Fortunate Fallibility: Kierkegaard and the Power of Sin

Fortunate Fallibility: Kierkegaard and the Power of Sin

Fortunate Fallibility: Kierkegaard and the Power of Sin

Fortunate Fallibility: Kierkegaard and the Power of Sin

Synopsis

For more than 1,500 years, the claim that Adam's Fall might be considered 'fortunate' has been Christianity's most controversial and difficult idea. While keepers of the Easter vigil in the fifth century (and later John Milton) praised sin only as a backhanded witness to the ineffability of redemption, modern speculative theodicy came to understand all evil as comprehensible, historically productive, and therefore fortunate, while the romantic poets credited transgression with bolstering individual creativity and spirit.
Jason Mahn's compelling study examines Kierkegaard's ''para/orthodixical'' language of human fallibility and Christian sin. Mahn breaks down and reconstructs the concept of the fortunate Fall in Western thought, in context of Kierkegaard's later writings, examining Kierkegaard's blunt critique of Idealism's justification of evil, as well as his playful deconstruction of romantic celebrations of sin. Mahn also argues, though, that Kierkegaard resists the moralization of evil, preferring to consider temptation and sin as determinative dimensions of religious existence. In relation to the assumed ''innocence'' of Christendom's cultured Christians, the self-conscious sinner might be the better religious witness.
Although Mahn shows how Kierkegaard finally replaces actual sin with human fragility, temptation, and the possibility of spiritual offense as that which ''happily'' shapes religious faith, he cogently argues that Kierkegaard's understanding of ''fortunate fallibility'' is at least as rhetorically compelling and theologically operative as talk of a fortunate Fall. Mahn's insights into Kierkegaard's playful maneuvers encourages Christian theologians can speak of sin more particularly and peculiarly than in the typical discourses of church and culture.

Excerpt

It has been about ten years since I first began jotting “FC” (my shorthand for felix culpa) and “BI” (beyond innocence) in the margins of my theology and philosophy books. The scratches marked moments when authors played with the idea that life East of Eden, with all its drifting and doubt, not to mention despair and death, might be preferred to what looks like ready-made obedience and pre-canned paradise. I was then a graduate student, groping my way through a dissertation proposal, compelled by this frequent theo-poetic outlook and a little unsure of what to do with it. Looking back, I realize that I was attracted to the sentiment that we should embrace the loss of innocence for the same reason that I was first attracted to Kierkegaard— both promised ways of being (or at least looking) fashionably enigmatic with our otherwise all too simple faith. When I first read Kierkegaard in seminary, I was mainly attracted to his edginess and obscurity. With Kierkegaard and a bed-head hair style, I too could be in the church but not of it—a Christian with ironic reserve. When I eventually came to see Kierkegaard as flirting with the idea of a fortunate Fall, my interests in each doubled.

I have spent a good deal of the last decade unlearning what I thought I knew about sin and salvation and revising my earliest impressions of Kierkegaard as fashionably unencumbered by things too churchy. The result of that unlearning and a good deal of relearning is the present book, where I argue that beneath romantic fascinations with transgression and philosophical justifications of moral evil—both of which pass under the name fortunate Fall —resides wondrous Christian testimony about God’s unsettling grace by ironically praising that which is furthest from . . .

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