Archive for the ‘Sin’ Category

Comey, James. “Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell: the Christian in politics.” (Review, pt. 3)

September 6, 2017

Niebuhr is claiming that the Bible is not early science or “superscience,” nor is it history or any other sort of strictly factual report. It is also not a set of laws and proclamations by the Cosmic Legislator. Rather, Niebuhr sees Scripture as an expression of the true nature of God, the cosmos, and ourselves. This truth is that God is love, and we are free beings capable of living by the law of love but who inevitably choose otherwise because we are anxious. We are anxious because we are free and self-aware creatures. As creatures, we are finite and hence not fully in control of our own fate; we suffer loss and eventually death, and often for reasons that are either unforeseen or unpreventable. Unlike animals (says Niebuhr) we are self-aware, and thus recognize our own limited and mortal nature. As free beings, we are essentially capable of choosing how to react to our nature; we can live in love with one another and in humble reliance on God, or we can fall into anxiety and seek to preserve ourselves and our peace of mind by denying our true nature as creatures before God and in community with others. Because of the pervasive effects of anxiety and our own constant temptation to self-medicate (through prideful attempts to deny our creaturely limits, or sensual attempts to deny our rational and spiritual potentials, etc.) we inevitably sin. As creatures that are essentially created to be good and loving, but who are also anxious and inevitably succumb to sin, we have to rely on justice to approximate the sort of society we should have.[1] Justice is the human attempt to actualize God’s law of love. It is never perfect, but God shows us what perfect love is and calls us to strive to emulate that. The commandments, the prophets, and even the teachings of the Gospel are not so much instruction manuals or to-do lists as they are pictures of what a loving world should look like, and condemnations of what an unloving, sinful world looks like instead. To rely strictly on those words would be to absolutize the historical contingencies of the world where they were first spoken and written, a world very different from our own, where people lacked the factual knowledge that we now have, and where even social experience was primitive. By and large, fundamentalist Christians today tacitly admit this; only a few would insist that diseases are caused by evil spirits instead of germs or that slavery is acceptable. Niebuhr would say that examples like these show that we can and should use the knowledge we have to understand the world, and then apply the law of love in solving the problems that knowledge shows us using the tools that knowledge gives us.[2]

Jerry Falwell takes a very different strategy to understanding the fundamental message of the Bible and to applying it to the Christian’s political life.[3] He does not purport to be discussing the meaning “behind” the words or God’s nature revealed “through” the words; he claims instead that the political principles he advocates are directly spoken by God to the authors of the Bible, who wrote them down without error or contradiction. Proper political activity thus is simply a matter of taking the direct warrant of God’s word and creating laws and enforcement mechanisms as these command. The Bible says that righteousness exalts a nation, so if we want America to be strong we need to be “righteous” and “holy,” which Falwell says means we must uphold strict sexual ethics with heterosexual monogamy or chastity the only options. Falwell asserts that the Book of Proverbs clearly defends the principle of private property, so the Bible supports capitalism as the only righteous economic system. Jesus told us to “make disciples of all the nations,” so America must remain militarily strong so that it can serve as a launching pad for worldwide evangelistic missions. If, at any point, science, moral philosophy, economics or any other area of human thought seems to contradict the Fundamentalist teaching that traditional, patriarchal, laissez-faire conservative American values are God’s will and the true expression of reality, then that science or ethical insight is to be cast aside as a temptation, which has been superseded by God’s revealed truth.

Politically, the difference between the two views is stark. For Niebuhr, the goal of politics is “justice,” which is the human attempt to express the law of love. Such an approach means that the Christian’s political activity should focus on finding where people are suffering, or where people are being denied full and equal participation in society, and trying to adjust the laws of the nation (and international relations) to reduce the suffering and oppression. For Falwell, “justice” is a matter of determining what the law of God is, and making sure to punish lawbreakers. The goal is not to make a more “loving” society, but a more “holy” one, one more pure, more devoted to obeying God’s commandments as spelled out in the Bible, in order to preserve social order and to make America strong. If America is strong, it can serve as the base for evangelism overseas; and if it does that, God will reward it with miraculous wealth, victory over its enemies and every other manner of blessing.

As Comey points out, Falwell’s claims of direct warrant for all his policy recommendations do not bear close examination. His claim that the Scripture is one harmonious message is only sustained by deliberately ignoring passages that seem to contradict each other. As Comey writes, Falwell’s harmonization of Scripture “flows smoothly in large part because small, troublesome passages are ignored.”[4] And while he offers direct warrant for his claim that all governmental authorities are ordained by God, citing Romans 13, he offers no such citation for his claim that life begins at conception because there is in fact no such obvious, clear scriptural backing. The Bible simply doesn’t discuss abortion at all.[5] It wasn’t an issue. His claim that God endorses capitalism is similarly baseless. Falwell often, at crucial points in his argument, simply claims to be speaking the plain and clear word of God when he is doing no such thing. Instead, Comey points out that Falwell’s own autobiographical statement is that he was a patriotic American before he became a born-again Christian, raising the possibility that Falwell is interpreting the Bible selectively to support his conservative political assumptions rather than deriving his political claims from the Bible as he says.[6]

[1] Comey., pp. 25-33

[2] Comey, pp. 33-54

[3] Comey, pp. 55-74

[4] Comey, p. 7

[5] Comey, pp. 9-10

[6] Comey, p. 93

Niebuhr is claiming that the Bible is not early science or “superscience,” nor is it history or any other sort of strictly factual report. It is also not a set of laws and proclamations by the Cosmic Legislator. Rather, Niebuhr sees Scripture as an expression of the true nature of God, the cosmos, and ourselves. This truth is that God is love, and we are free beings capable of living by the law of love but who inevitably choose otherwise because we are anxious. We are anxious because we are free and self-aware creatures. As creatures, we are finite and hence not fully in control of our own fate; we suffer loss and eventually death, and often for reasons that are either unforeseen or unpreventable. Unlike animals (says Niebuhr) we are self-aware, and thus recognize our own limited and mortal nature. As free beings, we are essentially capable of choosing how to react to our nature; we can live in love with one another and in humble reliance on God, or we can fall into anxiety and seek to preserve ourselves and our peace of mind by denying our true nature as creatures before God and in community with others. Because of the pervasive effects of anxiety and our own constant temptation to self-medicate (through prideful attempts to deny our creaturely limits, or sensual attempts to deny our rational and spiritual potentials, etc.) we inevitably sin. As creatures that are essentially created to be good and loving, but who are also anxious and inevitably succumb to sin, we have to rely on justice to approximate the sort of society we should have.[1] Justice is the human attempt to actualize God’s law of love. It is never perfect, but God shows us what perfect love is and calls us to strive to emulate that. The commandments, the prophets, and even the teachings of the Gospel are not so much instruction manuals or to-do lists as they are pictures of what a loving world should look like, and condemnations of what an unloving, sinful world looks like instead. To rely strictly on those words would be to absolutize the historical contingencies of the world where they were first spoken and written, a world very different from our own, where people lacked the factual knowledge that we now have, and where even social experience was primitive. By and large, fundamentalist Christians today tacitly admit this; only a few would insist that diseases are caused by evil spirits instead of germs or that slavery is acceptable. Niebuhr would say that examples like these show that we can and should use the knowledge we have to understand the world, and then apply the law of love in solving the problems that knowledge shows us using the tools that knowledge gives us.[2]

Jerry Falwell takes a very different strategy to understanding the fundamental message of the Bible and to applying it to the Christian’s political life.[3] He does not purport to be discussing the meaning “behind” the words or God’s nature revealed “through” the words; he claims instead that the political principles he advocates are directly spoken by God to the authors of the Bible, who wrote them down without error or contradiction. Proper political activity thus is simply a matter of taking the direct warrant of God’s word and creating laws and enforcement mechanisms as these command. The Bible says that righteousness exalts a nation, so if we want America to be strong we need to be “righteous” and “holy,” which Falwell says means we must uphold strict sexual ethics with heterosexual monogamy or chastity the only options. Falwell asserts that the Book of Proverbs clearly defends the principle of private property, so the Bible supports capitalism as the only righteous economic system. Jesus told us to “make disciples of all the nations,” so America must remain militarily strong so that it can serve as a launching pad for worldwide evangelistic missions. If, at any point, science, moral philosophy, economics or any other area of human thought seems to contradict the Fundamentalist teaching that traditional, patriarchal, laissez-faire conservative American values are God’s will and the true expression of reality, then that science or ethical insight is to be cast aside as a temptation, which has been superseded by God’s revealed truth.

Politically, the difference between the two views is stark. For Niebuhr, the goal of politics is “justice,” which is the human attempt to express the law of love. Such an approach means that the Christian’s political activity should focus on finding where people are suffering, or where people are being denied full and equal participation in society, and trying to adjust the laws of the nation (and international relations) to reduce the suffering and oppression. For Falwell, “justice” is a matter of determining what the law of God is, and making sure to punish lawbreakers. The goal is not to make a more “loving” society, but a more “holy” one, one more pure, more devoted to obeying God’s commandments as spelled out in the Bible, in order to preserve social order and to make America strong. If America is strong, it can serve as the base for evangelism overseas; and if it does that, God will reward it with miraculous wealth, victory over its enemies and every other manner of blessing.

As Comey points out, Falwell’s claims of direct warrant for all his policy recommendations do not bear close examination. His claim that the Scripture is one harmonious message is only sustained by deliberately ignoring passages that seem to contradict each other. As Comey writes, Falwell’s harmonization of Scripture “flows smoothly in large part because small, troublesome passages are ignored.”[4] And while he offers direct warrant for his claim that all governmental authorities are ordained by God, citing Romans 13, he offers no such citation for his claim that life begins at conception because there is in fact no such obvious, clear scriptural backing. The Bible simply doesn’t discuss abortion at all.[5] It wasn’t an issue. His claim that God endorses capitalism is similarly baseless. Falwell often, at crucial points in his argument, simply claims to be speaking the plain and clear word of God when he is doing no such thing. Instead, Comey points out that Falwell’s own autobiographical statement is that he was a patriotic American before he became a born-again Christian, raising the possibility that Falwell is interpreting the Bible selectively to support his conservative political assumptions rather than deriving his political claims from the Bible as he says.[6]

To be continued…

[1] Comey., pp. 25-33

[2] Comey, pp. 33-54

[3] Comey, pp. 55-74

[4] Comey, p. 7

[5] Comey, pp. 9-10

[6] Comey, p. 93

Advertisements

Review/Notes: David R. Law, “The Place, Role, and Function of the ‘Ultimatum’ of Either/Or Part Two, in Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings;”

February 21, 2013

David R. Law, “The Place, Role, and Function of the ‘Ultimatum’ of Either/Or Part Two, in Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 233-57

 

I wrote this (and the others) while researching for a project I am considering, looking at Kierkegaard’s discussions of sin.  Therefore, some of the comments below relate more to my own research and writings (in particular, my comments about the Oct. 16 1834 writings).  Still, I thought someone else might find them interesting, so I am sharing them. Thank you to everyone for your comments; they have been and will continue to be extremely helpful.  

 

Relying on personal notes and writings from Kierkegaard himself, Law dismisses the claim that the “Ultimatum” has no essential relationship to the rest of E/O despite the fact that it was apparently a late addition to the manuscript.  He reviews the basic argument of the Pastor, which he breaks into two parts:  (1) in human relations, if you love another, you would not want to be in the right, for that would constitute a breach when you felt wronged; rather, you would want always to assume that you were the one in the wrong, and that the other loved you as much and as well as always; (2) while in the case of human relationships this may be delusion, with God it is always a fact that God is in the right and that, therefore, you are always in the wrong; so the thought that “as against God I am always in the wrong” is upbuilding because it is both true and it is an expression of my love for God (which includes faith as trust in God’s goodness).

Law argues that the “Ultimatum” serves three purposes.  First, its surface reading is that it is a theodicy.  Given human ignorance and fallibility, we cannot know the ways of God or why things happen that seem bad.  However, if we love God, we will believe that we are always in the wrong; so we can banish doubt and anxiety and choose to have faith in God despite the evil we see.  Unlike most theodicies, which function only on an intellectual level, this one also focuses on the emotional level to awaken faith rather than mere notional assent.  Second, it can be seen as part of Kierkegaard’s covert messaging to Regine.  Finally, it can be seen as illustrating the bankruptcy of the ethical.  B sees this sermon as an indictment of A’s aestheticism; but in fact, it is also a rejection of the ethical, since the goal of the ethical is to become more and more in the right.  In showing how the ethical cannot lead us to a right relationship with God, and cannot even succeed on its own standards, Kierkegaard points the way to the later works (particularly FT) which lead into the religious.

The theodicy part is particularly interesting when compared to the two essays on “Love Hides a Multitude of Sins” in the upbuilding discourses of 16 Oct. 1843.  The first of these argues that our love for God can hide the sins of others from us; the second, that our love for God can hide our sins from ourselves, and in a sense from God too.  The “Ultimatum” is not hiding God’s sins, since God is always in the right and cannot wrong us; but it does function in a similar way, as our love for God eliminates all doubt and thus it is love that establishes and maintains the relationship between us and God.

Notice that in all three discourses, there is no real separation because of sin.  As long as we love God, we are united with God; the love itself is the uniting power that overcomes any separation.  There is no real sense of grace, or that grace is needed because we lack the ability to love or to thus be saved by our own love for God.

Review: David R. Law, “The ‘Ultimatum’ of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, Part Two, and the Two Upbuilding Discourses of 16 May 1843

February 13, 2013

David R. Law, “The ‘Ultimatum’ of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, Part Two, and the Two Upbuilding Discourses of 16 May 1843;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 259-90

 

 

Law compares the general message of the “Ultimatum” and the two upbuilding discourses that “accompanied” it.  Law argues that while the three discourses may use different language, all three treat the ethical as “the Law” in Pauline/Lutheran theology, the “disciplinarian” that educates the individual up to the state of being ready to move from the ethical to the religious, and even to prompt the individual to move to the religious by presenting the breakdown of the ethical project.  At the same time, Law argues that all three discourses do not move completely beyond the ethical, either, since all three grant the self some self-sufficiency since it does have the power to surrender to God, to accept that as against God we are always in the wrong, that every thing that comes to us from God is a good gift, etc.  instead of conceding that even the will itself may be corrupted by sin and in need of grace.

In the discussion of the second discourse, Law points out that doubt about the future is concern over nothing; compare this to The Concept of Anxiety.  Are these discourses the beginnings of discussion of anxiety?  But anxiety is “the dizziness of freedom,” a fear of responsibility; concern about the future does not necessarily involve one’s own freedom, but only one’s stance in relation to the possibilities of the future.  Finally, Law argues that both these discourses and the “Ultimatum” present a Kierkegaardian theodicy, based on the book of Job’s argument that human reason is simply too limited to judge God or to complain about “evil” so we should have faith that what God wills is in fact good.

 

Moral Virtue, Mental Health, and Happiness: The Moral Psychology of Kierkegaard’s Judge William

January 31, 2013

Peter J. Mehl, “Moral Virtue, Mental Health, and Happiness:  The Moral Psychology of Kierkegaard’s Judge William;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 155-82

 

 

This article discusses the relationship between “ethics and the psychological sciences (both broadly construed)” as that relationship is expressed by Judge William.  In pointing to the discussion of the self and the nature of personhood, and how these influence how we understand ethics and define mental health, Mehl has clearly put his finger on something important in Kierkegaard’s writings.  E/O I is largely intended as a depiction of how the self breaks down when one does not attend to these things.  The esthete does not strive to become a self, and hence disintegrates; even A is terrified by the Seducer, who is in fact the incarnation of A’s own psychological and moral theories.  E/O II presents an ethical person writing to A, trying to explain to him the true nature of the self, why the self needs to be ethical to be healthy, and what the nature of that “ethical” is.  Later (particularly pseudonymous) writings similarly employ this basic argument:  here is the nature of the self, and for the self to be healthy one needs to adopt this sort of life.

Mehl points out that the ethical person is often not in fact happy, and the “strong autonomy” like William advocates often leaves one the least happy because William’s ethics are not in fact livable.  You can never be perfect, you can never be completely self-aware, and you can never be fully autonomous.  Striving to be so only leads to frustration and unhappiness.  On the other hand, many self-absorbed or shallow esthetes are quite happy.  Mehl points out that William rejects this because such “happiness” is not based on anything the individual can control, but rather on external circumstances.  Mehl also argues that the only thing that makes William’s “strong autonomy” either viable or desirable is that his ethics is essentially theonomous.

I think Mehl goes astray in applying today’s standards of “mental health” to William’s argument.  Today’s therapist wants the patient to be happy above all else.  William has a more Kantian notion (and it is significant that Mehl makes so little mention of Kant).  For Kant, only the ethical person is truly free, truly rational and truly a person.  The person who aims at happiness becomes unfree and irrational; and since rationality is the hallmark of personhood, the person who acts for any reason other than moral duty is not really a person.  The fact that this moral agent may be less happy than the Epicurean is of no concern to Kant; and it seems to be of little concern to Judge William as well.  I say “little” because William, unlike Kant, does have a notion of an “equilibrium between the esthetic and the ethical.”  He believes that the ethical actually makes life more beautiful and, ultimately, happier than it would have been.  However, to act for the sake of attaining that sort of happiness would be to treat the ethical as only a means to that end, and that would not be to act ethically at all.  If I marry because I am convinced that marriage will in fact be the most romantically and erotically fulfilling life for me, my commitment isn’t to the marriage or my spouse; it is to me and my happiness.  In that case, I am not ethical at all, but still esthetic.  Only if I turn my life over to the ethical and live for its sake can I experience the happiness that comes from being ethical.  In E/O I, A remarks that one who pursues happiness often misses it by pursuing it; but he is unable to understand why.  William is offering an explanation:  the one who pursues the equilibrium that will lead to true happiness will lack the necessary condition to experience it, since the condition is that one be oriented towards the ethical rather than towards the esthetic; but the one who chooses the ethical will find that the esthetic comes back as well, even though it was not chosen.

Mehl notes that William’s description of the ethical in fact is a formula for despair, since it cannot be fulfilled.  He attributes this to William’s being part of a particular theological and moral tradition.  In this, I think he is on to something.  The overall structure of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship is to carry out the Pauline/Augustinian understanding of the relationship between ethics and faith:  the Law is a disciplinarian whose job is not to save, but to drive one to the Gospel.  Is that William’s understanding of his intention?  I don’t think so.   William tends to veer off before his reasoning reaches the breaking point.  His God is too ready to bless our moral efforts.  While the sermon in the “Ultimatum” may say that “as against God, we are always in the wrong,” William doesn’t really see it that way.  William doesn’t even realize the vast gulf between his own religious claims and those of the sermon he includes in his writings.  For William, we fulfill our duty to God by being ethical and by bearing God in mind while we do so.  We may fall short, through accident or ignorance or even failure of will; but William doesn’t see this as a major problem.  As long as one wills the ethical and strives with all one’s might, one can be said to have chosen “the good” and thus to be good.  The religion of Paul, who denounced all his previous striving to fulfill the Law as “garbage,” is completely alien to William.  His push for “strong autonomy” is more conceptual than theological, more Kant than Luther:  “strong autonomy” is the only true autonomy, and only the autonomous person is truly a person, truly free from the disintegrating forces of “obscure passions within” and social currents without.  Kierkegaard’s argument is that this sort of autonomy cannot stop short of “bankruptcy” except by an arbitrary choice:  Either willfully cut off ethical reasoning and accept one’s limited success in fulfilling the absolute moral law as “good enough”/Or follow the ethical to its logical conclusion, admit that one cannot fulfill its requirements, and throw oneself on God’s mercy.  William does not make this argument; he cannot, since he has “chosen” to remain partly unaware of his own moral failure and his own need for a radically religious alternative.  He can no more admit his need for the religious without thereby ceasing to be ethical than A could admit his need to choose good and evil without thereby choosing to be ethical.  That is why any discussion of the need for the religious or the ultimate unfulfillability of the ethical must wait for religious personae, such as Frater Taciturnus.

 

“Giving the Parson his Due”

January 23, 2013

I’ve started a second project, this one looking at Kierkegaard’s different understandings of “sin.”  As part of this process, I began reading and summarizing articles I found that were helpful to me.  I thought they might be helpful to someone else as well, and in any case I want to post something as regularly as I can and this is what I have.

 

Robert L. Perkins, “Either/Or/Or:  Giving the Parson his Due;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 207-231

 

 

Argues that the Judge’s religion is based on sentimentality and an undue confidence that God blesses our particular social arrangements, inclinations etc.  once we have referred them to God.  This would agree with the claim that the Judge’s ethics is essentially religious, in a sense; but it is a stunted, complacent and unreflective religion.  By contrast, the Parson argues that “as against God we are always in the wrong.”  Every social arrangement, every institution, etc. as well as every personal stand is at best pragmatic and utilitarian, useful, as good as we can make it; but it always could have been better and should have been better.  You shall love justice, you shall do justice; but you never do justice perfectly, which means you are never just.  This is an Upbuilding thought, because the idea that we could be in the right actually would drive us from God in the same way that the thought of being “in the right” against a friend can drive a wedge between friends.  To love is to want to be in the wrong, to want to be the one who is responsible for any distance (and then to seek to do away with that distance as much as possible).  The book and sermon end with the line, “Only the truth which builds up is true for you,” as if this were a throwaway line, a simple conclusion; in fact, it is really the conclusion of the whole and, reading of Kierkegaard’s journals reveals, a real epistemic claim.

REACTION:  What would happen if we accepted this as a serious criterion of “truth”?  Until now, it has been more of an existential slogan:  I will seek that which is upbuilding for me, and will settle for no truth that is merely objectively true.  In Kierkegaard’s writings, “objectively true” usually means either tautological, or empirically (and hence merely probably) true.  Perkins points out that Kierkegaard does not deny that there are other sorts of truth; but he does claim it is literally true.  And conversely, Perkins says, any putative truth that destroys your humanity is a lie for you (p. 230).

Clearly, this is not the rationalist truth or the empiricist truth.  It is not coherence theory or correspondence theory.  The closest it comes to is pragmatic theory, as stated by James.  There are differences, however.  James states that his definition of truth is in fact the “real” one, if everyone just thought about it.  When we say something is true, we mean that it is useful for achieving some purpose:  explaining some phenomenon, connecting our other truths into a coherent whole, helping us to solve some problem or to live better lives, or something of that sort.  Unlike some pragmatists, James allows for a “will to believe” and accepts such claims as free will or the existence of God if those claims help one who accepts them to live a happier or more productive life.  At the same time, he claims that our truths should live in peace with one another; if two of our truths seem to be in conflict, we need to find a way to understand one or both of them in a way that eliminates the conflict.  For example, writing in Pragmatism about belief in God, he says that this is not to be taken in a way that conflicts with scientific thinking:  “Remember Vivekananda’s use of the Atman: it is indeed not a scientific use, for we can make no particular deductions from it. It is emotional and spiritual altogether.”[1]  Other times, he chooses a particular religious belief on pragmatic criteria, as when he chooses “meliorism” between the extreme claims of either pessimism (the world is and always will be wretched) and optimism (the world’s salvation is inevitable).  The claim that the world could be saved (but might not, based at least in part on human actions) seems to James to agree with our own sense experience as well as the need for truths that inspire us to action.  Kierkegaard does not care to reconcile our objective truths with our subjective truths; instead, he seeks to draw a sharp line between what we can know and what is merely probable, and between that which is best left to probability versus that which demands a choice.  In James’ terms, “subjective truth” applies only to living, forced, and momentous choices. [2]   In fact, James developed his theory of truth partly in reaction to Kierkegaard, as his reference to Kierkegaard in Pragmatism reveals.[3]  James intends his theory to encompass both the insights of the empiricist tradition as these were being refined by pragmatists like Peirce and Dewey, and a notion of subjective truth similar to that offered by Kierkegaard.  However, James seems more concerned with the happiness of the individual, and considers this an important criterion for some kinds of pragmatic truth claims.  When Kierkegaard writes of the truth that “builds up,” he does not primarily mean “makes you happy.”  As Judge William points out, the esthete may be very happy, simply because life has not yet revealed the fragility and ultimate falsehood of the basis of his or her life.[4]  To be “built up” is something else, more related to becoming a full individual; Kierkegaard’s most direct statements of its meaning are that to be “built up” is to be strengthened in one’s relationship to God.  When one is more correctly related to God, one becomes less anxious, more free and autonomous, less controlled by social forces or “obscure passions within” and more of an individual.  However, it seems more true to say that these are the fruits of being correctly related to God than to say that to be “built up” is to become a certain sort of individual who will consequentially relate to God.  At times in Kierkegaard’s writings, it seems as if individuality is identical with a true God-relationship, while at other times it seems as if true individuality were the result of the God-relationship. However, given that Kierkegaard’s notions of individuality often seem to require a person with gifts for self-reflection and intellectual achievement, while we are all children of God and can choose to live in a relationship with God, it seems that (on his own criteria) it is more upbuilding to see the God-relationship as original and foundational.  We can, however, evaluate the God-relationship by asking whether it is leading towards greater selfhood, greater autonomy, greater integration of the personality, and overall better functioning; if it is destructive of the self, leads towards injustice rather than justice, hate rather than love, fear rather than faith, self-flagellation and wallowing in guilt rather than confidence in God’s love and redeeming power, then perhaps what you are related to is not actually God after all.


[1] William James, Pragmatism:  a new name for some old ways of thinking, (1907) Lecture VIII:  “Pragmatism and Religion.”

[2] William James, “The Will to Believe,” pt. I, in The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Religion (NY:  Longmans, Green & Co., 1912)

[3] Pragmatism, Lecture VI, “Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth.”

[4] Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, pt. II; edited and translated with introduction and notes by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1987) pp. 191-92