April 17, 2011 at 2:18pm
The Holy of Holies
There was once a tribe from the East, a peculiar people, stubborn in their unrelenting adherence to their peculiar customs. They had but one God, whom they worshipped on only one ancestral mountain, upon which stood a temple consecrated by their greatest king, in which their God was said to dwell. All throughout the temple there were precious stones, magnificent furnishings of polished gold and silver, and priests adorned in luxurious robes. “Surely,” thought all who worshipped there, “this is a house fit for a deity.” But their God did not dwell in the gilded antechamber; He did not mingle with His extravagantly clothed priests; nor did He so much as glance at the polished stones. There was a lone room in their temple—and a relatively small one at that, with some estimations as low as fifteen feet in each dimension—and it was in this small, unadorned room that the Lord saw fit to hold solitary court among men, admitting none into His presence except a single priest, and for only one infinitely tense hour each year at that.
The throne room of God was separated from the rest of His temple by a thin, solitary veil. The delicate fabric dangled from the rafters and extended to the floor below, gently swaying in even the slightest breeze. All it required was a single madman, a lone, monomaniacal fool with a butter-knife to puncture the veil and behold the secrets of godhood. And yet (with the exception of one unexplained and unsubstantiated incident on a Passover Friday) the veil remained intact for as long as the temple stood—the people regarded it with the utmost respect, even fear. To see God was a terrible thing, and the priest who entered His presence each year was accounted the unluckiest of men.
Perhaps we moderns, we monomaniacal pursuers after truth and light could learn a lesson from the Jews. We, who would storm the temple of reality and disregard the precious stones and gilded furnishings and make haste for the Holy of Holies—we should stay our proud hands before tearing the veil. For perhaps there was a good reason the Jews directed their attention outward, toward the splendor of the temple courtyards and chambers and away from the silent God seated within.
What was the meaning of the veil? Why should God require silence and solitude? Was it to shield Himself from gaze of sinful men? No—a god needs no protection. The veil protects us—shields us, lest we perish at the sight of an empty room.
Thought some of you out there would appreciate this.
Can we imagine a world composed only of words? No other sense experience would be meaningful besides speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The world would be a book on tape playing in our heads- every author or speaker would be an interlocutor composing the sentences of the great dialectic…
November 15, 2010 at 11:22pm
Kierkegaard and Regine
It is curious that a thorough survey of the published works yields not the slightest understanding of Miss Regine Olsen as a human being. We may surmise that she was a young, beautiful girl possessing a so-called “feminine innocence” that only ever existed in the mind of the 19th-century Romantics. But except for a few unflattering episodes in “Guilty/Not Guilty?”, the councillor’s daughter is an amorphous pudding, whose sole defining characteristic (as she comes across in Kierkegaard’s writings) seems to be the fact that she was loved by Kierkegaard.
Then again, perhaps this is not curious at all. Perhaps there was never a Regine. Perhaps there was only ever a Søren.
September 16, 2010 at 3:53pm
Kierkegaard the Poet
Kierkegaard maintained throughout his life that the girl Regine had transformed him into a poet. Yet to my knowledge Kierkegaard produced not a single line of verse in his entire lifetime. And while his prose possesses great literary merit, no one would ever place Either/Or on the same level as Hamlet, or Fear and Trembling in the same category as the Iliad.
So what, then, shall we do with our Søren? Shall we commit this madman and his delusions to the madhouse? Shall we hand over this naughty child and his fibs to the headmaster for correction? Or are we the wrong ones here, and is the defining characteristic of a poet is not his literary output but the passion that drives him to seek the consoling embrace of the Muses?
Regine did not transform Kierkegaard into a scribbler of rhymes; she transfigured his world into art and awakened in him a passion worthy of poetic expression. That is a poet’s essence. Whether or not his verse is any good is purely accidental.
And He said, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.”
