius?

by Andrea Elizabeth

From Celestial Hierarchies, Chapter XIII:

The reason why the prophet Isaiah is said to have been purified by the Seraphim.

Moreover, It is revealed to all Intellectual Natures in due proportion, and bestows the radiance of Its Light upon the most exalted beings through whom, as leaders, It is imparted to the lower choirs in order according to their power of divine contemplation; or to speak in more simple terms, by way of illustration (for although natural things do not truly resemble God,who transcends all, yet they are more easily seen by us), the light of the sun passes readily through the first matter, for this is more transparent, and by means of this it displays more brightly its own brilliance; but when it falls upon some denser material it is shed forth again less brightly because the material which is illuminated is not adapted for the transmission of light, and after this it is little by little diminished until it hardly passes through at all. Similarly, the heat of fire imparts itself more readily to that which is more adapted to receive it, being yielding and conductive to its likeness; but upon substances of opposite nature which are resistant to it, either no effect at all or only a slight trace of the action of the fire appears; and what is more, when fire is applied to materials of opposite nature through the use of other substances receptive to it the fire first heats the material which is easily made hot, and through it, heats proportionately the water or other substance which does not so easily become hot.
Thus, according to the same law of the material order, the Fount of all order, visible and invisible, supernaturally shows forth the glory of Its own radiance in all-blessed outpourings of first manifestation to the highest beings, and through them those below them participate in the Divine Ray. For since these have the highest knowledge of God, and desire pre-eminently the Divine Goodness, they are thought worthy to become first workers, as far as can be attained, of the imitation of the Divine Power and Energy, and beneficently uplift those below them, as far as is in their power, to the same imitation by shedding abundantly upon them the splendour which has come upon themselves; while these, in turn, impart their light to lower choirs. And thus, throughout the whole Hierarchy, the higher impart that which they receive to the lower, and through the Divine Providence all are granted participation in the Divine Light in the measure of their receptivity.

It strikes me how much the Fathers use reason in their discourse. Modern Orthodox de-emphasize reason citing it as the culprit in modern humanism and the enlightenment, and how the Catholics got off course post-schism. Apophatic theology is said to be the surer route since God is above knowing, and we can only know through revelation. I’m considering that it’s both. St. Dionysius in the above relies on revelation as revealed in the Bible. What the Bible says about Isaiah’s testimony in the above chapter is a given. What conclusions can be drawn out of this given? We trust that the Orthodox Fathers were able to come to proper conclusions. To say that modern man doesn’t is full of implications.

Contra humanism, are we devolving? Was the immediate post Christian era the culmination of human evolution? The Greeks mastered philosophy, and the first millennium Christians used their method in their milieu to come to Christian conclusions? One can say that the west started to veer off with Augustine (and maybe Tertullian), but at the same time, perhaps even their veering is more impressive than modern cogitations?

Yet, in the next millenium, western evolution became dominant. Impressive things in the east that occurred since then can be said to be influenced, if not tainted, by the west. The eastern Church has spent most of its energy since then trying to maintain Orthodoxy despite the western influence, with the challenge of applying it in an eastern way, fighting context. It’s just the way it is. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen, nor that it had no effect.

Whether the west’s veering caused the worldwide devolution, or whether people lost the ability to purely, which is required to find Truth, apply themselves for some other degenerative reason, we still have to ground ourselves in the ancient Church. We can’t reinvent it according to our modern reason, but somehow some are still able to recognize it in them.

If you doubt that the west has lost the ability to discern truth because of respect for some modern great thinkers, then I will paradoxically say that moderns like Lewis, Derrida, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and Dickens are right in admitting the modern condition of ignorance in understanding the things of God. They are more pessimistic than Dionysius and Nyssa about men’s abilities.

Speaking of understanding

by Andrea Elizabeth

from today’s Prolog of Ohrid:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; on your own understanding rely not” [Proverbs 3:5).

If all the mountains would move toward you, would you be able to push them back with your hands? You could not. If darkness after darkness of all the mysteries in the heavens and on the earth rushed to the small taper of your understanding would you, with your understanding, be able to illuminate the darkness? Even less! Do not rely on your understanding for, from the perishable matter which you call intellect, a greater portion of it is nothing more than dead ashes. O man, do not rely on your understanding for it is a road over which a mob rushes a hungry, thirsty, motley and curious mob of sensual impressions.

O man, trust in the Lord with all your heart. In Him is understanding without end and all-discerning. The Lord says: “I am understanding; mine is strength” (Proverbs 8:14). He looks on the paths on which your blood flows and all the crossroads on which your thoughts wander. With compassion and love He offers Himself to you as a leader and you rely on your darkened and perishable understanding. Where was your understanding before your birth? Where was your understanding when your body was taking form, when your heart began to beat and flow with blood, when your eyes began to open and when your voice began to flow from your throat? Whose understanding was all this while your mind was still sleeping as charcoal in a coal mine? Even when your understanding awoke, can you enumerate all the illusions which it has delivered to you, all the lies in which it has entangled you, all the dangers which it did not foresee? O my brother, trust only in the Lord with all your heart! Until now, He has rescued you numerous times from your own understanding, from illusions and its lies and from danger in which it has pushed you. A blind man is compared to the man who can see, so is your understanding compared to the understanding of God. O blind one, trust in the Leader. O brother, trust only in the Lord with all your heart.

O Lord, All-seeing, Eternal and Infallible Understanding, deeper than the universe and more radiant than the sun, deliver us, even now from the errors of our understanding.

Fr. Loudovikos in A Eucharistic Ontology also criticizes philosophy’s reliance on thinking. “Thus Heidegger in his testament entitled, ‘The end of philosophy and the task of thought’, talks directly about the end of philosophy, understood as the end of metaphysics or ontology in our times (these having anyway been swallowed up by the sciences), and locates the only future for thought in the free mythopoetic quest for truth through thinking; and he does not seem bothered by the fact that the linkage of thinking and truth is a survival of the same essential identification of thinking with being” (page 5). This reliance on thinking is very egocentric and subjective even though it opens itself to the unknowability of the other and ultimately one’s own annihilation, the end result of complete kenosis. Thus also destroying reciprocity in love, dialogue and gift giving which are the essential components of the Liturgy.

Death and Dying

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Everything essentially Christian must have in its presentation a resemblance to the way a physician speaks at the sickbed.” (preface to The Sickness Unto Death by Sören Kierkegaard).

This and the first chapter about physical death and eternal despair can seem morbid, but they call to mind St. John of the Ladder, which many people read during Lent, and St. Silouan’s statements:

2. The remembrance of death is a daily death; and the remembrance of our departure is an hourly sighing or groaning.

4. As of all foods, bread is the most essential, so the thought of death is the most necessary of all works. the remembrance of death amongst those in the midst of society gives birth to distress and meditation, and even more, to despondency. But amongst those who are free from noise, it produces the putting aside of cares and constant prayer and guarding of the mind. But these same virtues both produce the remembrance of death, and are also produced by it.

10. Never, when mourning for your sins, accept that cur which suggests to you that God is tenderhearted (this thought is useful only when you see yourself being dragged down to deep despair). For the aim of the enemy is to thrust from you your mourning and fearless fear.

11. Anyone who wishes to retain within him continually the remembrance of death and God’s judgment, and at the same time yields to material cares and distractions, is like a man who is swimming and wants to clap his hands.

20. Let us rest assured that the remembrance of death, like all other blessings, is a gift of God; since how is it that often, when we are at the very tombs, we are left tearless and hard; and frequently when we have no such sight, we are full of compunction? This is the sixth step. He who has mounted it will never sin again. Remember thy last, and thou shalt never sin unto eternity. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Mass., 1979, pp. 66-70.)

and from the latter,

“Keep your mind in Hell and despair not.” (quotes from this article)

It can seem that dwelling on death is faithless and unChristian in light of the Resurrection. Kierkegaard contextualizes the resurrection as the thing that can bring despair since one cannot ever escape onesself, even by death. This is a person’s ruination. So if death is destroyed, why would St. John tell us to constantly remember it? I believe he’s warning us that eternal bliss is not assured. We should be afraid. If this is true, happy, clappy, once saved, always saved Christianity is a lie. So, if we are sick and on the brink of ruination, how should that affect the way we speak to each other, borrowing from Kierkegaard’s quote above.

There is a transition from a therapeutic focus towards sick people, to a palliative focus towards dying people. The first is full of faith in earthly measures to preserve life. It is faith in the system. It denies death. But a sickness unto death is fatal. It is treated as inevitable. Perhaps we should treat our sins as leading to this sickness unto death, or eternal ruination from which we cannot escape. We should quit wasting our time treating the body, and prepare the spirit instead. Get ready to meet your Maker, as it were.

Skirt Shopping

by Andrea Elizabeth

Levi definitely does not understand what I have in mind.


I have an 8 year old who might could get by with that.


This from LL Bean is better, but it’s linen and high maintenance. The others are too short or too fitted.


