The Courage to Be was written by Paul Tillich, a German philosopher and theologian who came to America during WWII. I'm not sure how I've never read any of his work before, given his reputation and his meticulous, logical thinking. I loved this book, and I think I'm going to read it again soon.
A note on that last: Tillich uses precise philosophical terms to argue his points. I had to look up words and take the book slowly, because it needed digesting. So go in knowing it could be a challenge, but don't let that stop you from reading it.
Tillich's concern in this book is existential anxiety, produced in human beings by knowing that we exist and that someday our existence will end. To combat this, he says, we seek courage—the courage to be.
He divides this anxiety into three types: guilt and condemnation, fate and death, emptiness and meaninglessness. Every age is prone to one more than the others. Guilt drove the medieval era, fate the pre-Roman Greeks. Tillich says the modern age is tormented by meaninglessness. All of these are symptoms of the basic anxiety of loss. Guilt and condemnation are our loss of acceptance, loss of the ability to be acceptable. Meaninglessness is the loss of any pattern in our experiences, any purpose for moving forward. Fate and death are the loss of actual vitality, of human consciousness.
We work to combat these fears in different ways—by becoming a part of something bigger (the courage to be as a part), by standing up individually (the courage to be as oneself), and by accepting that we are accepted.
I can't summarize his arguments without doing damage to them, so I will only note two more things. Tillich believes that “grace,” in the Christian sense, may be defined as “accepting that we are accepted.” In other words, it is the courage to accept that God does not require us to become acceptable but merely to say “yes” to His acceptance of us.
And that courage can lead us to God himself—not who we think God might be, but to Being Itself. “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”
For those interested in such topics, I recommend also The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience by Richard Beck