The Vigilante of Faith: Kierkegaard and the Equalizer

Fuqua’s film version of the Equalizer is only a more recent and perhaps more outstanding sample of a wide array of films or books that essentially share a plot about an apparently normal person who, when trouble arises, reveals himself as a not-so-normal, as a hero. Of course there is always the idea that everyone can be a hero, but this must not be confused with the philosophy that stands behind the Equalize and its ilk.

Robert McCall is not an ordinary person stepping up to become a hero (that would be Ralphie), he has a past where he has sinned, and where he has lost everything and resigned everything. In his loss, his ascetic, monastic life at home, he is the “knight of infinite resignation.” The one who moves in the infinity of loss, removed from the ethical sphere, high above life, satisfied in his infinite leap to infinity. McCall has already died and resigned all the finite, all that life has to offer; but that is only partly true, for McCall turns out to be one of the rare breed that Kierkegaard calls the “knight of faith.”

The knights of the infinite resignation are easily recognizable—their walk is light and bold. But they who carry the treasure of faith are likely to disappoint, for externally they have a striking resemblance to bourgeois philistinism, which infinite resignation, like faith, deeply disdains (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, p. 38).

After the leap of resignation, comes the leap of faith which turns out to be a leap back into the finite. The death of his wife throws McCall into the void of loss and he thereby becomes the knight of infinite resignation, but then, he is a knight of faith: he is reading the “100 books every one should read (before they die)” so that he can discuss them with his wife; he has faith that he will have her, he will get her back, and it is this faith in the finite (for she is part of the world, part of his world, his attachment), that enables the knight to make one final movement to propel himself back into the world and become an everyman, working in a store, helping people out, enjoying some hot tea.

Nevertheless I have faith that I will get her—that is, by virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the fact that for God all things are possible (ibid, p. 46).

The possibility of the hidden knight, the “knight of faith” is only guaranteed by the existence of God (and faith in that existence).

Now throw in some 9mm handguns and bunch of Russian pimps, and let the fun stat. The apparently secular story of the everyman hero so popular in these times of powerlessness in fact rests upon a Christian/Protestant mysticism that has spread its roots in so many different modes of thought and social narratives as to be virtually invisible. The whole cult of the self, the idea of authenticity and the faith in the human self is just a secular remake of the beautiful and yet so deceiving notion of the leap of faith, blind trust.

The Hollywood version of the leap of faith becomes the story of a vigilante of faith that gets his power over life, his power of death, from his utter faith in a God that is in the end a guarantee, a covenant, that enables his reunion with his beloved wife, his most treasured possession. McCall’s “movements” between the “infinite” and the “finite” world of faith are erratic, suspiciously erotic: it is the suffering of Alina that bring him back to the “ethical” world of the finite (where he sees the evil in “what someone did to someone you knew”) but it is his faith that allows him to step over the finite again in order to murder and torture in cold-blood.

I leave you with a paragraph from Adorno’s The Jargon of Authenticity; while reading it, think about McCall and his clients, Alina, Ralphie and the others to come.

Behind this jargon is a determining doctrine of the I-thou relationship as the locale of truth—a doctrine that defames the objectivity of truth as thingly, and secretly warms up irrationalism. As such a relationship, communication turns into that transpsychological element which it can only be by virtue of the objectivity of what is communicated; in the end stupidity becomes the founder of metaphysics. Ever since Martin Buber split off Kierkegaard’s view of the existential from Kierkegaard’s Christology, and dressed it up as a universal posture, there has been a dominant inclination to conceive of metaphysical content as bound to the so-called relation of I and thou. This content is referred to the immediacy of life. Theology is tied to the determinations of immanence, which in turn want to claim a larger meaning, by means of their suggestion of theology: they are already virtually like the words of the jargon. In this process, nothing less is whisked away than the threshold between the natural and the supernatural. Lesser authentics raise their eyes reverently before death, but their spiritual attitude, infatuated with the living, disregards death. The thorn in theology, without which salvation is unthinkable, is removed. According to the concept of theology, nothing natural has gone through death without metamorphosis. In the man-to-man relationship there can be no eternity now and here, and certainly not in the relationship of man to God, a relationship that seems to pat Him on the shoulder. Buber’s style of existentialism draws its transcendence, in a reversed analogia entis, out of the fact that spontaneous relationships among persons cannot be reduced to objective poles. This existentialism remains the Lebensphilosophie out of which it came, in philosophical history, and which it abnegated: it overelevates the dynamism of mortality into the sphere of immortality. (Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity)

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