This from TravelSmith is a little frumpy, but it looks comfortable and is loose and long. I’ve gotten stuff from them before. They’re a bit pricey, but the quality’s pretty good. I just wish it were brighter blue; the brown one’s just as dull.

redskirtNow this Travel Smith is quite cute, but of course it’s on clearance and is only available for tiny people. Tiny people don’t need a skirt like this, hence why tiny’s all that’s left.

Brothers Karamazov I, Do not lie.

by Andrea Elizabeth

from Chapter 7 [edit: the following is from etext which I wanted to quote after hearing an audible version. I have since discovered that my hardcopy, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, lists this as Book 2, Ch. 2. In “re-reading” this text I also came across the explanation for Alyosha’s shame which I guessed at when I wrote this last night. It was on behalf of the elder on account of the disrespectful treatment Alyosha’s family showed him.]

“I earnestly beg you, too, not to disturb yourself, and not to be uneasy,” the elder said impressively. “Do not trouble. Make yourself quite at home. And, above all, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all.”

“Quite at home? To be my natural self? Oh, that is much too much, but I accept it with grateful joy. Do you know, blessed father, you’d better not invite me to be my natural self. Don’t risk it…. I will not go so far as that myself. I warn you for your own sake. Well, the rest is still plunged in the mists of uncertainty, though there are people who’d be pleased to describe me for you. I mean that for you, Pyotr Alexandrovitch. But as for you, holy being, let me tell you, I am brimming over with ecstasy.”

He got up, and throwing up his hands, declaimed, “Blessed be the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck — the paps especially. When you said just now, ‘Don’t be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all,’ you pierced right through me by that remark, and read me to the core. Indeed, I always feel when I meet people that I am lower than all, and that they all take me for a buffoon. So I say, ‘Let me really play the buffoon. I am not afraid of your opinion, for you are every one of you worse than I am.’ That is why I am a buffoon. It is from shame, great elder, from shame; it’s simply over-sensitiveness that makes me rowdy. If I had only been sure that everyone would accept me as the kindest and wisest of men, oh, Lord, what a good man I should have been then! Teacher!” he fell suddenly on his knees, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

It was difficult even now to decide whether he was joking or really moved.

Father Zossima, lifting his eyes, looked at him, and said with a smile:

“You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense enough: don’t give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don’t give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of money. And close your taverns. If you can’t close all, at least two or three. And, above all — don’t lie.”

“You mean about Diderot?”

“No, not about Diderot. Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill — he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing….”

“Blessed man! Give me your hand to kiss.”

Fyodor Pavlovitch skipped up, and imprinted a rapid kiss on the elder’s thin hand. “It is, it is pleasant to take offence. You said that so well, as I never heard it before. Yes, I have been all my life taking offence, to please myself, taking offence on aesthetic grounds, for it is not so much pleasant as distinguished sometimes to be insulted — that you had forgotten, great elder, it is distinguished! I shall make a note of that. But I have been lying, lying positively my whole life long, every day and hour of it. Of a truth, I am a lie, and the father of lies. Though I believe I am not the father of lies. I am getting mixed in my texts. Say, the son of lies, and that will be enough.

To feel the lowest and the highest at the same time. Shame mixed with pride. Fyodore Pavlovitch Karamazov, the father of the brothers, is not sure if the Elder is greater than him yet, so he tests him. He’s sure Miusov isn’t. He is used to everyone treating him with contempt, and he gives them every reason to prove their own contemptuous, proud nature, so he has them beat. The elder does not show contempt, but neither does he let Fyodore control him. He leaves the room after generous instruction. Alyosha, the youngest and most virtuous brother, is ashamed of the guests’ disrespectful behavior in the presence of his Elder. Perhaps this is a sign of weakness. Is his pride hurt that his family isn’t respectable? Is his concern for the suffering of his elder? I’m not sure yet. Perhaps he just bears the shame of his family.

Though Fyodore is playing the assumed part of the buffoon, what is he lying about? He seems to admit all his debaucherous vices. He is also chastised for taking offense too easily. He blames others for his shortcomings and failings. Maybe that’s the lie. He sets people up to offend him so he can enjoy the injury, so that he can act a holy martyr. He leads them into sin. But still the elder is kind to him. Love takes no offense.

