"Man breaks through the bounds of merely cultural heroism; he destroys the character lie that had him perform as a hero in the everyday social scheme of things; and by doing so he opens himself up to infinity, to the possibility of cosmic heroism .... He links his secret inner self, his authentic talent, his deepest feelings of uniqueness ... to the very ground of creation. Out of the ruins of the broken cultural self there remains the mystery of the private, invisible, inner self which yearned for ultimate significance. ...This invisible mystery at the heart of [the] creature now attains cosmic significance by affirming its connection with the invisible mystery at the heart of creation."
Kierkegaard has essentially this same view of human existence, a view
that Becker praises in The Denial of Death. Because we are this tension
of opposites, says Kierkegaard, in order to be authentically human we
need to accept the mystery and responsibility of participation in both
of these dimensions of reality that constitute life structured by death.
Most people fall short of this authenticity, he declares. They flee its
difficulties. And there are two basic ways of doing this. People either
(1) immerse themselves in the dimension of things that perish, the
things and pleasures of the world, which allows them to evade the
awareness of death: the attitude summed up in the advice to "eat, drink,
and be merry." Or they (2) cling to some false certainty about
immortality, imagining that some kind of immortality is their assured
possession, and this too allows them to evade the awareness of death.
Both types of inauthentic existence involve running away from the
awareness of death, not allowing the fact of death to penetrate into
consciousness, not facing up to the human situation, and not undergoing
the crucial moral catharsis. So Kierkegaard, Becker, and Socrates all
agree: the denial of death is indeed at the center of human
... where the problem lies is in the self-comforting delusion that one
possesses eternal meaning, and especially in the measures people take to
defend their feeling of righteous invulnerability, especially through
aggression. Authentic faith, by contrast, affirms enduring meaning in
the context of an open if anxious acceptance of mortality. And so one
must conclude that there are two opposites to authentic faith. One is
the dogmatic clinging to an immortality project; and the other is the
equally dogmatic insistence that enduring meaning is an illusion. Both
of these are denials of our real human situation, making up two sides of
the same counterfeit coin.
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