”The Courage To Be” by Paul Tillich
- Pages: 8
- Word count: 1901
- Category: Philosophy
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Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be is a deep research on the theme of anxiety and fear. Paul Tillich, a famous theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher explores the theme of anxiety and uses different approaches to investigate this topic. Fear and anxiety have become universal phenomena nobody can escape. These topics are widely discussed in modern art and culture and finally they have caused great interest to this topic. As states Paul, “Today it has become almost a truism to call our time an “age of anxiety.” This holds equally for America and Europe.” (Tillich, 35) That is the reason he has chosen this complicated and controversial phenomenon as an object of his fundamental research.
Tillich distinguishes three types of anxiety. He distinguishes these types according to the types of threats which nonbeing creates to being. In the first type of anxiety nonbeing threatens human ontic self-affirmation. It can threaten it either in terms of fate or in terms of death. Nonbeing can also threaten spiritual self-affirmation and it is the second type of anxiety. It can threaten being in a form of emptiness or, in extreme degree, in a form of meaningless. The third type of anxiety is manifested when nonbeing threatens moral self-affirmation. Relatively it can be expressed in terms of guilt and absolutely it is expressed in terms of condemnation. Three types of threat give birth to three types of anxiety. They create an anxiety of death, an anxiety of loss of meaningless and an anxiety of condemnation accordingly. All types of anxiety are existential since they belong to the sphere of being. Tillich opposes existential anxieties to neurotic ones, which are peculiar to the abnormal state of mind. As he states, “Neurosis is a away of avoiding non-being by avoiding being” (Tillich, 67) That makes the main distinction between clinical neuroses and real courage to be, which must become the core of everybody’s life.
Tillich states that the anxiety of meaningfulness is caused by the concerning about the necessity to find meaning for everything in the Universe. When a person fails to find the meaning this type of anxiety appears and a person loses ultimate concern, which gives meaning to all meanings. Since this kind of anxiety threatens spiritual mode of being, it can be caused by a loss of spiritual centre. Tillich believes this type of anxiety to be central for contemporary civilization. He views different types of anxiety not as a stable phenomena but a continuous process, which changes with the development of mankind. As he states different civilization had dominating anxieties. Ontic anxiety was typical for ancient world, where people had being preoccupied with the idea to survive.
Middle Ages became the period of development of morals. It was during Middle Ages when special attention was paid to moral and ethical norms. That is the reason moral anxiety was especially popular during those times. People of Modern era are centred on the spiritual search and that is why spiritual anxiety of fear of meaningfulness becomes the dominant type of anxiety for modern people. Tillich gives many reasons of this shift to the third type of anxiety. As he states, “The breakdown of absolutism, the development of liberalism and democracy, the rise of a technical civilization with its victory over all enemies and its own beginning disintegration — these are the sociological presupposition for the third main period of anxiety.” (Tillich, 57) That is the reason anxiety of emptiness and meaningfulness has become dominant in the contemporary society. Spiritual nonbeing makes the main threat for contemporary people.
Tillich also states that different kinds of anxieties appear before the end of different epochs. This means that appearance of certain type of anxiety signals the future change of an era. According to Tillich, anxieties are presented in each individual as potentials and become visible in the cases when accustomed structures are broken. This often happens at the end of an era, because during this period all accustomed structures, such as order, power or beliefs are broken. These factors become a push, which makes an anxiety general. In the middle of each era strong structures help people to control their anxieties.
As Tillich points out, “The individual who participates in the institutions and ways of life of such a system is not liberated from his personal anxieties but he has means of overcoming them with well-known methods.” (Tillich, 61) These methods are applicable during the period of calamity but they do not work in the periods of changes. During this time a conflict between old set of values and new system of beliefs appears and this very conflict becomes the reason of general anxiety. Nonbeing, which is defined by Tillich as the main source of anxiety becomes especially strong during this period. It possesses double power and creates two types of nightmare. First type of nightmare consists of the fear of being trapped by the narrowness of old standards. At the same time there is an opposing fear, which appears as a protest to everything new, which seems to be threatening and dangerous. In this situation the person feels like entrapped in old situation and left without any kind of support in a new surrounding. As Tillich describes this situation, “Both faces of the same reality arouse the latent anxiety of every individual who looks at them. Today most of us do look at them.” (Tillich, 63)
Paul Tillich has world fame as a philosopher and theologian. He taught in several German Universities till he was dismissed because of his resistance to Nazism. After moving to the United States he worked in several American Universities. His ideas had big influence on modern religions and philosophy. Christian existentialism, which became the basis of his religions credo, is a unique combination of existentialism and modern religions thought.