There were once two lovers. From the moment they met, they both knew that life had but one meaning for them—to love each other with boundless, infinite passion, to love with the whole heart and the richness of soul, by the perfection of strength and in the fullness of mind, to desire the other with such fervor that in comparison all other things seemed like nothing. And Fortune, with surprising magnanimity, allowed them their union, permitted the fulfillment of their single wish. Their love was a happy love—how could it not have been? They were a model for all young sweethearts, an inspiration to the poet, an encouragement for all those unfortunate souls left abandoned by Eros. The opinion of all who encountered them was unanimous—never before, among men or gods, had there been such a blessed pair.
Yet, as time passed, the relationship began to crumble. Their love was never in question—indeed, it seemed that time had only strengthened their desire. Nor had Fortune ever ceased to smile on their union; no wicked stepmother, no magic spell, no foreign war, not even divine intervention dared to dissolve such a lucky pairing. By all accounts, the two were just as favored among mortals as they—or anyone—had ever been.
Nevertheless, they still found themselves slowly, insidiously drifting apart. With every fiber of their being, they fought against it. They drew deep from the infinite wells of desire within their souls, and somehow achieved the impossible—they loved even more ardently than before. They embraced with even more affection, kissed with even more passion, and swore to each other that no force above, below, or on the Earth could separate them.
And even still, with every embrace they found themselves still further from the other. Every moment they spent together drew them deeper into themselves; every profession of feelings widened the chasm between them.
At last, with great terror, they began to realize that what separated them was the relationship itself; the relationship had ceased to be an adequate expression for their love. Every show of affection had become burdened with doubt, with uncertainty. They looked inside themselves and saw that the feelings were there, profound and certain as ever. Yet all that intensity directed itself inward—the other person was something accidental. While no two other human beings could say the words “I love you” with greater passion, they were only ever certain of the first two words.
There were only two choices: they could continue their illusion, losing themselves in the process; or they could lose the relationship and for the first time be true to the other. And so on one lovely summer day that blessed couple separated. Perhaps their paths would someday cross and they could return to the dreams of their adolescence once again. But not today. Before each of the two, there lay but a single path, so narrow that it had to be walked alone. And though it was painful, no tear was shed on either side, neither put their hand to the plow and looked back, for it is unbecoming to lament over the task that love sets forth.
Some of you know this already, and some of you have guessed it, but I will now announce it publicly. I have stepped back from Christianity to put to rest the doubts that I cannot face from within it. It is not a decision I take lightly. This is something I must do; I cannot put off any longer. I do not doubt as the world doubts. I have faith enough to know that the Truth will reveal Himself if He so wishes, and if He is so inclined this period of doubt may still yet play a role in His plan. Those of you who pray, pray that I walk this path with appropriate gravity and stray neither to the right nor the left, that I press on continually and, God willing, in the end become something worthy of the tradition I left. Those of you who do not pray… “as you were.”
God save us all. Amen.
Kate Beaton’s interpretation of Kierkegaard’s opus.
I have this book, hah.
Kate Beaton is perhaps the funniest webcomic artist I’ve ever come across. This isn’t necessarily her best, but it fits the “I read enough Kierkegaard to warrant therapy” theme of this blog.
To the pastor who preaches forgiveness:
Say nothing that you would not say to the teenaged girl who was raped by the same gang of men that slowly and methodically tortured her entire family and forced her to drink her little sister’s stale blood as they brutalized both her body and soul in ways that you will never understand.
If you can continue speaking while constantly keeping in mind the image of her bloodied face and the sounds of her helpless whimpers for a justice that never comes, then perhaps you are a god, to have such moral certitude. You certainly aren’t human.
I will not slight those who keep their faith in forgiveness. But I want nothing to do with anyone who pretends to understand it. Or any American who pretends that they have actually had wrongs done to them that warrant forgiveness.
(The link goes to a very good article. It’s there because you should read it, and also to prove that I’m not exaggerating. Oh, and by the way, the situation described above happened 500,000 times in three months. http://www.guernicamag.com/features/1853/linfield_7_1_10/)
July 5, 2010 at 12:34pm
Stages On Life’s Way
Stages on Life’s Way neatly encapsulates everything I have ever loved about Kierkegaard in 500 mind-blowing pages. If anyone should ever ask me, “Hey, what’s the big deal about this Søren K. character, anyways?”, I feel I need only respond with the words “Quidam’s Diary” and no further explanation would be required. I read the following excerpt as I was waiting to get my car repaired this morning.