Dostoyevsky is known as a Christian Existentialist as, according to Wikipedia, is Soren Kierkegaard,

Kierkegaardian themes

Søren Kierkegaard

Christian existentialism relies on three major assumptions drawn from Kierkegaard’s understanding of Christianity.[citation needed] The first is that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, and that the greatest paradox of all is the transcendent union of God and man in the person of Christ.[citation needed] The second concerns having a personal relationship with God that supersedes all prescribed moralities, social structures and communal norms.[citation needed] The third asserts that following social conventions is essentially a personal aesthetic choice made by individuals.[citation needed]

Kierkegaard proposes that each of us must make independent choices that will then comprise our existence. No imposed structures—even Biblical commandments—can alter the responsibility of individuals to seek to please God in whatever personal and paradoxical way God chooses to be pleased. Each individual suffers the anguish of indecision until he makes a leap of faith and commits to a particular choice. Each person is faced with the responsibility of knowing of his own free will and with the fact that a choice, even a wrong choice, must be made in order to live authentically.

Kierkegaard also upholds the idea that every human being exists in one of three spheres (or on planes) of existence, the aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Most people, he observed, live an aesthetic life in which nothing matters but appearances, pleasures, and happiness. It is in accordance with the desires of this sphere that people follow social conventions. Kierkegaard also considered the violation of social conventions for personal reasons (e.g., in the pursuit of fame, reputation for rebelliousness) to be a personal aesthetic choice. A much smaller group are those people who live in the ethical sphere, who do their best to do the right thing and see past the shallow pleasantries and ideas of society. The third and highest sphere is the faith sphere. To be in the faith sphere, Kierkegaard says that one must give the entirety of oneself to God.

Major premises

One of the major premises of Christian existentialism entails calling the masses back to a more genuine form of Christianity, often identified with some notion of “early Christianity,” or the type of Christianity that existed during the first three decades after the Resurrection of Christ in approximately AD 33. With the Edict of Milan, which was issued by Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 313 , Christianity enjoyed a level of popularity among Romans and later among other Europeans. And yet, by the 19th century, Kierkegaard saw that the ultimate meaning of New Testament Christianity (Love) had become perverted. And thus, Christianity appears to have deviated considerably from its original threefold message of grace, humility, and love.

Another major premise of Christian existentialism involves Kierkegaard’s conception of God and Love. For the most part, Kierkegaard equates God with Love. Thus when a person engages in the act of loving, he is in effect achieving an aspect of the divine. Kierkegaard also viewed the individual as a necessary synthesis of both finite and infinite elements. Therefore, when an individual does not come to a full realization of his infinite side, he is said to be in despair. For many contemporary Christian theologians, the notion of despair can be viewed as sin. And sin is something that Kierkegaard equated with the losing of one’s self, the self being a free spirit that recognizes both the finite and infinite sides of his existence.

A final major premise of Christian existentialism entails the systematic undoing of evil acts. Kierkegaard claimed that once an action has been completed, it should be evaluated in the face of God, asserting that holding oneself up to Divine scrutiny is the only way to judge one’s actions. Because actions constitute the manner in which something is deemed good or bad, one must be constantly conscious of the potential consequences of his actions. Kierkegaard believed that the choice for goodness came down to each individual. Unfortunately, most people do not choose. As a result, humanity will continue to relegate itself to self-imposed immaturity, thus living in both stunned apathy and agonizing inertia.

The land with no mirrors

by Andrea Elizabeth

Once upon a time an evil witch shattered all the mirrors in the kingdom. People had no where to check to see if they had dirty faces, had removed all the unwanted hairs, or if their head hair was in place and at a flattering length. Some became paranoid, and some became free.

The free ones did whatever pleasurable thing came into their minds. Some chose durable clothes that they did not have to change unless they became aware of some stinkiness, some wore no clothes at all, and some would procure (by honorable or dishonorable means, whatever was in their heart) clothes that they felt looked good on others. None of these worried about shocking or making others uncomfortable.

The paranoid ones were constantly asking others to tell them if anything was wrong with them. Soon they learned who the ones were who would confirm to them the bad, and the ones who would assure them of the good. But they were never sure who was telling them the truth, so they constantly went from person to person to see if they could find a consensus. But they were never sure.

Some of these paranoid ones came to the conclusion that they could not trust anyone, either because of a perceived lack of perception on the part of the others, or because they thought they would not give them a straight answer. This put a somewhat antagonistic view of others in their demeanor. Everyone was either dumb or a liar. Some of these retreated into themselves in self pity, some became very aggressive, and some of them decided that they themselves had a lack of perception and gave up. These became gentle, quiet souls who while not free in the bold sense, as the first people were, became free by seeing that dirt is something to companionably share with the ground.