I have been reminded again, in my reading this last two days, of the brilliant insights of Søren Kierkegaard, 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian.
Here are a few of his gems: (apologies for the lack of gender-inclusive language. We could blame the translators!)
Don’t forget to love yourself.
Life is to be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
In the first period of a man’s life, the greaterst danger is not to take the risk.
Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful, you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.
The self-assured believer is a greater sinner in the eyes of God than the troubled disbeliever.
A rather crazy guy, Kierkegaard wrote lots of his works supposedly under pseudonyms, but it wasn’t all that difficult to see who the author was.
Kierkegaard had a really deep love-hate relationship with the church of
his time. He detested much of what passed for religion. But he
was passionate about Christianity, which he thought was being utterly
debased by formal religion. He had a distinctive idea of what it meant to have faith: it was a unique kind of authenticity, a risky state involving genuine dependence on God, not relying upon any supposed ‘objective’ or rationalistic proof, as if we are treading water over twenty thousand fathoms.
But he had not place for the kind of pietistic faith that made no demands upon people either. His idea of faith was not a kind of irrational inward feeling. He insisted upon a faith that led to actions, change of heart, a life style of commitment, love, justice, relationship. They are tricky ideas. But so valuable to wrestle with. That’s all he would ask of us.
Some of his works try to help people re-discover a true sense of being
‘religious’, but you can only get to that situation after first
throwing off false forms of religion, or bad faith.
In another strand, he imagines God to be the witness to what people purport to do in worship. Using the metaphor of a theatre, he suggested that people might speak very differently about God if they realised that God was in the ‘audience’ of their little play …
If you see any of these books, give them a try:
Purity of Heart.
Training in Christianity.
Attack upon Christendom.
Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
Either-Or (two volumes of reflections).
Have others found him also to be an especially contemporary kind of thinker, critic and inspiration?
What are your favourite Kierkegaard statements?