Tillich, Anxiety and Contingency

Paul Tillich made a point which caught my eye in ‘The Courage to Be’. He asserted that anxiety is different from fear in this way: that fear has an object. while the object of anxiety is non-being. Hm, I thought. Odd. He then went on to say that it’s not merely the awareness of non-being, but the awareness that non-being is part of one’s own being, and that it’s not so much even the awareness of non-being, it’s the experience of the ‘transitory’, such as death, that impacts our own latent awareness of our own transitoriness.

This seems to be more or less the rather obvious (though differently worded) fact that we are aware of our own contingency. We are contingent beings – we are aware of this. We aren’t necessary beings – we are aware of this. This is, as far as I can see, what Tillich can be boiled down to. And I confess that I’m at a loss to see how this is a negative thing, when pretty much all of metaphysics saw this, and, far from seeing it as anxiety over non-being, saw it as an experience of being itself (for more on this, definitely see Hart’s ‘The Experience of God’).

But I’m no Tillich scholar, so I’m open to correction. I’ll confess also that I find a lot of his writing (and existentialism in general) to be very long-winded without saying very much.

2 thoughts on “Tillich, Anxiety and Contingency

  1. Kevin Davis March 31, 2014 / 9:28 pm

    You may be interested in Kenneth Oake’s recent review of Hart’s book at the Ref21 website:


    Now that the hectic last two semesters are over, I now actually have the chance to read Hart’s book. Oakes is a brilliant guy, who was finishing his PhD at Aberdeen (on Barth’s engagement with philosophy) while I was getting my MTh.


    • whitefrozen April 1, 2014 / 11:49 am

      Interesting review, but seems a bit misguided – Hart’s whole point was to show that a universal longing for the transcendent is at the heart of human experience, and that the various aspects of being, consciousness and bliss only make sense in light of the transcendent. To criticize it for not being a specifically theological seems to miss the point, since it was specifically *not* a theological work.


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