The Courage to Be

by Paul Tillich

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Paul Tillich’s The Courage To Be is a classic piece of twentieth-century philosophy. Like his predecessor, seminal Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Tillich is unique for his commitment to Christianity. For Tillich, a higher power is the solution to modern man’s anxieties. That said, Tillich does not treat religion as his primary theme.

According to Tillich, these anxieties are threefold: the first is anxiety surrounding one’s mortality. The Latin motto memento mori (“remember that you will die”) encapsulates this perpetual anxiety. The second anxiety is akin to nihilism (viz. that there is no inherent meaning in the universe). The third anxiety that uniformly plagues individuals is that one has not fulfilled his or her purpose. According to Tillich, these anxieties date to different ages—from the ancient world to modernity. Tillich adds that the individual needs to be affirmed as an individual and as a group, which allowed the Church to gain momentum. Tillich also claims that existentialists, like Marx and Nietzsche, contributed in no small way to a sense of despair. Existentialists (unlike nihilists) seek solutions in the individual, while Tillich proposes that individuals can demonstrate courage by finding meaning in a higher power outside themselves.

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