We could call Kierkegaard the first real existentialist. He was one of the first philosophers to actually ask if there was any inherent meaning in life and concluded we should just put our faith in God, because that will give us meaning. His book Fear and Trembling asks the question if we should completely surrender ourselves to God or bear the existential dread of existence.
In the book Kierkegaard takes the biblical story of Abraham, who has to sacrifice his son to God, and uses that to ask the question if surrendering to God is such a good idea? Abraham had to sacrifice his own son. We would say that no power would force a man to kill his own son, yet Abraham still goes to the mountain Moria with the intention to kill his son. But at the same time he always keeps faith in God that he wouldn’t have to sacrifice his son. Abraham believes this is but a test, so he will not have to sacrifice his son. But he still has the intention to.
According to Kierkegaard this is a paradox and it needs to be solved before we can we can make sure that God has a morality we can follow. To do this, he uses many mythological and narrative tropes. The tragic hero who has the power to speak but says nothing. The mythological hero who wants to say everything but can’t speak. Using many literary allegories and examples Kierkegaard goes to the bottom of the paradox.
In the end Kierkegaard’s only solution is to completely surrender yourself to God, only then will your life has meaning. Without God’s morality, there is no morality. This is something Nietzsche wrote about when he exclaimed that God was dead. Without the higher absolute moral value, there is only relativism.
Honestly, I never really cared about Kierkegaard. I always found him uninteresting and a bit too theatrical for my taste. I enjoyed this book, even though I don’t agree with what Kierkegaard comes up with as a solution to existentialism. In my opinion it’s a bit easy. Nonetheless, Kierkegaard writes beautifully and elegantly. He repeats his quite complex arguments a lot, which makes it easy to follow. This is a perfect first book into Kierkegaard if you are interested in his writings. He definitely deserves a spot on the list of influential philosophers and sometimes he doesn’t get the attention he is due. Dreadful and intimidating, Fear and Trembling is a classic in philosophical literature.