Misc. notes of Kierkegaard reading

I won’t be able to write entire posts on my thoughts on each one of these. So here are some excerpts with a few notes on some of the more interesting passages I discovered reading the anthology The Essential Kierkegaard.

SK seems to be complete unaware of anything remotely like what concerns Girard. He talks a lot about personal freedom, the dignity of choosing and only ever mentions the “other” in passing as a possible distraction. But if Girard is right, even half right, the other is FAR more than that.

SK’s mopeyness about breaking off his engagement was hard to stomach.

The best stuff and the worst stuff is going to be autobiographical for most writers. Only a true master can capture someone else. It seems that this is behind some of SK’s motivation to write under pseudonyms, as invented characters.

SK dices exact language about being born again using some Greek ideas from Socrates. It kind of fits better with grace actually. It deemphasises our own striving. I like that.

SK says “the fullness of time” is a very important Christian concept. Outside of it, the atonement and judgment fall apart. This seems to factor largely into Robert Capon’s concept of redemption as well.

SK says that idealism is sin. Yikes!

Sin against God is much worse than sin by itself (not that there is such a thing!).

The opposite of sin is not virtue, but faith. He’s not the first person to say this of course, but he proves it the long way. This is incredibly important I think. The opposite of faith is not do-gooding but rather faith.

It seems to me that SK makes a good case that hell must be some sort of life. It is sin and despair perpetuated yet unable to die. But something has to keep it going. The would make it NOT annihilationism. It also makes our dark earth very close to hell already. Lewis gets this too.

On utilitarianism. We don’t build Cathedrals anymore because “what use are they?”. Instead we build skyscrapers full of people who hate their job.

I have had little to win or to lose in the association with the ordinary run of men, partly because what they did – so-called practical life – does not interest me much, partly because their coldness and indifference to the spiritual and deeper currents in man alienate me even more from them. (This “practical” life, which is fairly prevalent in the whole era, is manifest also in big things; whereas the past ages built works before which the observer must stand in silence, now they build a tunnel under the Thames (utility and advantage). Yes, almost before a child gets time to admire the beuty of a plant or some animal, it asks: Of what us is it?)

-Early Journal Entries, p.11

This is funny. This is likely how I would become a humor writer – accidentally.

One carelessly writes down one’s personal observations, has them printed, and in the various proofs one will eventually acquire a number of good ideas. Therefore, take courage, ou who have not yet dared to have something printed. Do not despise typographical errors, and to become witty by means of typograpical errors may be considered a legitimate way to become witty.

-Either/Or, p.38

This is similar to the idea that anyone can take a bullet for someone – that’s relatively easy. Real love is shown by sticking with them for years and years. Time, boredom, despair – these are the real enemies we must face in life.

Most people complain that the world is so prosaic that things do not go in life as in the novel, where opportunity is always so favorable. I complain that in life it is not as in the novel, where one has hardhearted fathers and nisses and trolls to battle, and enchanted princesses to free. What are all such adversaries together compared with the pale, blodless, tenacious-of-life nocturnal forms with which I battle and to which I myself give life and existence?

-Either/Or, p39

Wonderful stuff on the nature of youthful passion:

My soul has lost possibility. If I were to wish for something, I would wish not for wealth or power but for the passion of possibility, for the eye, eternally young, eternally ardent, that sees possiblity everywhere. Pleasere disappoints; possibility does not. And what wine is so sparkling, so fragrant, so intoxicating! …Then I call to mind my youth and my first love – when I was filled with longing; now I long only for my first longing. What is youth? A dream. What is love? The content of the dream.

-Either/Or, p.45

A nod to the common man. SK wrote a lot of stuff that was really hard to read. But at least he recognized that everything that was REALLY important must not be that hard.

What in the most profound sense is the meaning of life must be capable of being grasped even by a more simple person [than I].

-Either/Or p.78

Needing God is nothing to be ashamed of. I didn’t realize when I marked this passage that it is often quoted.

…the words “to be contented with the grace of God” will not only comfort a person, and then comfort him again every time earthly want and distress make him, to speak mundanely, needful of comfort, but when he really has become attentive to the words they will call him aside, where he no longer hears the secular mentality’s earthly mother tongue, the speech of human beings, the noise of shop keepers, but where the words explain themselves to him, confide to him the secret of perfection: that to need God is nothing to be ashamed of but is perfection itself, and that the saddest thing of all is if a human being goes through life without discovering that he needs God.

