The Courage to Be

Paul Tillich is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, if not the most influential.

Originally published more than fifty years ago, his The Courage to Be (1952) has become a classic, designated one of the Books of the Century by the New York Public Library. It describes the dilemma of modern man, especially the problem of anxiety.

The 2014 edition includes a new introduction by Harvey Cox, author of The Secular City.  Cox situates the book within the theological conversation into which it first appeared and conveys its continued relevance in the current century.

Comments on the book:

“The Courage to Be changed my life. It also profoundly impacted the lives of many others from my generation.”--Robert N. Bellah, University of California, Berkeley

“The brilliance, the wealth of illustration, and the aptness of personal application . . . make the reading of these chapters an exciting experience.”―W. Norman Pittenger, New York Times Book Review

“A lucid and arresting book.”―Frances Witherspoon, New York Herald Tribune

“Clear, uncluttered thinking and lucid writing mark Mr. Tillich’s study as a distinguished and readable one.”―American Scholar

Excerpts from The Courage to Be:

THE RISE OF MODERN INDIVIDUALISM AND THE COURAGE TO BE AS ONESELF

Individualism is the self-affirmation of the individual self as individual self without regard to its participation in the world. As such it is the opposite of collectivism, the self-affirmation of the self as part of a larger whole without regard to its character as an individual self. Individualism has developed out of the bondage of primitive collectivism and medieval semicollectivism. It could grow under the protective cover of democratic conformity, and it has come into the open in moderate or radical forms within the Existentialist movement….

THE LIMITS OF THE COURAGE TO BE AS ONESELF

...But man is finite, he is given to himself as what he is….. Man can affirm himself only if he is not an empty shell, a mere possibility, but the structure of being in which he finds himself before action and nonaction. Finite freedom has a definite structure, and if the self tries to trespass on this structure it ends in the loss of itself…. He cannot escape the forces of his self…. When [the revolutionary movements] broke down, these people turned either to the neocollectivist system, in a fanatic-neurotic reaction against the cause of their disappointment, or to a cynical-neurotic indifference….

If carried through radically, the courage to be as a part leads to the loss of self in collectivism and the courage to be as oneself leads to the loss of the world….

COURAGE AND LIFE

...Being-itself [lies] above the split between subjectivity and objectivity…. Being as being transcends objectivity as well as subjectivity. But in order to approach it cognitively one must use both….

THE MEANING OF NONBEING

...Being “embraces” itself and nonbeing. Being has nonbeing “within” itself as that which is eternally present and eternally overcome….

THE ANXIETY OF FATE AND DEATH

Fate would not produce inescapable anxiety without death behind it…. Nonbeing is omnipresent and produces anxiety even where an immediate threat of death is absent…. We are driven...without a moment of time which does not vanish immediately. [Death] stands behind...insecurity…. It stands behind...weakness, disease, and accidents…. The human situation as such [produces] anxiety.

NONBEING OPENING UP BEING

...Being includes nonbeing but nonbeing does not prevail against it…. Being embraces itself and that which is opposed to it, nonbeing. Nonbeing belongs to being, it cannot be separated from it. We could not even think “being” without a double negation: being must be thought as the negation of the negation of being....

THE LOSS OF THE EXISTENTIALIST POINT OF VIEW

“I am”... is more than mere cogito (consciousness).... [We exist] in time and space and under the conditions of finitude and estrangement…. Where there is nonbeing there is finitude and anxiety…. Finitude and anxiety belong to being-itself….

THE ANXIETY OF GUILT AND CONDEMNATION

Nonbeing...threatens man’s moral self-affirmation. Man’s being...is...also demanded of him. He is responsible for it; literally, he is required to answer, if he is asked, what he has made of himself…. This situation produces the anxiety which, in relative terms is the anxiety of guilt; in absolute terms, the anxiety of self-rejection or condemnation…. He is asked to make of himself what he is supposed to become, to fulfill his destiny…. Even in what he considers his best deed nonbeing is present and prevents it from being perfect. A profound ambiguity between good and evil permeates everything he does, because it permeates his personal being as such…. The awareness of this ambiguity is the feeling of guilt….

THE COURAGE TO ACCEPT ACCEPTANCE

The courage which takes this threefold anxiety into itself must be rooted in a power of being that is greater than the power of oneself and the power of one’s world…. Everything that is participates in being itself, and everybody has some awareness of this participation…. the ground of being as source of the courage to be…. courage to be as key to the ground of being….

GUILT AND THE COURAGE TO ACCEPT ACCEPTANCE

In the center of the Protestant courage of confidence stands the courage to accept acceptance in spite of the consciousness of guilt… The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable….. This, however, does not mean acceptance by oneself as oneself. [In] the psychoanalytic situation...this objective power works through the healer in the patient. Of course, it must be embodied in a person who can realize guilt, who can judge, and who can accept in spite of the judgment…. A wall to which I confess cannot forgive me. No self-acceptance is possible if one is not accepted in a person-to-person relation… Being accepted does not mean that guilt is denied. The healing helper who tried to convince his patient that he was not guilty would do him a great disservice…. He accepts the patient into his communion without condemning anything and without covering up anything.

Religion...asks for God…. The courage of confidence...emphasizes...trust in God and rejects any other foundation for his courage to be, not only as insufficient but as driving him into more guilt and deeper anxiety….

One can become aware of the God above the God of theism in the anxiety of guilt and condemnation…. The “father-image” [that] once was the power in those symbols can still be present and create the courage to be in spite of the experience of an infinite gap between who we are and what we ought to be…. Courage returns...in terms of the absolute faith which says Yes although there is no special power that conquers guilt….