The Enlightenment, geographically scattered and philosophically discordant though it was, seemed to have a singular, underlying thrust: The stripping down of bias and subjectivity in order to arrive at undeniably certain knowledge. In pursuit of such a lofty goal, pre-Enlightenment to post-Enlightenment philosophers assumed at least two things about human nature: (1) that pure reason is accessible to humanity (and by this I mean dispassionate, unbiased reason) and (2) that, given enough effort, pure rationality could give humanity access to at least some amount of true, justified knowledge.
Undeniably certain. Dispassionate and unbiased. True and justified. Humans have always sought objectivity, though differently at various points in history. We crave that God-like feeling that we hold the whole of reality and what is true about it in our minds. And by pursuing truth in such a way, we make truth’s function (especially religious truth) in our lives different than what it is meant to be.
We want the ability to not only interact with truth, but to know it, to master it, to have certainty about it. And perhaps there are certain truths that our brains are built to understand in such ways. Søren Kierkegaard, the famous “father of existentialism,” surely thought so. For Kierkegaard, there are truths (both mathematical truth and some historical truths) that can be considered objectively true:
“The path of objective reflection now leads to abstract thinking, to mathematics, to historical knowledge of various kinds, and always leads away from the subject, whose existence or non-existence becomes, and form the objective point of view quite rightly, infinitely indifferent . . . .”
Kierkegaard never denies the existence of objective truth, but relegates it to the spheres of mathematical and historical facts. While there may be even degrees of truth for Kierkegaard (mathematical truths are undeniably certain, while historical facts are probabilistically certain), they are nonetheless still “true.”
Ethical/religious truth, for Kierkegaard (or, to be more precise, his pseudonym Johannes Climacus), does not fall into these realms of objectivity. This is not on the basis of denying these truths as objective truths—simply that knowing these truths can only be done subjectively, or through the subjective existence of the knower in question. Kierkegaard states:
“Only in subjectivity is there decision, while wishing to become objective is untruth. It is the passion of the infinite and not its content that is decisive; for its content is just what it is itself. This is the way in which the subjective ‘how’ and subjectivity are truth.”
What does all of this objectivity/subjectivity gobbledygook mean? Simply this: when we treat religious truth (knowledge of the divine, of God’s existence, of Jesus’s resurrection, etc.) as objective truth that is knowable cognitively, we fundamentally mistreat it. In Kierkegaard’s words, our subjectivity is in “untruth.” Kierkegaard again:
“the objective path thinks it has a security which the subjective path lacks (and of course, existence, or what it is to exist, and objective security cannot be thought of in combination); it thinks it avoids a danger that awaits the subjective path and this danger at its maximum is insanity.”
Objectively knowing and proving God’s existence and the ultimate rationality of Christian thought are ultimately ways of distancing oneself from the ultimate (capital-T) Truth of Christianity. The only way we can know this Truth well is to subjectively know it—to allow that Truth to transform us as individuals, in our very existence. Objectivity and rationality are sterile, and Christian orthodoxy entails within it the notion that these objective knowledge projects are not only futile—they are our downfall.
 Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, ed. and trans. Alastair Hannay, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 163.
 Ibid., 171.
 Ibid., 163.
Chris Baca is a writer interested in the intersection of philosophy, religion, and culture. He received an MA in Bible and Theology from SAGU, and currently resides in south Dallas with his wife and two daughters.