Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 259

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The primary theme of Paul Tillich’s book is the importance of faith in the modern world. Closely related to this is the need for inter-religious dialogue or ecumenical liberalism. Tillich argues that faith is central to helping human beings reject evil and participate fully in the positive aspects of society. While Tillich refers to religious belief, his understanding of faith goes beyond identification with any specific religion. Tillich grapples with questions of belief in human goodness and holding an optimistic view of the universe—a point of view that has become increasingly crucial, he maintains, since World War II. In exile in the United States from Nazi Germany, where he had been a theologian, Tillich extended his philosophical analysis into existential questions raised by the atrocities inflicted during Hitler’s regime.

The “courage” of the title includes the continuation of religious belief. In the face of tremendous evidence of the presence of evil, he argues, it takes true courage to believe in the wisdom and goodness of God. He draws not only on Christian theology, but traces the idea of courage back to classical philosophers and explores the existential dilemmas presented by Friedrich Nietzsche. Confronting mortality requires courage, but is necessary to deal with the anxiety of the human condition, which has been exacerbated in modern times. For a Christian, placing one’s specific faith in the humanity and deity of Jesus within the larger conceptual understanding of God, or the overarching concept of divinity—the “God above God”—is one important component of developing this existential courage.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389

Having summarized the course of Western history to show that it has culminated in despair over the meaninglessness of existence, Tillich proceeds to show how religious faith can provide the courage to cope with this despair and meaninglessness.

In doing so, Tillich adopts an idiosyncratic terminology that led some orthodox Christian commentators to criticize him and even to accuse him of not being a Christian. For one thing, he speaks of the “power of being,” the “ground of being,” and “being-itself” as apparent synonyms for God, making God less a being than a condition. In fact, Tillich specifically opposes any approach, such as the arguments for the existence of God, that would make of God a mere being among other beings rather than being-itself.

For Tillich there is a religious root to the courage to be, based on the relationship to being-itself. This relationship can be mystical if the emphasis is on uniting with ultimate reality, or it can be personal if the emphasis is on the individual encounter with God. He sees Martin Luther as an example of the personal approach, not dependent on institutions or collectives.

In Luther and the Protestant Reformers, Tillich sees the means to conquer the anxiety associated with guilt by accepting God’s acceptance, allowing oneself to have one’s sins forgiven by God. This requires courage because it means confessing one’s sins and accepting one’s guilt.

Similarly, Tillich sees a need to accept one’s death to deal with the anxiety associated with death. He does not support the popular belief in immortality of the soul, which he says is not truly Christian and which he says seeks to evade the fact of death. Instead, he emphasizes communion with God.

Tillich also argues against the popular notion that faith means believing unbelievable things. He sees faith as a state of being in which one is grasped by the power of being-itself and through which one can deal with the anxiety of meaninglessness by accepting it.

Tillich ends his book with a controversial discussion of the “God above God.” This is the God above the all-powerful tyrant that Tillich sees as the conventional God. He says it is necessary to go beyond this conventional God to be grasped by the God above God, faith in whom provides the courage to be.

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