Recently I listened to a Philosophy Talk podcast about Soren Kierkegaard, a dour 19th century Danish philosopher. I read some Kierkegaard back in college, many years ago. At that time I was into crazy existentialists, loving how they embraced the meaninglessness of life.
Now, I see Kierkegaard as simply crazy -- without many, if any, redeeming philosophical qualities that balance his insane defense of religious leaps of faith.
The podcast focused on Kierkegaard's take on the Old Testament tale of Abraham and Isaac, as discussed in his book "Fear and Trembling." According to Wikipedia:
Kierkegaard wanted to understand the anxiety that must have been present in Abraham when "God tested [him] and said to him, take Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering on the mountain that I shall show you."
Abraham had a choice to complete the task or to forget it. He resigned himself to the three and a half day journey and to the loss of his son. "He said nothing to Sarah, nothing to Eliezer-who, after all, could understand him, for did not the nature of temptation extract from him a pledge of silence? He split the firewood, he bound Isaac, he lit the fire, he drew the knife.” Because he kept everything to himself in hiddenness he "isolated himself as higher than the universal."
Kierkegaard says, "Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith."
There's some fancy intellectual talk going on there. Here's a more down to earth way of looking at the situation.
Abraham hears a voice in his head that tells him to kill his son as a burnt offering. He doesn't tell anybody about this. He ties up his son, lights a fire, pulls out a knife, and prepares to kill his child. What the hell is virtuous, moral, or praiseworthy about these actions?
If any normal person came along and saw a father about to kill his son in this fashion (or any fashion), they'd do whatever they could to stop him.
However, because God supposedly put the idea in Abraham's head, countless Christians -- including Kierkegaard -- believe that Abraham's leap of faith, accepting that killing his son is the right thing to do in spite of all the reasons that it isn't, somehow is the essence of religious life.
That, plainly put, is fucking crazy.
A leap of faith is what allowed Charles Manson to convince his followers to commit multiple murders. A leap of faith is what allowed over 900 People's Temple followers of Jim Jones to kill themselves by ingesting cyanide.
Leaps of faith are dangerous. They can kill you. Or others.
That's an extreme consequence of blind faith, religious or otherwise. Lesser, yet still serious, consequences include being taken advantage of, surrendering autonomy, and enabling manipulative authority figures to screw you over.
I used to belong to an Indian religious organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, which loved the story of a guru who ordered his disciples to do something stupid without giving any reason for his dictate: build mud platforms; then tear them down and make some more.
That is why Christ said, If ye love me, keep my commandments.
This is the first step. Ultimately, we give body, mind, soul and everything. Such a man has got no will of his own, but the Will of the Master is his will. Just see where you actually stand. If you give everything, what remains is God. W-o-r-l-d spells world. If you take out this I-hood from within you, you are God. If you take out 'l' from the word World, only Word remains.
In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.
This little I-hood, this ego, stands in our way to God. When you completely surrender yourself to the God-in-man (to the God-in-man, not the body, although we have respect for the body of course), then your 'L' or I-hood is eliminated.
There is a story of Guru Ram Das, who was the fourth Guru of the Sikhs. The Masters always test their disciples to see how far they are fit. So his Master (Guru Amar Das), gave an order to raise certain platforms made from mud. All of the disciples started building the platforms as ordered.
When they were ready, the Master inspected them and said,
"These are no good, this is not right, you will have to make new platforms."
Again the disciples constructed the platforms. Two, three, four, five times they did this. Then the Master said,
"This place is no good. There is a better place over there to build them."
Well, bye and bye, all of the disciples left off building the platforms except Guru Ram Das. The other disciples began to say that the Master has grown old and is losing His faculties.
Guru Ram Das with tears in his eyes said,
"The Master is all wisdom, All-Consciousness. If I am ordered to build these platforms and break them all through life, my lookout is only to obey His orders."
He had complete self-surrender.
You follow me? This means complete self surrender. Now, step by step, judge for yourself where you stand. If you want to meet God, then you must have self surrender.
No, if you want to be a slave of a crazy man/woman, then you must do everything you're commanded to do. Charles Manson and Jim Jones would have loved to have a hundred, or a thousand, Guru Ram Dass's.
This is how charismatic crackpots attract their devotees. This is how religious authorities manage to maintain control over millions, even billions, of sheeplike true believers. People are manipulated to believe that unquestioning obedience, even when told to do something obviously wrong, is the path to salvation, God, eternal life.
Killing your son is wrong, even if a voice in your head says "This is God. Do it!" Try convincing a judge and jury you're innocent of murder by using that defense. Good luck, unless you've demonstrably insane.
Which, you likely are, if you think that whatever God, the Pope, a Guru, or some other religious authority tells you to do must be done, no matter what.