February 5. Midnight.
A Leper’s Self-Contemplation
(The sene is among the graves at dawn. Simon the leper is sitting on a stone, has dozed off, wakes up, and shouts:)
Simon! —Yes! —Simon! —Yes, who is calling? —Where are you, Simon? —Here; with whom are you speaking? —With myself. It is with yourself; how loathsome you are with your leprous skin, a plague upon all the living. Get away from me, you abomination, flee out among the graves. —Why am I the only one who may not speak this way, may not do accordingly? Everyone else, if I do not run away from him, runs away from me and leaves me alone. Does not an artist hide in order to be a secret witness to how his work of art is admired; why cannot I part company with this loathsome shape and only secretly witness people’s abhorrence? Why must I be condemned to carry it around and display it, as if I were a vain artist who insisted on hearing the admiration in person? Why must I fill the desert with my shrieking and keep company with wild animals and while away the time for them with my howling? This is no exclamation, this is a question; I ask the one who himself said that it is not good for a person to be without companionship. Are these, then, my companions, are these the equals I am supposed to seek: the hungry monsters, or the dead, who are not afraid of being infected?
(Sits down again, looks around, and says to himself:)
Where has Manasse gone? Manasse!—So he has gone off to the city, after all. Yes, I know. I concocted a salve by which all the mutilation turns inward so that no one can see it, and the priest must pronounce us healthy. I taught him to use it; I told him that the disease did not thereby terminate, that it turned it inward, and that one’s breath could infect another so that he would become visibly leprous. That made him jubilant. he hates life; he curses men; he wants to have revenge. He runs off to the city; he is breathing poison on all of them. Manasse, Manasse, why did you give the devil a place in your soul—was it not enough that your body was leprous?
I will throw away the rest of the salve so that I may never be tempted. God of Father Abraham, let me forget how it is prepared! Father Abraham, when I die, I shall awaken in your bosom, then I shall eat with the purest of the pure—you, after all, are not afraid of lepers. Isaac and Jacob, you are not afraid to sit at the table with someone who was leprous and loathed by men. You dead who are sleeping here around me, wake up, just for a moment; listen to a word, just one word: Greet Abraham from me so that he has a place prepared among the blessed for the one who was not permitted to have a place among men.
What is human compassion anyhow! Who is entitled to it if not the unfortunate one, and how is it paid to him? The poverty-stricken man falls into the hands of the moneylender, who ultimately helps him into captivity as a slave—the fortunate practice usury in the same way and regard the unfortunate as a sacrifice and expect to purchase the Lord’s friendship at a bargain price, indeed, in an unlawful manner. A contribution, a mite, when they themselves have overabundance, a visit if there is no danger, a little sympathy that by its contrast can season their wastefulness—see, that is the sacrifice that compassion makes. But if there is danger, they drive the unfortunate one out into the desert in order not to hear his screaming, which could disturb the music and dancing and opulence and pass judgment on compassion—the human compassion that wants to deceive God and the unfortunate one.
So look in vain for compassion in the city and among the fortunate, look for it out here in the desert. I thank you, God of Abraham, that you have allowed me to concoct this salve; I thank you that you helped me to renounce the use of it. I still understand your mercifulness, that I voluntarily bear my fate, freely suffer necessity. If no one has compassion on me, no wonder, then, that compassion has fled as I have out among the graves, where I sit comforted as one who offers his life to save others, as one who freely chooses exile to save others, comforted as one who has compassion on the fortunate. God of Father Abraham, give them new wine and grain in overabundance, and happy times; build their barns bigger and give them surplus bigger than their barns; give wisdom to the fathers, fertility to the mothers, and blessing to the children; give victory in the struggle that they may be a people of your own. Hear the prayer of him whose body is infected and unclean, an abomination to the priests, a horror to the people, a trap for the happy; hear him if his heart is still not infected.
Alternate paths up the same mountain are visible only to those who have not yet attempted to climb it.