Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Anxiety Without God
moderns have developed such a strong sense of self that it has crowded out the Other.
In this particular "proof" of God, the clue of God's existence is found in the very absence of God in the life of modern man, in the very place where God is declared "dead," and in the metaphysical angst such absence engenders.
There are various reasons for the modern disenchantment, but one thing that stands out is that moderns have developed such a strong sense of self that it has crowded out the Other. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, perhaps the preeminent scholar of the making of modernity, has amply described the development of this phenomenon in his book Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity.
In any event, with so much emphasis on subjectivity, on interiority, on personal autonomy, and on the concrete individual rather than the objective, the exterior reality, and the universal, modern thought seems focused on man's becoming, and, what is more, becoming on his own terms.
In this view, man does not discover truths about himself and about his own good: he defines his own truth and his own good for himself. "Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world--and defines himself afterwards," wrote Sartre in his book Existentialism and Humanism.
The focus on becoming whatever one wants and refusing to entertain constraints on what one may actually be is in line with the existential motto: existence precedes essence. This attitude would seem to exclude reference to human nature, to being, especially on that self-subsistent Being, the ipsus esse subsistens, God, who had a hand in creating our being.
Yet even here, in the most hostile perhaps of territories, in partibus infidelium, one can find a means to suggest God's existence. From the ruins left in us by the departure of God from our souls and our societies, we might find a clue. God may be found even among two modern drunks implausibly waiting for Godot, such as we find in Samuel Beckett's play on the absurdity of expecting for help outside ourselves,"Waiting for Godot."
Here the clue of God's existence is found in the very absence of God in the life of modern man, in the very place where God is declared "dead," and in the metaphysical angst such absence engenders.
The existentialist--and, in a way, we are all existentialists now, since modern culture is existentialist--is perhaps best known for his angst, his anxiety. Placed in a world that is absurd--that is, not subject to any reason since there is no God behind it--man suffers anxiety. He does not know his place in the world, and he does not understand himself.
This anxiety is the "uncanny apprehension of some impending evil, of something not present, but to come, of something not within us, but an alien power," as Kierkegaard expressed it in his The Concept of Dread. It is, in fact, the felt absence of God, the "death" of God to the soul. Modern man waits for Godot. And Godot never comes because modern life is disenchanted.
In its extreme form, that anxiety becomes despair. Despair--an emotion that seems unique to man--seems to have no point in a world without meaning, in a world without God.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, generally regarded the founder of existentialism, traced the source of this despair to the crisis that comes when man is faced with the gamut of possibilities of who we, as individual selves, might become when we have rejected any objective, external, or universal constraints such as human nature or God. The disproportion between the self to itself--because we had failed to be authentic to self--is what gave rise to this emotion of anxiety of feeling self-estranged, self-alienated.
For Kierkegaard, the existence of despair in modern man was, in the words of Aidan Nichols, a "major clue to deciphering the mystery of our existence," "an important signpost in reading the map of being." In fact, it was a sensation that provided the purchase required to climb back to the awareness of the probability that God exists.
Kierkegaard found this despair to be the byproduct of man as being a "theological self," but denying it. Man, Kierkegaard was convinced, was not what we might call an "autological self." Rather, as a "theological self," man could only find perfection if he recognized God, if he saw himself before God.
Alexander Pope was therefore dreadfully wrong when he wrote: "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, the proper study of mankind is man." Kierkegaard's great insight was that man cannot know ...
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