Happy Birthday to Søren Kierkegaard!

There is far too much of Kierkegaard worth quoting. So, here are just a few gems:

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.

Boredom is the root of all evil – the despairing refusal to be oneself.

One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger into existence—it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? … How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but was thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? … How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Isn’t it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?

You have surely noticed among schoolboys, that the one that is regarded by all as the boldest is the one who has no fear of his father, who dares to say to the others, “Do you think I am afraid of him?” On the other hand, if they sense that one of their number is actually and literally afraid of his father, they will readily ridicule him a little. Alas, in men’s fear-ridden rushing together into a crowd (for why indeed does a man rush into a crowd except because he is afraid!) there, too, it is a mark of boldness not to be afraid, not even of God. And if someone notes that there is an individual outside the crowd who is really and truly afraid — not of the crowd, but of God, he is sure to be the target of some ridicule. The ridicule is usually glossed over somewhat and it is said: a man should love God. Yes, to be sure, God knows that man’s highest consolation is that God is love and that man is permitted to love Him. But let us not become too forward, and foolishly, yes, blasphemously, dismiss the tradition of our fathers, established by God Himself: that really and truly a man should fear God. This fear is known to the man who is himself conscious of being an individual, and thereby is conscious of his eternal responsibility before God.

~Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)


The Sickness Unto Death, Part I


Get ready folks, a new series is coming!  In the coming weeks / months, I’ll be working through Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death.  So, get your copy now!

Of those books that “changed my life,” this one always tops the list.  I remember being assigned a type of book-review assignment of it for a class in Existentialism while in graduate school.  I started reading the book, pencil in hand, taking copious notes for my paper.  After about 15 minutes, I put my pencil down and read through the book in awe.  As is often the case when reading Kierkegaard, you start out investigating some topic, and end up confronting yourself.  As Jean Paul Sartre said of him,

“Reading Kierkegaard, I climb back as far as myself. I want to catch hold of him, and it is myself I catch.”

Kierkegaard’s explanation of sin connected with the individual’s struggle to know who they are changed the way I understand both sin and myself.

In order to orient ourselves to this particular text (and why you should read it with me), let’s begin by looking briefly at Kierkegaard’s short Preface to the book.  There are two basic themes laid out here.  First the relationship between what we might call “books of scholarship” and “works of spirituality.” Kierkegaard says that some people might complain that this book is too “scholarly” or “rigorous” given his subtitle: “A Christian Psychologial Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening.” Here, “upbuilding” is a literal translation of the Danish, “edifying” may also be a close English equivalence.

Kierkegaard’s response is simply that this book is not for everybody.  The scope and concepts contained in TSUD may go beyond what some people can understand.  One must first have the character of “upbuilding” (i.e., Christian).  And if you are looking for a Hallmark-esque feel-goodery devotional, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

While the content of this book might be difficult, it’s goal is, in fact, “to upbuild” and “to awaken” the reader.  Awaken the reader to what?  To what is means to be human.  Who am I am? What is my purpose? And to analyze these answers with regard to what Kierkegaard considers the quintessential fact of human experience: despair.  “Despair” is the sickness of humanity and this text is a diagnoses of that sickness.  The cure, while hinted at in this text (i.e., “to die unto the world”) is explored in greater detail in his book, Practice in Christianity.

Do you want to “be yourself”? To discover what you truly “are”?  That is the central topic of TSUD.  As Kierkegaard puts it,

“to venture wholly to become oneself, an individual human being, this specific individual human being, alone before God, alone in this prodigious strenuousness and this prodigious responsibility” (5)

I hope you will join me on this journey through a truly “upbuilding” text.