Kierkegaard: The ‘Puny’ Sectarians

Reading Kierkegaard as he is quoted below I think of the irony that the New Testament says Jesus “had compassion on the People,” and that for the Jew God is worshipped as a community and not just as an individual. Both views of God and humanity emphasize the need of the faithful to “love one another,” as Will Durant insisted of Spinoza, there is nothing so lonely as a Jew without the company of other Jews. A large amount of faith is love for one’s fellows. Yet Kierkegaard says,

The knight of faith, on the other hand, is the paradox, he is the individual, absolutely nothing but the individual, without connections and complicating. This is the terror that the puny sectarian cannot endure. Instead of learning from this that he is incapable of greatness and plainly admitting it, something I naturally cannot but approve since it is what I myself do, the poor wretch things he will achieve by joining company with other poor wretches. But it won’t at all work, no cheating is tolerated in the world of spirit. A dozen sectarians link arms, they know nothing at all of the lonely temptations in store for the knight of faith and which he dare not shun just because it would be more terrible still were he presumptuously to force his way forward.

Yet to pray in a group as one is precisely what faith is. It is not simply the individual on his mountain in a moment of existential angst. It is the love that Jews have for each other; it is the love Christians have for each other. It is the love which, coming from God, each group shares with those outside their group. This love seeks not so much to convert but to feed and clothe the needy, to give of the heart and not simply “testify” (as Kierkegaard says of his faith). Kierkegaard says testimony is all that help which is given from one believer to another, yet “ministering” means tending to the needs of others, and “rabbi” is literally “teacher.” Contrarily, a priest is somebody who “is to perform religious rites, and especially make sacrificial offerings” or in Christian terms a “person ordained to the sacerdotal or pastoral office” a clergyman or minister.

Yet even here a clergyman does more than “testify” his or her faith and then leave the flock to grapple in the dark to find God. He reads to them, teaches them about scripture, preaches to them, tends their private woes. A priest, minister or rabbi who cannot do these things is not worth his salt. In a healthy religious community, those who believe the most devote their energies to the care of those most in need–not merely in the sense of lacking faith, but in the sense of being ill or impoverished.

Kierkegaard apparently believes all there is to faith is wrestling with an angel in the dark. This is a part of faith for the most devout. Yet equally a part of faith is transcendent love, the fact that–to use Hegelian terms–the individual is sacrificed for the absolute, the absolute being the good of the community living in harmony with God’s command. The goal of the community is the realization of God’s love for humanity.

Of course, I have not read Hegel for himself… I shall have to read him if there is time before Thanksgiving. First I am going to read Thomas Mann: Joseph and His Brothers; Avivah Zornberg: The Beginnings of Desire; and Bill Moyers: Genesis. All of these have passages about Abraham. Then perhaps I shall read Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit and finish Whitehead’s Process and Reality and Adventures of Ideas. I hope I can achieve all of this. Then I shall be able to write my three lectures for Abraham, Then and Now.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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