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May 06, 2013

Søren Kierkegaard

I was reminded by this excellent post over at Commonweal by my friend Scott Moringiello that yesterday was the bicentenary of the birth of the great Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard. I visited Kierkegaard's grave while on a visit to Copenhagen a few months ago--as I joked with a friend, for the purpose of telling Kierkegaard he was right all along. Stepping back from the torrent of words (in law and otherwise) around us, there are a handful of indispensable authors for understanding the human condition, and Kierkegaard is, in my view, one of them. A bit from Kierkegaard's journals:

Christianity has been abolished somewhat as follows. Men have entrenched themselves more and more firmly in the fixed idea that Christianity's meaning should be in a trivial sense to make life easier and easier, the temporal easier and easier, something which again is consistent with the fact that the preaching of Christianity has for a long time been, in a trivial sense, an occupation, so these rascally preachers, for the sake of profit, have administered Christianity just as shopkeepers or journalists—nothing better on the market—and therefore the meaning of Christianity becomes in the trivial sense: to make life easier.

Thereby they have succeeded in completely abolishing Christianity, for Christianity is not some physical externality which remains even though untrue affirmations are made about it; no, Christianity is an inwardness which is transformed by the affirmations.

And since Christianity has been abolished this way, the whole realm of the temporal has also come to be muddled, with the result that it is no longer a question of a revolution once in a while, but underneath everything is a revolution which can explode at any moment.

And this is consistent with the fact that we have abolished Christianity as the regulating weight, as weight, of course, but as regulating weight.

It certainly is true, as I have pointed out somewhere else, that the more meaningless we make life, the easier it is, and therefore that life in one sense has actually become easier, not, as the pastors falsify, by means of Christianity, but by abolishing Christianity. But, on the other hand, this nevertheless has its difficulty; when a man or when a generation must live in and for merely finite ends, life becomes a whirlpool, meaninglessness, and either a despairing arrogance or a despairing disconsolateness.

There must be weight—just as the clock or the clock's works need a heavy weight in order to run properly, and the ship needs ballast.

Christianity would furnish this weight, this regulating weight, by making it every individual's life-meaning that whether he becomes eternally saved is decided for him in this life. Consequently Christianity puts eternity at stake. Into the middle of all these finite goals, which merely confuse when they are supposed to be everything, Christianity introduced weight, and this weight was intended to regulate temporal life, both its good days and its bad days, etc.

And because the weight has vanished—the clock cannot run, the ship steers wildly—and for this reason human life is a whirlpool.

Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Volume I, pp. 437-38.

Posted by Michael Moreland on May 6, 2013 at 03:01 PM in Moreland, Michael | Permalink