Kierkegaard believes the dizziness of freedom leads people to become overwhelmed by the infinite choices laid in front of them (anxiety of the infinite). At the same time people are afraid if they make a choice they will be haunted by regret and the consequences of their choices (anxiety of the finite).
Most people become quite afraid when each is expected to be a separate individual. Thus the matter turns and revolves upon itself. One moment a man is supposed to be arrogant, setting forth this view of the individual, and the next, when the individual is about to carry it out in practice, the idea is found to be much too big, too overwhelming for him.
Anxiety is crippling; it puts people and organizations in a paralytic stupor of myopic tunnel vision. Anxiety is poisonous. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that it kills slowly. It does not cause a rapid decline, but rather a slow depletion of vitality, keeping those involved in an anxious state of confused terror for a painfully long period of time.
If anxiety is a fear about something to come. It should be no surprise that two of its most common sources are the most absolute of future events: nonbeing and non-meaning. “Anxiety is the painful feeling of not being able to deal with the threat of a special situation.” The human situation brings this about in our own finitude: we know that we can not last, yet we fear the time in which we no longer exist. Calvin called the human mind a factory of idols, but Tillich suggests it is also a factory of fears.
The anxiety over death is a common and fairly obvious form of anxiety which most self-aware persons experience at some point in their lives. In the same way, institutions (like the German Church) experience this anxiety towards the end of their constitution and influence. “The anxiety of fate and death is the most basic, most universal, and inescapable. All attempts to argue it away are futile.” The fear of death is powered and informed by the nervousness people experience in the anxiety of fate. I am using the term fate in this section as meaning a perceived force of contingency. The reason a sense of fate can so easily bring about anxiety is that fate is perceived as inescapable. The forward motion of fate is made dangerous because the subject is ultimately, uncontrollably propelled towards nonbeing. Even concepts like the eternality of God and the immortality of the soul often fail to relieve such anxieties.
If fate and death threaten persons and organizations ontologically, emptiness and meaninglessness threaten them spiritually. We each live inside a world of constructed meaning. These systems of meaning, whether self-created or imported from others, inform our spiritual identities, and we use them as lenses to govern the way we act ethically within our reality.
“The anxiety of meaninglessness is anxiety about the loss of an ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings.” Facing the possibility that our innermost beliefs may be wrong can be a traumatic experience. The anxiety of meaninglessness is brought on by this type of mythic loss. The anxiety of emptiness is connected to this loss. With loss of meaning, the loss of purpose is quick to follow. The loss of purpose yields a loss of motivation, and as meaning vanishes, creativity and vitality wane as well. Creative energy transitions over time into repulsion and aversion.
Guilt and condemnation aid in nonbeing’s attack on individuals and institutions by damaging their moral self-identity. Both ontological and spiritual aspects of the individual’s or the organization’s self-identity are threatened by guilt and condemnation. The ontological and spiritual aspects of being require meaning and purpose. These work themselves out in our moral identity. When we lose the centering element of our being, it devalues all our other aspects. John Calvin said “The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.” Living in meaninglessness and emptiness of purpose leads to guilt in response to having lost one’s way.
Kierkegaard thinks when people feel pushback in approaching situations which cause such anxieties in their lives, they are closing in on discovering their true selves, their individuality. The more angst one feels, the closer they are to the discovery of purpose. Yet still, there is no purpose other than that which we make for ourselves. So how do we make a choice? How do we escape philosophical suicide of indecision? How does someone win this game of the absurd? Flip the table.
The search for meaning is utterly absurd as there is no meaning to be found, so one must make one’s own. “Truth exists for the particular individual only as he himself produces it in action.” Only when we reject the outside imposition of meaning and create our own through discovery and action does life take on meaning. To discover this meaning, Kierkegaard claims you must jump off of the metaphorical cliff of uncertainty; you must make a leap of faith.