An interesting post at Albion Awakening contrasts the doctrine of Geworfenheit with what might be called, in the broadest sense, the principle of faith. The German verb Geworfen means thrown, and Geworfenheit is therefore the state of having been thrown, or, as it is sometimes translated, cast. The word seems to have entered the philosophers’ lexicon in the work of Martin Heidegger, but the doctrine it denotes is immemorial and, no doubt, incorrigible.
This is the way Pascal described the experiential basis of Geworfenheit:
“When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis.” (Pensées, 205):
Every man knows this experience, but this experience is not Geworfenheit. Geworfenheit is a doctrine that interprets this experience, and that naturally, like any doctrine, represents itself as the correct interpretation of this experience.
The doctrine of Geworfenheit teaches a man to persist in astonishment because there is, in fact, no reason why he should be here rather than there, or now rather than them. It teaches him that his existence really is meaningless, and that the “radical contingency” of his existence (to use today’s jargon) is not merely apparent. And the reason there is no reason for his existence is that the answer to both of Pascal’s questions is, “no one at all.”
Into the ear of bewildered, frightened, lonely man, the apostle of Geworfenheit whispers: “appearances do not deceive.”
Pascal, of course, took a different view, as may be inferred from the Latin tag with which he ends his pensée. This is taken from the book of Wisdom, chapter 5, verse 14, and may be rendered in English as “the passing memory of the nomad camping for a single night.”
You may suppose that the “nomad camping for a single night” is an image of man’s Geworfenheit, since the doctrine teaches that we arrive unexpected one strange evening, and depart unremembered the very next day. But this is to suppose that Pascal was a poser who lifted this tag from some dictionary of quotations, and not a Christian scholar who chose his words with care.
Wisdom 5:14 is part of a description of the Final Judgement, and the nomad is but one in a list figures that represent the vain pursuits of worldly men. In other words, the nomad of Wisdom 5:14 is not a figure of a man cast into this world—it is a figure of the illusions to which a man who thinks he has been cast into the world is subject.
It is a riposte to the doctrine of Geworfenheit.
To have faith is to overcome astonishment and believe, whatever the appearances, that you really have been “placed” like a chess piece on a square, and not “cast” like an empty beer can into a ditch. It is the conviction that you are under “order and direction,” even when it seems that you are merely tossing on the waves of chaos. It is the knowledge that you are a crusader on a mission, even when it looks to others that you are a klutz who is tumbling down a hill.