Anxiety is one of fundamental problems of modern society and Tillich does a perfect job exploring the origins of our anxieties and gives means to deal with them. He states that losing the sense of life is the main reason of anxiety in the modern world. For many people existence becomes senseless and they can not find reason to live. He uses existentialist concepts of being and nonbeing to explain the reasons of anxiety. He states that people enter this world to learn that nothing but death, meaninglessness and nonbeing expects them in the future. This fact becomes the main reason of anxiety experienced by modern people.
The tension between being and nonbeing makes the core of human existence. Tillich also describes dialectical tension between groups and individuals, which makes one of the main controversies of modern society. Being a part of society, each individual can not escape its influence. The main conflict between an individual and the society lies in affirming and denying. Affirming himself, the person must deny the society and vise versa, affirming the society the person must deny himself. The courage to be becomes the only meaning to overcome this dialectical conflict.
Despite religious doctrines propose the thesis about immortality of soul, physical death threatens modern people same as it did centuries ago. Physical death illustrates people that they will finally lose their connection with existence and it becomes the main reason of anxiety constantly experienced by modern people. Anxiety of nonbeing, can be experienced in different forms and it still has one and the same origin.
For many people religion becomes the mean to deal with the anxiety of nonbeing. The Church and different religions organization can give people comfort persuading them that they possess some knowledge about the true meaning of life. In some cases religion becomes a form of escape from reality and in these cases we meet with religious fanaticism, when people believe that their beliefs are the only ones and oppose their system of values to those of other people. Many terrible deeds in the modern world are disguised by the mask of religions fanaticism.
Tillich states that those, who can not accept the anxiety of nonbeing and live with this realization, displace this anxiety into unconscious part of the mind. They try to find sense of life in external objects, such as job, career, social position and status in life. This kind of escape from nonbeing had negative consequences as these people run away from being, as well. They forget about their anxiety till the time when they have to face somebody’s death or fatal illness. That is the reason modern people try to escape everything connected with death, as it becomes a remind about the threat of nonbeing. For some people anxiety of nonbeing becomes so strong that they can not resist it. They try to escape from the reality by any means and turn to drugs, gambling or alcohol in order to suppress their anxiety. When even these means do not help some people turn to suicide.
Tillich gives ways to overcome this anxiety of nonbeing. In his book he states that each person is able to find courage to continue living despite the fact that existence has no purpose. According to him even an existence without purpose can be meaningful. Tillich states that courage to meet nonbeing face to face can help people to overcome despair and anxiety. Ever-present threat of nonbeing mustn’t become a source of fear. Tillich views acceptance of God as the main way to overcome anxiety of nonbeing. To his mind a true belief in God can become that very mean which helps people to face the threat of nonbeing. Talking about true belief Tillich underlines that true faith has nothing to do with religious fanaticism and dogmatic religious norms.
True faith should come from the very center of human being and make the basement of true faith. At this point Tillich unites existentialism and Christian religion. He continues from the point where existentialists usually stop. Describing anxiety and despair, caused by constant threat of nonbeing Tillich gives people a hope to overcome this anxiety. Tillich ideas make a combination of philosophy and religion. He can not give credible proofs of God’s existence but insists on the necessity of faith. According to his mind a true acceptance of God without any credible proofs is a manifestation of courage threatened by nonbeing. “Courage needs the power of being, a power transcending the nonbeing” (Tillich, 155) Finding the forces inside himself a person must overcome an anxiety of nonbeing finding sense in being in itself. Under being in itself Tillich understands God, who must make the core of everybody’s existence.
The courage to Be becomes the only way to overcome this conflict. Tillich describes the courage to be as faith. It’s courage to accept himself and existence, when it seems that there are no reasons for acceptance. That is the way Tillich explains the doctrine of justification of faith. Tillich states that courage to die is the highest manifestation of courage to live because it shows that person is able to face the most radical manifestation of nonbeing.
The Courage to Be is not a mere philosophizing or abstract reflections. Giving description of anxieties, which influence all human life, Tillich also gives practical guidelines how to overcome these anxieties and make one’s life meaningful.
- Tillich, Paul. Courage to Be. Second Edition, Yale University Press, 1952