This book review has two parts. In the first part I discuss Soren Kierkegaard and his increasing importance. In the second part I recommend a book on Kierkegaard that those curious about his thought might find of interest, or even edifying.
BYU Holds International Kierkegaard Conference
An international conference of scholars converged at BYU during the past academic year in honor of the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.
For three days scholars from around the world gathered to reflect on the thought of Kierkegaard, to explore in depth who he was, and to also celebrate Kierkegaard’s growing influence -he died in 1855-in Christian theology, including BYU’s interest in Kierkegaard for L.D.S. theology scholars. (An international conference on Kierkegaard at BYU is one more reason for celebrating the recognition of Mormon religious thought as Christian theology.)
Who was Kierkegaard? Why Was He Featured at BYU?
To appreciate the significance of the Conference, it may be helpful to focus on Kierkegaard, and why he is important.
Kierkegaard, also known also as “SK,” lived in Denmark from 1813 to 1855. He died at age forty-two, mourned -like Mozart– by no one. Beginning in 1843 Kierkegaard had produced a staggering corpus of work. In just the space of 12 years he wrote over 20 books or publications. His thought went ignored in America until the 1920s. But today SK is universally esteemed and carefully studied. Though he died alone and ignored, one might say he got the last laugh on his contemporaneous critics.
As a young Mormon, I was urged to read Kierkegaard my first year at the graduate school of Yale. One of my professors who knew something of Mormons suggested focusing on SK’s book entitled, Training in Christianity, for its Latter-day Saint resonances-as a more theoretical type of thinker as C.S. Lewis. Ever since, to speak personally if I man, I have found it edifying to return to “SK”-much like I have returned to read for edification the writings of C.S. Lewis (admittedly, Kierkegaard is more complicated, like C.S. Lewis on steroids).
The academic conference at BYU was excellent. That, anyway, was how friends attending I knew from Yale described it.
In the remaining part of this article, I am interested in recommending a book to introduce Kierkegaard to a broader Mormon audience. This recommendation is partly an answer to the question, if you have ever had occasion to ask it, what might one read after reading and even re-reading C.S. Lewis? To answer, I can recommend a book that has been around now for two decades.
What matters in making this book recommendation is obviously not that it is “hot off the presses”-for it is not. Lewis himself thought it intellectual snobbery to follow the herd in choosing books he read. As he strolled through Cambridge or Oxford, Lewis would stop at the tables out front of small book shops stacked with old books. He literally did not judge a book by its cover. This was incidentally now he came to discover before anyone else David Lindsey’s Journey to Arcturus-which has been reprinted ever since. Elder Maxwell even had a copy of Journey to Arcturus.
So what matters as I see things is recommending a book that can help the reader curious about SK, no matter being 20 years old.
A book that does this is Daily Readings with Soren Kierkegaard, edited by van de Weyer, published by Templegate Publishers, way back in 1995. The price on Amazon hovers around $5.00.
It’s a short work, easy to take on a trip, and lets SK speak essentially for himself. And it will introduce you to the thought of SK, hopefully providing edification, and also clueing one into what warranted an international conference at BYU.
The book consists of mostly one-page thoughts of Kierkegaard, taken from throughout his vast literature. Excerpts of Kierkegaard from Daily Readings with Soren Kierkegaard follow in the remainder of this review.
From Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers:
(The philosopher of religion, Professor Malcolm Diamond of Princeton University, once referred to SK as “the most Christ-centered thinker” in the history of academic thought. Kierkegaard left behind stacks and stacks of his Daily Journals, now translated into English by Howard V. and Edna H. Hong of St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota, as Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers.)
“The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned, is not that his father should be an atheist or even a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in his being a pious God-fearing man, and yet who nonetheless has deep in his soul an unrest and discontent which neither piety nor the fear of God can calm. The child will observe this, and conclude that God is not infinite love.”
“It requires more courage to suffer than to act. It takes more courage to forget than to remember. The most wonderful quality of God is that he can forget men’s sins.”
From Training in Christianity (1850)
(Kierkegaard thought his greatest work was Training in Christianity. In it he treats of the theme of becoming or being built-up as a true disciple of Christ.)
“When a person needs help of any kind, he seeks out someone who has the ability to help him. He might beg that person to help him out of the goodness of his heart; but more usually he must pay for the help he receives. The helper thus sets a high value on himself. Jesus Christ by contrast never needs to be sought. He knows our needs before we know them ourselves, and he is offering to help us before we ask. He sets no value on himself, but gives himself totally to us without asking any reward. And we soon discover that he is the only one who can help us in our deepest needs.”
“Christ insists on being a definite historical person, who lived eighteen hundred years ago in a world quite different from our own. But we do not learn about him merely from history . . . . He refuses to be judged by the standards of history, which would dismiss him as an insignificant preacher in an insignificant land . . . . He can only be understood as above and beyond history, as infinitely present at every moment.”
From Attack Upon Christendom (1855)
SK’s final work was a series of pamphlets and newspaper writings which his first English translator, Walter Lowrie, brought together as the book Attack Upon Christendom . “Christendom” in this context refers to the established Christianity of his own time in Denmark-and is a presentation by Kierkegaard of what he saw as that Christendom’s apostasy from the Christianity of the Scriptures.
“In the early ages of Christianity the various heresies about the person of Christ showed unmistakably that even the heretics had a firm grasp of the essence of Christianity. Some overemphasized his divine nature, making him too remote from human experience. Others overemphasized his human nature, making God too remote. But all focused on Christ himself.
“Today the person of Jesus Christ is almost lost to view. The enthusiastic Christians concentrate on the Bible, referring to it as the Word of God, forgetting that it is Christ who is the Word. The majority simply reduce Christianity to a series of moral maxims. Christianity is nothing unless we put our faith in Christ as the God-man.”