-To Need God is Man’s Highest Perfection, p.87

I think I’m done with SK for quite a while. Must read something else.

Setting yourself up for inspiration

Something we will often try to do is duplicate the environment in which inspiration happened. We went on a feverishly productive writing spree while sitting in that one coffee shop in Portland and so we try to return to the same shop and order the same drink. We had a deeply affecting time of prayer and worship at church that day after we sung that one song. So we return and sing that song again. We had a romantic dinner with our fiance at the time and now we return there after 10 years of marriage with high hopes. I wrote that awesome rock song that went to #1 on the charts while I was high on weed. I need to get some more weed and write some more songs, right!?

The problem is, this sort of thing almost never works. SK addresses that here in a manner that is pretty close to home for me:

My home had become dismal to me simply because it was a repetition of the wrong kind. My mind was sterile, my troubled imagination constantly conjured up tantalizingly attractive recollections of how the ideas had presented themselves the last time, and the tares of these recollections choked out every thought at birth. I went out to the café where I had gone every day the previous time to enjoy the beverage that, according to the poet’s precept, when it is “pure and hot and strong and not misused,” can always stand alongside that to which the poet compares it, namely, friendship. At any rate, I prize coffee. Perhaps the coffee was just as good as last time; one would almost expect it to be, but it was not to my liking. The sun through the café windows was hot and glaring; the room was just about as humid as the air in a saucepan, practically cooking. A draft, which like a small trade wind cut through everything, prohibited thoughts of any repetition, even if the opportunity had otherwise offered itself.

-Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition, EK p.107

The truth is, much of his essay on “repetition” was beyond my understanding. The parts I remember had to do with memory.

It seems that trying to replicate the environment where something wonderful happened is misguided. If we want inspiration and passion, we need to start somewhere else – probably just with hard work. My theory is that, for myself, the thing that will push me through the right kind of hard work will be teaching.

It almost seems that to endeavor something for it’s sake alone is one’s downfall. For when I come to think, I can think of nothing. But when I aim to accomplish something else, I can often think steadily and effectively. My wife says I work well to deadlines and she’s right. But I think it is more the thing itself than the fact that there is a deadline. This is why I must teach. The constant, steady challenge of preparing the class and figuring out the puzzle of communicating to the students – this will drive me, in fact ENABLE me to think. Otherwise the thoughts will never take shape. I have not the raw willpower to work through them in a vacuum.

A short rant about keeping your eye out for “noise” in your observations

This thought came to me a few days ago while listening to some pretty flimsy data analysis from a marketer and a journalist…

All modern philosophy is a philosophy of doubt. You can’t explain things away forever. At the same time, when, historically, a LOT of your data can be explained away as crap or “noise” (as in “signal versus noise”), then you get an eye for that sort of thing. If you run into someone who has absolutely NO eye on the noise, how can you not help but seriously doubt their conclusions?

When tracking down a difficult IT problem, parsing millions of lines of log files can often yield nothing but a stack of false leads. There are innumerable variables and we are just poking around trying to isolate something useful. A clever person with a lot of experience can hopefully come up with something solid to work from.

On the other hand, should major policy decisions, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and good people’s jobs, should these things be decided upon by milling around the food-court and collecting some anecdotal evidence from passerbys? Should one angry email from a customer cause you to ignore hours of careful data collection to the contrary?

We use the latter method all the time though. We must, given the constraints of life. However, I propose that we should ALWAYS keep a humble and healthy eye on the noise and the potential for noise. There are so many ways in which our observations can turn out to be crap. Watch out.

What philosophers say about actuality is often just as disappointing as it is when one reads on a sign in a secondhand shop: Pressing Done Here. If a person were to bring his clothes to be pressed, he would be duped, for the sign is merely for sale.

-Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, EK p.42

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A position on creation

Some Christians like to argue a lot over their interpretations of various passages of scripture. I don’t like to get into the these arguments, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care or have an opinion about the topic at hand. Eschatology is probably the worst, followed by (at least in the last 20 years) by what is the proper handling of Genesis.

I don’t like positions that try to shoe-horn the biblical narrative into a very modern scientific framework. That would include most variations of theistic evolution. On the other hand, I find cases of literalist one-upmanship to be equally obnoxious. Fighting to see how astonishingly concrete we can interpret each verse is, in my opinion, a terrible guiding principal, despite the fact that it nearly always finds itself contra liberalism, which is usually commendable.

