What the age needs is not a genius — it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would [themselves] be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening. And therefore someday, not only my writings but my whole life, all the intriguing mystery of the machine will be studied and studied. I never forget how God helps me and it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to his honour.Journal, Nov 20, 1847 (modified)
I really like that quote. I like the idea of the world needing martyrs. And I like the idea that I have to be willing to die for what I believe in. Yes, martyrs who follow Jesus to the cross.
Christianly, struggling is always done by single individuals, because spirit is precisely this, that everyone is an individual before God, that “fellowship” is a lower category than “the single individual,” which everyone can and should be. And even if the individuals were in the thousands and as such struggled jointly, Christianly understood each individual is struggling, besides jointly with the others, also within [themselves], and must as a single individual give an accounting on judgment day, when [their] life as an individual will be examined.Practice in Christianity (slightly modified)
I think people sometimes misunderstand Kierkegaard on the issue of being “the single individual”. I have heard him quoted as an individualist who promotes absolute subjectivity. Hardly! The context into which he speaks is Christianity properly understood. The people I have heard accuse him of being an individualist tend to be Biblicists or fundamentalists (even the Catholic variety) who place the individual below doctrine – or, as Kierkegaard might say, “place the abstract over the individual”.
Yes, other people can help – they can be examples, share their insights, and support me within my struggles and journey. I have felt that reality and I am thankful to God for the faithful people He has placed in my life. And I need to be encouraged (and reminded) to be that person for others – to seek spiritual friendship and to allow my gifts (and struggles) to help others. But in the end, I cannot answer for another when Jesus returns. I cannot answer for their life and no one can answer for my life. Maybe the best way is to think of it in terms of being “alone together”?!
God became a Single Individual in Jesus and went to the cross alone for me, so I come before God alone, seeking His love and mercy.
And now, what of Christianity! Christianity teaches that this individual human being—and thus every single individual human being, no matter whether man, woman, servant girl, cabinet minister, merchant, barber, student, or whatever —this individual human being exists before God, this individual human being who perhaps would be proud of having spoken with the king once in his life, this human being who does not have the slightest illusion of being on intimate terms with this one or that one, this human being exists before God, may speak with God any time he wants to, assured of being heard by him—in short, this person is invited to live on the most intimate terms with God! Furthermore, for this person’s sake, also for this very person’s sake, God comes to the world, allows himself to be born, to suffer, to die, and this suffering God—he almost implores and beseeches this person to accept the help that is offered to him! Truly, if there is anything to lose one’s mind over, this is it! Everyone lacking the humble courage to dare to believe this is offended. But why is he offended? Because it is too high for him, because his mind cannot grasp it, because he cannot attain bold confidence in the face of it and therefore must get rid of it, pass it off as a bagatelle, nonsense, and folly, for it seems as if it would choke him.Sickness unto Death, Hong 85
A longer passage from Sickness unto Death to start the day. I admit that it is not a SK book I often read. But the above about says it all – it is a Kierkegaardian approach to Christianity. It includes both major ideas: before God and the Absolute Paradox. And, for bonus points, it includes the idea of intimacy with God in Jesus.
What an individual is capable of may be measured by how far his understanding is from his willing. What a person can understand he must also be able to make himself will. Between understanding and willing lie the excuses and evasions. Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals (1846)
I read this SK quote online. So it does not have a detailed source attached to it – a personal gripe. But I like the last sentence: between thinking and doing are excuses. People know what the right thing to do is but they evade it with excuses (not reasons). It illustrates again that there is a qualitative difference between knowing and doing.
Christ is no play-actor, if I may say it this soberly; neither is he a merely historical person, since as the paradox he is an extremely unhistorical person. But this is the difference between poetry and actuality: contemporaneity. The difference between poetry and history is surely this, that history is what actually happened, whereas poetry is the possible, the imagined, the poetized. But that which has actually happened (the past) is still not, except in a certain sense (namely, in contrast to poetry), the actual. The qualification that is lacking—which is the qualification of truth (as inwardness) and of all religiousness is—for you. The past is not actuality—for me. Only the contemporary is actuality for me. That with which you are living simultaneously is actuality—for you. Thus every human being is able to become contemporary only with the time in which he is living—and then with one more, with Christ’s life upon earth, for Christ’s life upon earth, the sacred history, stands alone by itself, outside history.Practice in Christianity, 63-64 (Hong)
I have always liked this quote from Kierkegaard. Truth as inwardness being qualified by “for you”. There is a distinction between something being true and something being true for me. In a world of “objective truth” that is often missed!
The paradox of faith then is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual, to recall a now rather rare theological distinction, determines his relation to the universal by his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absoluteKierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy), 61.
I find this a very interesting part of Fear and Trembling. I think this is what Kierkegaard means by “faith” – the distinction between the single individual and the universal, and the relationship between the single individual and the absolute. And I think people’s misunderstanding of him, and his thought, comes from a misunderstanding of this distinction and relationship.
First to make it clear: I do not think that Kierkegaard is anti-community. Kierkegaard writes for the single individual and not for a theological school or ecclesial tradition. In some ways, his writing is closer to spirituality than theology or philosophy. He is speaking of the relationship between the individual and God, not between two or more individuals. Community is part of God’s good creation but it is not the goal of the individual’s life. The goal is a relationship with the “absolute” – to transcend the here and now. And it is this transcending relationship that must proceed any other relationship.
Belonging to a Christian community is very different to belonging to Jesus. Or, as I once read Kierkegaard saying, “being in the parish register is not the same as being in the Book of Life”. Yes, I need other people! And I have really learned what that means in the last three months. But I need Jesus more. And my relationship with Jesus gives context to my relationship with others, and not vice versa.
Anyway, I like the above quote!
[the individual] is incognito, but [their] incognito consists precisely in looking just like everyone else.Kierkegaard: Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy), 345.
Kierkegaard writes the above in his broader discussion of monasticism.
The individual does not stop being a human being, take off finitude’s motley in order to be dressed in the abstract garb of the monastery.344
Kierkegaard’s gripe with monasticism is that monasticism is worldly defining itself by distinction in changing their dress (and name). The issue of dress is one of making oneself different from everyone else and that is the attitude of the world. Ok, the discussion is a little more involved!
So the quote about being incognito is not anti-monasticism but against the idea of being different in religious life. For me, it speaks of being “human” while being anonymous. To be anonymous in Jesus by looking just like everyone else! To fully live for Jesus while looking just like everyone else!
So the lesson for me? It is not about being outwardly different but about being inwardly attached to Jesus. It is about a relationship that is at the same time extremely private and life transforming.