Kierkegaard creates intrinsic connections between his ideas of despair, the consciousness of the “self”, and the traditional Christian belief of sin. For humans, there are two sides to the same coin. What is despair to Kierkegaard? Despair is a lack of understanding of one’s self. A sickness of spirit. The self is something that is trying to constantly understand how it relates to itself, in essence, Kierkegaard’s self is the introspective conscious of the human being. A human being is both a self that relates itself to itself and also a self-established by another. These selves are both vulnerable to despair over themselves. We as humans are spiritual beings, balancing physical aspects with the spiritual eternally. Being conscious of the imbalance in oneself is being in despair. Only living beings aware of the possibility of eternal life can even feel despair, as they are not aware or do not possess the spiritual aspects of their being. Being conscious of one’s self is a prerequisite distinction to be able to experience despair. The link drawn here clearly shows that Kierkegaard believes an understanding of one’s possibilities with God, and how finite their own capabilities are, is a required step towards feeling any of his forms of despair. True sickness for Christians does not come from any illness, but from not being able to witness God’s grace for eternity in heaven. This is possible through succumbing to sin, a monotheistic concept, with varying levels of complexities and types of sin. For example, a non-Christian may believe that there is nothing wrong with not telling an entire truth and leaving some parts out so that they may be seen in a better light, but for Christians this is a sin of omission, factoring into the imbalance of body and spirit.
Kierkegaard describes three distinct kinds of despair: despair of not being conscious of self, despair of not being willing to be oneself, and despair at being willing to be oneself. In terms of narrowing down Kierkegaard’s specific definition of despair, his writing leaves little to definitively draw from, granting the reader examples and unclear commentary to draw his philosophy from. However, he clearly outlines the conditions of the three different forms of despair with varying complexity.
The first form of despair is “ignorant of being despair or the despairing ignorance of having a self and an eternal self.” This comes down to not being conscious of having an eternal aspect of the self. Kierkegaard essentially condemns ways of life like secularism with this form of despair, communicating that living for selfish reasons (striving for material happiness) is the most common kind of despair. In terms of sin, this way of life is full of temptation to sin as there is no inner spirituality guiding the human towards a life of faith.
The second form of despair has several levels or categories to it. This despair is “conscious of being despair and therefore is conscious of having a self in which there is something eternal and then either in despair does not will to be itself p rin despair wills to be itself.” Humans experiencing this form of despair have a crisis of self, a condition where they cannot accept themself for what it is. There are three different levels to this despair of weakness, not willing to be oneself, not willing to be a self at all, and the desire to be a new self. Understanding one’s own despair is what affects the levels of this despair, and pursuing material, earthly goals, and desires. Those afflicted with this form of despair are too focused on earthly possessions to overcome it, a true sin in the eyes of Christians. Unlike the first form of despair, this form requires the being to be conscious of spirituality and the possibilities of God far more than the first.
The next and lowest form of despair is the deepest understanding of despair and the self’s eternal possibilities, but the self is unable to find solace in any form, thus wallowing in its own despair. This despair of defiance is conscious of itself.
The human self is comprised of various parts and positions that must be consciously brought into personal balance: the finite, the infinite, a consciousness of the ‘relationship of the two to itself,’ and a consciousness of ‘the power that posited’ the self. A human’s finite limitations are those of the physical body. This is a component of being human and one of the balancing aspects. Kierkegaard believes faith is the one true antidote to despair as putting faith in God lets the human being, the self, experience all possibilities of the eternal under God’s will. There is nothing to despair over when God completely controls your fate, your physical, your eternal.
For Kierkegaard, all people are in despair unless they live as true Christians, which are few and far between This is not an unpopular opinion among intellectuals throughout history. Thus, it is nearly impossible for someone to live in truly unconscious despair, as anyone in our modern world would be aware of the possibilities of eternal life, giving their life eternal significance. But the first form of despair, being ignorant of the despair (ignorant despair) of having a self and an eternal self, is not only the most common form of despair but is essentially unconscious despair. Unfortunately for all pagans, non-Christians, they experience this form of despair as they live in ignorance. Living life in despair has one extremely grave consequence, a lack of eternal life in Heaven experiencing the grace of God. To be able to qualify for the eternal life promised by Christ in the events of the Gospel, the self must be balanced and despair expunged. To Christians, missing out on Heaven is decidedly the worst thing that can happen, as it results in the same eternity being lived out in unimaginable suffering in Hell. However, I believe it is possible to have a positive and loving relationship with God without conforming to Christian values. Believing in God and having faith in him gives us a solution to the human sickness of despair. When we have faith we can see that despairing is a sin. It appears to Kierkegaard that the only solution to everlasting despair is putting blind faith in God, while there exist different, older ways to maintain a healthy spiritual balance with our human aspects that differ from a monotheistic approach. Kierkegaard does not address how pagans like Buddhists still live lives devoted to the spiritual balance of the self, while not believing in the “God” he promotes. This cannot be seen as the same faith that Kierkegaard has described, thus I object to his claim that faith is the only antidote to despair.