Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Devils

Anyone else get the feeling that Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky were atheists? Or, if not atheists, then we at least have to admit that their version of Christianity is completely unrecognizable and unorthodox. Kierkegaard less so than Dostoevsky, however, though not by much. It seems clear to me that Dostoevsky has psychologized nearly all aspects of Christianity, such as baptism as a childhood memory that gives shape to your life (Dmitry Karamazov). He demythologizes all of the sacraments in this way. He finds a sinless Jesus to be unthinkable, as a sinless human would tear the world to shreds, as the main character in The Idiot does. So many people read The Grand Inquisitor as a vindication of Jesus, but I don't see that at all, and I'm pretty damn sure Dostoevsky didn't either. He rejects both the Grand Inquisitor and Jesus, just as he rejects both Ivan Karamazov and Father Zosima.

Needless to say, I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov again. Most amazing novel ever, by far. But as far as theology goes, the thing's a disaster.

I'll have more and clearer thoughts on this soon, I'm sure.


Raymond Ng said...

I've read a lot of Kierkegaard. What I think he's doing is knocking down 1843 or so years of Christian history, attempting to go back to Christianity's roots.

I grant that Kierkegaard offers a very original way of interpreting the Bible, and because of that, helped create a new Christian orthodoxy, in the "neo-orthodox" theological school by Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Niebuhr.

Matthew said...

I think I understand what he's trying to do, and I can certainly sympathize with him. He's trying to recreate Christianity in such a way as to be faithful to both aspects of Western civilization - the Greeks (Plato) and the Judeo-Christian, in a way that is faithful to both. He's one of the only existentialists who does try to retain the Greek side of the story, which I find really interesting. But the God he leaves us with seems to me to play a merely functional role. God is the fact that anything is possible. God is our willing of one thing. And God is the vulnerability of that one thing (the "sword hanging over the head of the beloved"). Other than those roles, Kierkegaard seems to have little use for any sort of God, except in the God-man, who is nothing more than an example of someone who has succeeded in willing one thing, even if we don't know what that one thing is. He is the cause of man's problem and the possibility of his salvation.

This is a very original way of interpreting the Bible. But for me at least, it seems very unpalatable.

Raymond ng said...

Why is it unpalatable? That God plays a mere functional role? You'd prefer a God that intervenes in our lives, and thus denying us our free will?

I enjoy Kierkegaard's cheer for individuality, while not denying God's goodness to let us be free.

Matthew said...

I see little resemblance between Kierkegaard's God, whom exists merely for bringing about man's dread and subsequent bliss, and the God of the Jews.

I also don't care much for his individuality and pure free will, which turns into a curse. Absolute free will is too much to ask of man. In this regard, Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor is on to something. Kierkegaard has taken Protestantism to its absolute limit, to the point that it is impossible.

Kierkegaard leaves no space for the Church, for other people.

ray said...

To "merely" bring dread and bliss? You haven't read Kierkegaard's Works of Love, have you? One of the greatest defense of the phrase, "God is love".

about individuality and free will. Some like it, and others like determinism. I just think that Kierkegaard offers a good, not great, argument for the compatibility between God and free will

As for the Church, the Church is fine as long as it stays true to the Bible and is honest. That's all he's saying. 19th century European Churches were in pretty bad shape, leading guys like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to critize it. I have a little more faith in 21st century churches.

Matthew said...

I'll have to take a look at Works of Love. I haven't read it yet. I have given really close readings to The Concluding Unscientific Postscripts, Fear and Trembling, and The Sickness Unto Death, and this is the picture of God that I get.

Also, thanks for the discussion. I don't get very many comments around these parts.

ray said...

You're welcome. Works of Love and Practice in Christianity are the purest expression of Kierkegaard's religion, IMHO.

I'll also make some time to read Dostoevsky as well. Keep on blogging!