Still meandering about in Christopher Ben Simpson’s introduction to Kierkegaard, that genius of a Christian (Kierkegaard that is).
In 1972 Hal Lindsey (still alive today at 89) wrote Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, having published two years earlier The Late, Great Planet Earth which the NY Times called the No. 1 non-fiction of the decade. It’s hard to over-emphasize how big a deal Lindsey and these two books where in the 70’s. I cut my teeth as a new believer on Lindsey, and I remember first running across the name of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (SK) in Lindsey’s Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Lindsey argued there that SK (the “third bomb” after Kant and Hegel) was evidence that Satan was alive and well. Kierkegaard’s writings, he claimed, were “contrary to biblical principles,” were a “denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith,” and they “launched a system of though in which despair was the underlying current.” Lindsey explained that one finds purpose in life by taking a leap which “has no rationality behind it at all” and suggested that SK introduced Hegel’s thoughts into the stream of Christian thought (not true, SK deplored Hegel). In the end SK’s account of the Christian faith amounted to “the doctrines of demons.” It’s no surprise that my first thoughts of SK were negative. SK was an evil enemy of Christianity.
Time corrects some mistakes, thankfully, and I’m only mentioning Lindsey as the context in which I first read the name of Kierkegaard whose account of Christianity is genius. In one, two, or five hundred years from now people will be still reading and discussing SK who will still be rescuing the faith of the truly hungry from the cheap subterfuge that Lindsey, whose writings no one will know in two or five hundred years, got famous selling.
Here’s a third and final clip from Simpson’s summary of SK. Enjoy!
For Kierkegaard, one relates to God as the eternal, transcendent other in faith. Our subjectively being true to our relationship with the transcendent God is to see him as ‘the eternal being, who is the object of faith (FT 51). The eternal, the absolute, is always ‘an occasion for offense’ for finite humans and our relation to the eternal God happens in the ‘supreme passion’ and ‘divine madness’ of faith (in the first movement of the double-movement of faith), we are faced with an ‘either/or’ decision to choose God over the finite, either to be devoted to God or to despise him, to seek God’s kingdom first, for ‘the person who does not seek God’s kingdom first is not seeking it at all’ (LFBA 19-22; MLW 233-6). This is faith difficult beginning, its leap – as dying to or ‘losing the temporal temporally’ in order to gain or grasp the eternal (UDVS 209; CD 72; 141-2). The resolution of faith – as the only way ‘in which God will involve himself with a human being’ – ‘joins a person with the eternal (EUD 347; TDIO 63). It is the relation to the eternal God in faith that then (in the second movement of faith) comes to structure and orient one’s existence in finitude, ‘express[ing] the sublime in the pedestrian’ (FT 41). Faith – as constantly, daily being acquired and repeated – works to join all of one’s life together with the eternal and so establish a continuity, a constancy in life given stability with the ballast of the unconditional (EUD 14; CUP 55, 535; SUD 105; PoV 19-2). The eternal grounds repetition. At the same time, as in the process of becoming, we encounter the eternal with fear and trembling; faith so challenges all our relative stabilities – as Anti-Climacus writes, ‘fear and trembling signify that there is a God – something every human being and every established order ought not to forget for a moment’ (PIC 88).
We are lovingly created (as good, glorious, free) and sustained (in God’s presence) by God. We live as if this is true – we are religious – when we gratefully affirm and strive to be what we are created to be. We should relate to ourselves as we are in relation to God. In that we, for Kierkegaard, as human beings are created by God, this understanding should affect our self-understanding; it should found our way of existing (EUD 32; CUP 249). When one comes to understand and to choose oneself in God – ‘when’, as Judge Vilhelm writes, ‘in an eternal and unfailing sense one become aware of oneself as the person one is’ – ‘one receives oneself’ (EO 509). This is to choose oneself, to take possession of oneself, ‘in one’s eternal validity’ (EO 515). In this process – in which ‘it is as if his self is outside him and is to be taken possession of’ – a person comes ‘to relate himself to himself in his religious idea’ (EO 519; SLW 428). In choosing oneself as originated – in relation to ‘the originality that was his eternal source’ (CUP 153; EO 518) – one seeks to attain a ‘religious transparency’ in which ‘he has seen his self over against the eternal power, whose fire has permeated it without consuming it (SLW 428; EO 529). One ‘rests transparently in God’, in the changelessness of God’s love (SUD 30; UDVS 212; MLW 278). This transparency is a sober coming to oneself, to be oneself before God (UDVS 137; SUD 5; LFBA 17)…
God is the good that we desire, that we love, that we long to be in communion with in blessedness. We are true to this in our loving God – in our passionate concern, our worship, and our obedience. The God-relationship, for Kierkegaard, is a relating to God with an infinite passion – its ‘how’ is ‘the passion of the infinite’ (CUP 203). Having gone through infinite resignation (in the double-movement of faith), one is assured that what one relates to in truly infinite passion, in a desire for one’s eternal end beyond finite, is God (CUP 201). ‘The inspecting resignation’, Climacus writes, ‘discovers no irregularity, this shows that the individual at the time of inspection is relating himself to an eternal happiness’ (CUP 395). Such is the intimate connection between the form and content of religiousness – that ‘the person who in truth will only one thing can only will the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he will the good can will only the good in truth’ (UDVS 24). God is one’s eternal end, and so the God-relation at once ‘consists precisely in being religiously, infinitely concerned about oneself’ (CUP 200; SLW 486). One desires God as one’s own eternal happiness. One’s ‘eternal happiness’ is the ‘highest telos’ that is ‘willed for its own sake’ in ‘the moment of resignation, of collecting oneself, of choice’ (CUP 394, 400). Religiousness, for Kierkegaard, is for a person so ‘to relate himself with pathos to an eternal happiness’ – ‘simultaneously to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos and relatively to the relative ends’ – that his existence is transformed (CUP 393, 414). Kierkegaard describes this religious ‘pathos-filled transformation of existence’ as a ‘humble, obedient enthusiasm’, as ‘be[ing] shaken’, as being ‘infinitely, unconditionally engaged’ before God (CUP 581; UDVS 62; BoA 112-13; JFY 104). Yet this strenuous, passionate engagement brings ‘a tranquility and a restfulness’ for there is ‘no contradiction…to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos’ – in doing so one is acting in accord with reality, for God is the end of human being. To relate oneself absolutely to God is ‘the absolute reciprocity in like for like’, while it is ‘demented…for a being who is eternally structured to apply all his power to grasp the perishable’ (CUP 422). One God comports with our infinite passion….
BoA The Book of Adler
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
LFBA The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air
PIC Practice in Christianity
PoV The Point of View
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits