Sunday, June 14, 2009
Kierkegaard's Moment by Joakim Garff
'Neither before nor since has the Danish clergy been subjected to such systematic persecution. Accusations veritably rained down on this "guild of clerical swindlers", also called "the company of pastors", this band of little, mediocre men, who had been so fortunate to get their parasitical snouts way down into the country's treasury, and who would do anything simply to hang on to their positions, even if, "for example, the state came up with the idea of instituting the religion that the moon is made of green cheese." Kierkegaard employed countless allusions, little stories, anecdotes, gossip, tasteless innuendos, and whatever else worked, in order to make the pecuniary position of the pastors into the central theme of The Moment, where he put the matter quite directly: "The question of the continued existence of the established ecclesiastical order is- a question of money."
Kierkegaard emphasized the commercialization of Christianity, giving his articles titles such as "The Clergy as a Merchant Class" or "The Enormous Guild of Professional Pastors". Not infrequently the clergy was simply called "One Thousand Public Officials Who Must Live Off Christianity" (that is, they live off "the cloying, syrupy sweetness that is the stock-in-trade of witnesses to the lie"). The Pastor's role, Kierkegaard insisted, is thus to protect society against Christianity, and just as a statistician, when he is presented with "the size of the population of a large city is able to state the corresponding number of prostitutes consumed by such a city, it is also possible to calculate how many perjurers ( pastors) the state needs in order to protect itself against Christianity." This is a secret pact, and it produces benefits for both partners, the state and the pastors. And indeed, as a sort of business partnership, the pastors are especially keen on two things "(a) that the people call themselves Christians- the bigger the flock of sheep, the better that they take the name of 'Christians', and (b) that the matter rest there, that they do not find out what Christianity actually is."
Despite Kierkegaard's insistence that he wanted to carry out his campaign as "an individual", his newsletter was nonetheless a break with his previous principles, and Sibbern could scarcely believe his own aged eyes when he saw the first issue of The Moment. Not only did he have some doubts about whether Kierkegaard really had "a Christian disposition and temperament...although he certainly must have something of a sort," he was also surprised that Kierkegaard "who hated agitation the whole time I knew him, himself had become a zealous agitator." Martenson also noted this reversal: "Here he addressed himself to the masses- he, who had previously disdained the masses and had only sought quiet encounter with the individual."
Nor was it long before Kierkegaard himself began to sense the discrepancy between the message and the medium, between personal protest and public broadcast. On August 30 (1855), when he considered the effect he was having, he found no fault with the interest people had taken in his cause. There was absolutely no doubt that people were reading him, but the next step people took was literally in the wrong direction:
"The next Sunday, people go to church as usual. What K. says is basically true, and it is very interesting to read what he has to say- that the whole of the official worship of God consists of making a fool of God, that it is blasphemy. But we are used to it, after all, and we cannot free ourselves from it; we don't have the strength to do so. Still it is certain that we will take great pleasure in reading what he writes; one can become very impatient to get hold of the latest issue and learn more about this criminal matter, which is undeniably of enormous interest."
Naturally, Kierkegaard found this sort of interest deplorable, and it served only to confirm him in his belief that Christianity had been abolished and that "in our times, people are not even in what I would call a state of religion, but are alien to and unacquainted with the sort of passion every religion must require, and without which one cannot have any religion, least of all Christianity."
Kierkegaard's campaign was a corrective to "the established order"; he had pointed this out frequently and vociferously. But it was also something else, something he expended almost equal energy not mentioning: It was a corrective to extensive portions of his own works; his pseudonymous ventriloquism had now reversed itself, finally turning into personal statements. "When the castle gate of inwardness has long been closed and is finally opened, it does not move soundlessly like an interior door on spring-mounted hinges", he explained with a medieval metaphor.
In the work What Christ Judges with Respect to Official Christianity, dated June 16, he expressed himself more directly:"I began by passing myself off as a poet, cunningly taking aim at what I surely believed was the central point of official Christianity." The crux of the situation was that people had transformed "Christianity into poetry" and had thus abolished "the imitation of Christ, so that one can relate to the exemplar merely by means of imagination, living oneself in totally different categories- which means that one relates oneself to Christianity poetically." Kierkegaard noted with respect to his tactics that "the procedure was the same as used by the police to make the persons involved feel secure, in order to gain the opportunity to investigate a case more thoroughly." As time passed, this investigation revealed so much that the poet had to undergo a transfiguration: "Then the poet suddenly transformed himself. He cast off his guitar- if I may be permitted to put it thus-and took out a book called 'The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Kierkegaard's words border on the utterly platitudinous, but they were meant in deadly earnest, which is clear from various bits of evidence, including a piece in the seventh issue of The Moment that lays out in some detail the danger the poet poses to religion...
Something similar applies with respect to the remarks about nonsense (subsequently cited so often) which appeared in the ninth issue of The Moment:
"The human race is shrewd. It has compelled existence to reveal its secret. It has got wind of the fact that if one wants to have life made easy (and that is exactly what we want), it can be easily done. All one needs to do is to make oneself and make being a human being more and more insignificant- then life becomes easier and easier. Be nonsense, and you will see, all difficulties will disappear!...Be nonsense. Have one opinion today, another tomorrow, and then once again have the one you had the day before yesterday, and a new one on Friday. Be nonsense. Make yourself into many people. Or parcel yourself out, have one opinion anonymously, another under your own name, one orally, another in writing, one as a public official, another as a private citizen..and you will see, all difficulties will disappear."
"Nonsense" is the category of lightness, of non-committal and experimental hovering, of the mutability of the subject. But in precisely being all this, nonsense is also an insidious or involuntary metaphor for Kierkegaard's own works, which merely by virtue of the rapidly changing characters, the exploding population of the portrait gallery found in his pseudonymous works, and the edifying discourses in very varying spirits provide an almost classic demonstration of the behavior of a person who makes himself into "many", who parcels out his self, who has one opinion anonymously, another under his own name.
Kierkegaard had taken on his own character, had put aside all forms of indirect communication, and would no longer tolerate inwardness, neither his own, nor that of his culture, as a pretext for refraining from action.'
Soren Kierkegaard; A Biography by Joakim Garff,
Translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse