Courage and Being
“Courage is the
universal self-affirmation of one’s
Being in the presence of the threat of non-Being”
“Absolute faith, grounded in transcendence,
provides one definition of the Courage to Be”
Asking questions of Mary Dyer’s courage, in confronting
unflinchingly what she saw as the Colony’s unjust Laws, leads to many
possible answers in The Courage To Be.
This website Essay offers viewpoints drawn from Paul Tillich’s 1952 book,
some excellent interpretations printed later, and indeed today’s Web
(thanks particularly to the Richard Schwartz site).
On her return to Boston, after years away with the early Quakers of
Old England, could her determined stand have been based firstly on any
one “positive decision” which led to her “unshakeable action”?
Far from being dissuaded by the hanging of Robinson and Stephenson
and what others saw as her narrow escape by reprieve and banishment,
she stayed away from Massachusetts’ “unjust Laws” just seven months.
Then returned still convinced of her course.
Within the Tillich teaching and interpretations, we might find the
- the ethical reality (morally keeping to the highest standards,
in the presence of Truth) and
- the ontological concept (remembrance of Being, the inward Self)
defining courage as “the universal and essential self-affirmation of
one’s Being, in the presence of the threat of non-Being”.
It could be argued: we must have both. It does bring to mind the
major question that the story of Mary Dyer is about:: was she deep in
unshakeable faith, source of her courage, or was she experiencing
courage delusional? How can one judge or analyse one of her last
sentences, while awaiting hanging: “In obedience to the will of the
Lord I came, and in His will I abide faithful to death.”
It often comes back, as expressed elsewhere on this Mary Dyer site,
to underlying and fundamental questions we might all ask, in the face
of living’s many pressures even threats. ‘How can I understand (stand
under) with certainty?’ ‘What is ego and what are its dangers?’ and
‘How can I be certain that I am standing under Truth and not deluded
by ego’s determined desires and unbalanced passions’ ?
Tillich was born in Germany in 1886 and died in Chicago 1965. He
was a remarkable writer and theologian and he believed in the power of
the Spiritual Presence. He wrote “philosophically, psychoanalytically
He reminds us that we find serious references in exploring “What is
Courage” in Western philosophy from Stoicism to Plato, Socrates and
Aristotle; Thomas Aquinas and the Christian tradition; and in Spinoza
One writer on Tillich today says “The teaching of our source Being,
that is the ground of Being and non-duality, can be found in modern
teachers and ancient mystics, in those of universalist belief and
absolute faith” ... from Plotinus to Meister Eckhart, from Sufi Kahlil
Gibran to Hindu Sri Ramana Maharshi.
From Stoics to Tillich the conundrum, riddle, puzzle has remained
open to answers. Tillich sees eternal questions about:
- ‘unrealistic certitude’
- ‘the citadel of certainty’
- ‘refusal to accept doubt, rejecting all questions from outside’
- ‘absolutized authority (which may be personal revelation or
His remit broadens, in this search for the 'Courage To Be', by taking
in the crucial roles of the (illusory?) threat of non-being, of fear
and of anxiety (arising, in the understanding found in Eastern
philosophy from the darkening desires and passions and selfish
concerns of Ego/Aham-kara).
Tillich said “The power of Being displaces and transcends fear but
does not remove it. Only absorption in the loving and knowing of the
Divine Ground can bring the self-affirmation in spite of fear.”
He also saw the courage to be with absolute faith as transcending
both the mystical experience and the divine-human encounter. In fact,
he said, faith IS the combination of both the mystical union with the
ground of Being AND that of the courage derived from the personal
encounter with God.