Author: Gordon Marino, PhD
Publisher: HarperOne

It sounds like an interesting and practical book: The Existentialist's Survival Guide: How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age. The author, Gordon Marino, PhD, "is a professor of philosophy and the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College" in Minnesota. He's written and edited a number of books about Kierkegaard and is also "an award-winning boxing writer for The Wall Street Journal and other outlets." 

I'm not sure what I expected, but this isn't it. Start with the title. If you bought The Desert Hiker's Survival Guide, you would expect to learn ways to remain alive / sustain yourself / keep body and soul together in the desert. What kind of guide would an existentialist need to survive? To survive what? What kind of guide does an existentialist need to survive? In his Introduction, Marino writes that he will discuss "existential insights on how best to understand and relate ourselves to the trials posed by anxiety, depression, despair" and the more positive aspects of existence: "authenticity, faith, morality, and love." 

What it all comes down to (spoiler alert) is a belief in and a trust in God. That's what Marino is selling. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, a Christian God. Not Allah, not Brahma, not Thor, not Torgasoak, not . . . but you get the idea. Perhaps because Marino has devoted so much of his scholarly life to Kierkegaard and because he was raised Catholic, he uses Kierkegaard to justify and explain his own faith. According to Kierkegaard, "we need God to teach us how thoroughly depraved we are. Faith is the opposite of sin, and paradoxically it requires faith to understand we are sinners." I'm sorry. I don't think I have black spots on my soul. I don't think we're all sinners.

Kierkegaard is famous for the phrase "leap of faith," which he never used himself. But he affirmed that one could know God—again, the Christian God—only through such a leap, not through logic, not through doctrine. But it assumes there is something to know. It assumes there is a God to know, to love, to believe in.

But why not take a leap of faith into knowing that you will be reincarnated? It would explain why bad things happen to good people—they're being punished for an offense committed in an earlier life. It would mean that there are a finite number of souls available—sometimes you come back as a dog or a cockroach, sometimes as a better person—rather than new souls having to be created constantly. (Where are these souls coming from?) Reincarnation, after all, is something millions of people believe it. Why not you?

When does magical thinking become superstition become faith? Or are they all flavors of the same thing? According to Marino, you have to accept faith on faith. "[T]here is no argument from Kierkegaard for faith. In fact, he warns that offering a defense of faith is a sin against faith, akin to offering a brief to prove that you love your spouse." That from a man who broke off his engagement and never married. In any case, the argument sounds both closed and circular to me. You have to believe because you believe.

What about the subtitle, living authentically in an inauthentic age? Well, the book has a whole chapter titled "Authenticity." But wait. I question: What is an inauthentic age? What makes this age inauthentic? Was there ever an authentic age? Marino himself asks, what does it mean to live "authentically"? What's the difference between sincerity and authenticity? 

Well, "to become authentic is to become yourself." Or as Camus wrote, "Above all, in order to be, never try to seem." This appears to come down to the Shakespearian, "To thine own self be true." And yet, and yet. Does the mask you wear make you inauthentic, or is it just one aspect of your authentic self, one of many? 

As you can tell, I fought with The Existentialist's Survival Guide all the way through. I disagreed with Marino in large ways and small, delighted with myself when I could see a flaw in the logic, frustrated by his dependence on Kierkegaard's cockamamie arguments. For that and more, I recommend the book. I don't think it tells you how to live authentically in an inauthentic age, but for Christian believers it should provide intellectual comfort. And for non-believers, we're back to St. Thomas Aquinas: "To one who has faith in God, no explanation is necessary. To one who has no faith, no explanation is possible." Just take it on faith. Trust me.