The Courage to Be 3

Paul Tillich does look specifically at neurotic anxiety which he sees as avoiding nonbeing by avoiding being. So if one is totally wrapped up in the symptoms of anxiety one is not fully confronting life with courage. He writes that courage ‘is the readiness to take upon oneself negatives…for the sake of a fuller positivity. Biological self-affirmation implies the acceptance of want, toil, insecurity, pain, possible destruction…. The more vital strength a being has the more it is able to affirm itself in spite of the dangers announced by fear and anxiety’. This courage is not just individual but to accept that one is a part able to participate with others and so able to love. Tillich is saying that being courageous doesn’t work as a theoretical position or as taking a detached view of the world and life. Courage happens when one takes part and is involved – here I think ‘only connect’ comes to mind.

On the website Tillich Resources Tillich’s support of existentialism as a philosophy of life and self-affirmation is described, but his approach to religion as a way to counter meaninglessness remains in many ways ambiguous. He thinks the courage to be can be accessed particularly in mysticism where ‘the individual self strives for a participation in the ground of being which approaches identification…it is self-surrender in a higher, more complete, and more radical form…the perfect form of self-affirmation’. The mystic conquers the anxiety of fate and death by elevating the soul above the finite to the infinite. The other kind of religious encounter with the power of being is the personal encounter or communion with God and the ‘courage of confidence in the personal reality which is manifest in the religious experience’.

If we believe that we are forgiven by God then this facilitates ‘the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable’ – this helps with the guilt. This is the idea that it is the courage to accept acceptance – despite everything we are acceptable – to use the Winnicott expression relief can arrive with the acceptance that one is ‘good-enough’ – not perfect (which is impossible). In accessing the accepting love of the self that comes from beyond our self, the anxiety of guilt and condemnation is conquered. And holding firmly still to the balance of the opposites Tillich sees that faith can exist alongside doubt and despair – indeed that is the only way possible; and here he defines faith as ‘ the state of being grasped by the power of being-itself.’