Kierkegaard was raised by parents who were at opposite poles of the spectrum of faith. His father read philosophy and studied with the leaders of the Church of Denmark while his mother couldn't even read. He had learned the terror of belief at an early age. He stood far to the right of the two extremes of the consciousness of sin, those who believe that they sin because Adam sins so there is no use trying to stop sinning and those who believe that every sin is like crucifying Christ and possibly commit suicide because they despise themselves so much. One is in danger of being too light-minded about sin and the other is in danger of being halted or stopped at every moment in fear and trembling. His father taught him the terror of Christianity but his mother showed him the lighter side of the faith. He sought his own balance between the two and he thought his contribution to the discussion about beauty, truth and faith was worth reading. This is how he explained it to himself in Two Upbuilding Discourses, 1843 and in his Journals (1849). He died not knowing if he had achieved anything at all but he still had faith.
If you had loved people then the earnestness of life might have taught you not to be strident but to become silent, and when you were in distress at sea and did not see land, then at least not to involve others in it; it might have taught you to smile at least as long as you believed anyone sought in your face an explanation, a witness. We do not judge you for doubting, because doubt is a crafty passion, and it can certainly be difficult to tear oneself out of its snares. What we require of the doubter that he be silent. What doubt did not make him happy-why then confide to others what will make them just as unhappy. Doubt is a deep and crafty passion. But he whose soul is not gripped by it so inwardly that he becomes speechless is only shamming this passion, therefore what he says is not only false in itself but above all on his lips. The expectancy of faith, then, is victory. The doubt that comes from the outside does not disturb it, since it disgraces itself by speaking. Yet doubt is guileful, on secret paths it sneaks around a person, and when faith is expecting victory, doubt whispers that this expectancy is a deception. An expectancy that without a specified time and place is nothing but a deception; In that way one may always go on waiting; such an expectancy is a circle into which the soul is bewitched and from which it does not escape. In the expectancy of faith, the soul is indeed prevented from falling out of itself, as it were, into multiplicity; it remains in itself, but it would be the worst evil that could befall a person if it escaped from this cycle.
- Soren Kierkegaard, Two Upbuilding Discourses, May, 16, 1843
When I began as an author of Either/Or, I no doubt had a far more profound impression of the terror of Christianity than any clergyman in the country. I had a fear and trembling such as perhaps no one else had. Not that I therefore wanted to relinquish Christianity. No, I had another interpretation of it. For one thing I had in fact learned very early that there are men who seem to be selected for suffering, and, for another thing, I was conscious of having sinned much and therefore supposed that Christianity had to appear to me in the form of this terror. But how cruel and false of you, I thought, if you use it to terrify others, perhaps upset every so many happy, loving lives that may very well be truly Christian. It was as alien as it could possibly be to my nature to want to terrify others, and therefore I both sadly and perhaps also a bit proudly found my joy in comforting others and in being gentleness itself to them-hiding the terror in my own interior being. So my idea was to give my contemporaries (whether or not they themselves would want to understand) a hint in humorous form (in order to achieve a lighter tone) that a much greater pressure was needed-but then no more; I aimed to keep my heavy burden to myself, as my cross. I have often taken exception to anyone who was a sinner in the strictest sense and then promptly got busy terrifying others. Here is where Concluding Postscript comes in. …
- Soren Kierkegaard, Journal and Papers, VI 6444 (Pap. X1 A541) (1849) (Either/Or Part II, Hong p. 451-452)
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