So what the heck do I believe? Well, I had to stop and think about it. It’s change a fair amount over the years. I’ve left my fundamentalist YEC roots, but not too far behind. I don’t believe the discoveries of science are opposed to anything God tells us. They simply reveal the mechanics of God’s design. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of bad science out there. Bleh. Nobody should use that stuff. Not even my worst enemy. I’ve also been exposed to several much more metaphorical and poetic ways of reading scripture and discovered some of them to make a lot more sense without diminishing any of the truth and power of the special revelation. I feel like I’ve picked up a lot of ideas about reality from Tolkien as well, despite that he never deals with this sort of thing directly. Oh, and Occam’s Razor. I know it get’s a bad rap in some circles, but I dig it. Why come up with a really complicated explanation when a simple one works and is still orthodox?

Explaining where all of these ideas come from would probably take to long. I’m not quite sure myself. For my own record keeping though, here is my current version of creationism. This will probably be a bit different if you were to ask me in a few years.

1. Very old universe (Doesn’t need to be young. Old is more interesting anyway (Possibility of other worlds around billions of stars, etc.). Not so self-centered, easiest explanation to it’s massive size and the problems with speed of light and observable distance.)

2. Old earth. (Again, doesn’t need to be young. Easiest explanation to old geology.)

3. Young animals. (Special creation relatively recently, though still an age before man.)

4. Virtually no macro-evolution of species. (Darwinism is a joke. Virtually no archeological or contemporary biological evidence for anything of the sort.)

5. Very young man. (6000 years. Adam and Eve. Special creation. Man is not a retooled earlier species.)

6. Civilizations formed almost immediately (Cain building the first City. Record of 6000-year old Mesopotamian cities, followed quickly by civilization in India and North Africa. No long period of cave-men, etc.)

7. Noah’s flood was regional. (Doesn’t need to be global to accomplish everything important.)

So there it is. I should have just skipped the intro. I need to see if I can do this with the problem of evil too. Hmm, trickier.

I’ll end with a very relevant quote from my recent reading:

Let us now examine the narrative in Genesis more carefully as we attempt to dismiss the fixed idea that it is a myth, and as we remind ourselves that no age has been more skillful than our own in producing myths of the understanding, an age that produces myths and at the same time wants to eradicate all myths.

-Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, EK p.142

Wishing to forget, wishing to remember

I believe S.K. is correct in his description here of the mechanics of memory.

To forget — this is the desire of all people, and when they encounter something unpleasant, they always say: If only I could forget! But to forget is an art that must be practiced in advance. To be able to forget always depends upon how one remembers, but how one remembers depends upon how one experiences actuality. The person who runs aground with the speed of hope will recollect in such a way that he will be unable to forget. Thus nil admirari [marvel at nothing] is the proper wisdom of life. No part of life ought to have so much meaning for a person that he cannot forget it any moment he wants to; on the other hand, every single part of life ought to have so much meaning for a person that he can remember it at any moment.
-Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, EK p.56

The wise advice amounts to “don’t take anything that happens TOO seriously, lest you discover later that you wish to forget it. On the other hand, still try to take life somewhat seriously. There are lots of things you may wish to remember too.”

Borrowing money to pay off your debts

In this passage, Kierkegaard, with tongue-in-cheek, discusses the evils of boredom and then proposes a wonderful idea to borrow money to pay off our debts. It’s all pretty funny, especially the last part. When you realize that this is exactly what the U.S. Federal Reserve is in fact doing right now, it perhaps is not quite as hilarious.

Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads.  This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world.  The gods were bored; therefore they created man.  Adam was bored because he was alone; thus Eve was created.  Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in quantity in exact proportion to the growth of the population.  Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille.  After that, the population of the world increased and the nations were bored en masse.  To amuse themselves, they hit upon the notion of building a tower so high that it would reach the sky.  The idea itself is just as boring as the tower was high, and provides a terrible demonstration of how boredom gained the upper hand.   Then the peoples were dispersed around the world, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored.  And what consequences this boredom had!–mankind stood tall and fell far, first through Eve, then from the Babylonian tower.

On the other hand, what was it that delayed the fall of Rome? Was it not bread and circuses? And what is being done now? Is consideration being given to any means of amusement? On the contrary, our doom is being expedited. There is the idea of convening a consultative assembly. Can anything more boring be imagined, both for the honorable delegates as well as for one who will read and hear about them? The country’s financial situation is to be improved by economizing. Can anything more boring be imagined?

Instead of increasing the debt, they propose to pay it off in installments. From what I know about the current political situation, it would be an easy matter for Denmark to borrow fifteen million rix-dollars. Why does no one consider this? Now and then we hear that someone is a genius and therefore does not pay his debts; why should a nation not do the same, provided we are all agreed? Borrow the fifteen million; use it not to pay off our debts but for public entertainment. Let us celebrate the millennium with in games and merriment. Just as currently there are boxes everywhere for contributions of money, there should be bowls everywhere filled with money. Everything would be gratis: the theater gratis, the women of easy virtue gratis, rides to Deer Park gratis, funerals gratis, one’s funeral eulogy gratis. I say “gratis” for when money is always available, everything is in a certain sense free.

No one should be allowed to own any property. Only in my case would there be an exception. I shall reserve for myself an allowance of one hundred rix-dollars a day deposited in a London bank, partly because I cannot manage on less, partly because I am the one who provided the idea, and finally because who knows whether I shall be able to think up a new idea when the fifteen million are gone.

-Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, EK p.51

Why does Lewis seem so original?

Why does C.S. Lewis’s writing seem so original? Why is it so darn good?

Keeping Girard in mind, it seems that Lewis, unlike the vast majority of Christian writers, does not start with the Other as his launchpad.

So so so much theological writing is polemical. It is defined by what it is opposing. Pick up any book advocating a “Christian Worldview” and you’ll find most of the ink is spilled in the act of being contra this or contra that. Now that doesn’t make any of the ideas presented true or otherwise, but it is the form the discourse takes. I think this is more than just a writing style, but the evidence of a deeper philosophy – one of mimetic rivalry. Mere Christianity is more different from these than I previously realized.

So often, Lewis rarely gives his “opponents” the time of day. You barely even know they are there. His ideas are not slave to the Other. He sets the tone and in the process opens doors and sounds so positive, without the ideas losing any of their power. I think he proves that this CAN be done by simply doing it well, at least most of the time.

This is a note to myself to keep this in mind when writing int he future. Can you turn a piece of criticism on it’s head?

The gentle removal of illusion

Speaking about the disturbing fact that Christendom is full of non-Christians, Kierkegaard says:

On the assumption, then, that a religious author has from the ground up become aware of this illusion, Christendom, and to the limit of his ability with, note well, the help of God, wants to stamp it out – what is he to do then? Well, first and foremost, no impatience. If he becomes impatient, then he makes a direct assault and accomplishes – nothing. By a direct attack he only strengthens a person in the illusion and also infuriates him. Generally speaking, there is nothing that requires as gentle a treatment as the removal of an illusion. If one in any way causes the one ensnared to be antagonized, then all is lost. And this one does by a direct attack, which in addition also contains the presumptuousness of demanding that another person confess to one or face-to-face with one make the confession that actually is most beneficial when the person concerned makes it to himself secretly. The latter is achieved by the indirect method, which in the service of the love of truth dialectically arranges everything for the one ensnared and then, modest as love always is, avoids being witness to the confession that he makes alone before God, the confession that he has been living in an illusion.

-Kierkegaard, On my work as an author, The aesthetic writing, “Christendom is an enormous illusion”, Essential p.459

This may be the best thing I read in the whole book. I guess because it rings very true with my own perception of people and reality.

Must we assume that preaching the gospel faithfully will always involve some sort of “in your face” confrontation? As if your preaching against sodomy will strike conviction into the hearts of sodomites within earshot. Only the Holy Spirit can do such a thing and his voice is keen and quiet.

The hedonist and materialist surfing Amazon.com for a larger TV and eying the $80 Scotch at the liquor store on the way home – he is under a spell.

There are two ways to look at the sinner (and we’re all sinners). He can be a rebel – hateful and smearing at his creator. Or he can be seen as a slave – someone trapped and pitiable. God has hard words for the rebel indeed! But the imagery used to describe the whole life and ministry of Jesus Christ, even by himself directly, was one of “setting the captives free”, “those in darkness have seen a great light”. When Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, he says that he wished he could gather them under his wings like a protective hen. He could just have easily said that he wished to beat them straight with a rod for their rebellion and idolatry. But he didn’t say that. A few years later, in 73 A.D., they would be beaten down and crushed by Rome. But only a week after he said that, he died for a city – even a whole world and race – full of slaves.

As S.K. put it, “demanding a face-to-face confession” when what they really need is one in secret, in their heart of hearts – that is how you sabotage a conversion experience. Because we are more slaves than rebels.