Happy Birthday, Kierkegaard

Posted by on May 5, 2009 at 10:45 am.

Today is May 5th, which amongst other holidays, also marks the 196th birthday of Søren Kierkegaard.  In light of this, I thought it would be appropriate to enjoy the following piece from The Moment entitled “The Official/the Personal.”  It is the seventh and final section to part 4 of Kierkegaard’s The Moment series, which was published on July 7, 1855, about six months months before he died.

kierkegaard_circleYou who are reading this, imagine the following incident.  You are visited by someone who, quiet and earnest, yet deeply shaken (without in any way conveying to you any idea of being demented), says to you: “Pray for me, oh, pray for me”—is it not true that this would make an almost terrifying impression on you? Why? Because you yourself personally received the impression of a human personality who in all likelihood must be engaged in the severest struggle with a personal God, since it could occur to him to say to another person: Pray for me, pray for me.

When, however, you read, for example, in a “pastoral letter”: Brothers, include us in your intercessory prayers, just as we unceasingly pray for you night and day and include you in our intercessory prayers—why does this very likely make no impression at all on you? I wonder if it is not because you involuntarily have the suspicion that this is forumula, rigmarole, something official, from a handbook or from a music box. Alas! One cannot say of something official that it has a bad taste. No, what is repugnant about something official is that one thereby or as a consequence of it becomes so exceedingly indifferent because it has no taste, because it, to use an old saying, tastes like sticking one’s tongue out the window and getting spanked for it.

And now when the man whom the state has recently engaged as a shepherd to walk in velvet in order to proclaim that Jesus Christ lived in poverty and taught “Follow me,” when Bishop Martensen presumably has decided to fight with all his might—for what is official—against sects and heresies etc., and, moreover, when there are hundreds in the service of what is official—then it may certainly be made necessary that there be at least one person who concerns himself with what is official. In this regard I dare not expect any appointment from the side of the state, perhaps instead—just between us—from the side of our Lord. Believe me, there is nothing so repugnant to God, no heresy, no sin, nothing so repugnant to him as what is official.  You can easily understand that.  Since God is a personal being, you can surely comprehend how repugnant it is to him that one wants to wipe his mouth with forumulas, wants to wait upon him with official solemnity, official platitutes, etc.  Indeed, just because God in the most eminent sense is personality, sheer personality, for that very reason what is official is infinitely more repugnant to him than it is for a woman to discover that a proposal is made to her according to—a book of formulas (Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998], pp. 172-3).