Posted by: Ascentury | Monday, 1 September 2008

Two histories

I posted the following comment recently on Mormon Matters:

There are two types of history:  the subjective internal history where everyone has their own version, which alters as memory sees fit, and the objective external version, the generally-accepted canon which is still a matter of faith.  Sharing an event from the internal history of your own life, even if it didn’t happen that way, but you now believe that it did, is legitimate, in my view.

Actually, I was jumping the gun a bit making this comment.  These ideas have been with me since my last reading of Soren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, and charge my existential view of the world.

The lived life is a conglomerate not of abstractions, not of ideals, but of gritty realities.  We live in the world of ideas; we “dwell in possibility”; but we do these things at our end of decisions, actions, consequences.  This is the bittersweet lesson of mortality:  it is much harder to live an idea than to think it.

Basically, this is the ultimate realization of the clash between Kierkegaard’s intensely subjective truth and the Hegelian world overview.  There may be an external history, there may be several external histories, there may be canonical and non-canonical versions, and there may be nothing, really, outside of our minds.  But the point is that that doesn’t matter.  Only the bits and pieces you remember make you what you are, inform your decisions, color your lenses, make you cry out to the Lord in your wilderness.

Belief is not a knowledge but an act of freedom, an expression of will.

–Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 83.

It is my own conclusions, my own belief, my freely-willed consciousness of my actions, desires, hopes, and turnings to the Lord that guide my hand and my life today.

So what about our relationship to the external history, then?  Outside of living memory, it’s completely a construct; admittedly, one with a large degree of social consent, but a construct nonetheless.  That is true of it in living memory as well, but there are many around who have their private stories to tell, stories lost (to this telestial sphere) at death.

Subjective truth, as our own discovery, is the only truth sufficiently valid to compel action (and is not, even at that, sufficient).  We all know that the collective experience of mankind has been insufficient to prevent atrocity; the individual experience may be enough, however.

For love does not have the satisfaction of need without itself but within.

–Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 24.

So we must inevitably draw our conclusions about life, not from the broad tapestry of our variegated history, but from the individual strands that adjoin our own.

There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.
–Soren Kierkegaard, journal entry dated 17 January 1837

Recall the lesson of The Red-Headed League:  while we are busy writing the answers from the copybook, the real treasures are being stolen right around us.

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