“There is much too much so-called religion around that should be exposed for what it is: deception and wishful thinking.”Soren Kierkegaard by Brita K. Stendahl
As a person who for so long has desired to live up to Christian standards, I have been disillusioned by the conceptions of what those standards seem to require. My main problem with contemporary conservative Christianity, I have recently realized, is the requirement to limit the interpretation of biblical texts and disavow any literary exegesis. In truth, these texts were written by subjective individuals in unique historical and cultural contexts, with specific goals in mind, aimed at unique audiences. With this in mind, it seems, to me, as a student of literature, that to isolate the text from its context is to rob said text of meaning. To act thus is also to rob humanity of inspired ideas and interpretations which could effectively move human consciousness forward towards grace-filled, loving, tolerant existence.
After reading Soren Kierkegaard, by Brita K. Stendahl ( 1976), I have discovered for myself an innovative view of Christian living, which I feel justly complements my intuitive nature. Kierkegaard’s reading of religious texts provides an alternative perspective on Christian faith, and if his standard of Christianity may be considered viable, then I have no trouble calling myself Christian. According to Stendahl, Kierkegaard argues that true faith occurs when an individual subjectively obeys his or her own internal moral compass, refusing to be manipulated by external cultural/religious authorities. Sure, some might argue that this provides an unbounded invitation to the ethics of moral relativity, but I argue this idea stands alone, distinct from moral relativism.
In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard demonstrates that Abraham’s act of faith defies the law/the norms of his community. It defies ethics entirely. Abraham loves his son Isaac. His community disavows human sacrifice. Why on earth would Abraham, who genuinely loves his son, proceed to engage in a ritual that his religious community abhors?! This is not the behavior of a moral relativist. Moral relativity asserts that if it is good to the individual/community, then it is good and just. Abraham is actively engaged in an activity that is not good to him or to his community. On top of that, Abraham does not wish to kill his son. Kierkegaard demonstrates that Abraham’s movement to the top of the mountain is an act of faith. He proceeds to obey his inner leading because he believes wholeheartedly that the divine will intervene–and it does. He never once considers the idea that Isaac will actually die atop the mountain.
Such is not the case with historical violence perpetrated in the name of god/religion. Religious extremists believe wholeheartedly that they must commit acts of violence and that they will be rewarded by their god for said violence. They receive something in return for obedience. Abraham was to receive nothing but grief. It was a true, willing, sacrifice with no potential for recompense.
Likewise, Kierkegaard rejects hedonism. To act with the aim of instant gratification is immoral. Thus, to follow one’s inner leading is not to do exactly what one wants exactly when one wants to. On the contrary, an inward journey brings self-awareness, and the deeper one delves into the self, the more religious one becomes. He acknowledges that most people ignore themselves entirely, seeking satisfaction and acquiring none but despair. Others acknowledge themselves , but in fear, pretend as though they do not, so as not to commit social suicide. Humorists accept their subjectivity, but in resignation, engage in offensive behavior, in spite of themselves. The deepest level of self-awareness occurs when an individual accepts his/her subjectivity and acts according to his/her convictions–no matter the social cost. Ironically, this individual finds inner peace. Healing for the soul comes with subjectivity.
What about those who claim to commit violent acts because of their individuality, their otherness? I argue those individuals are truly hedonists because they receive pleasure in their vengeance, in their eradication of the “bad.” A truly subjective person, like Abraham, follows his/her convictions at great cost to him/herself. A truly subjective person rejects gratification in lieu of spiritual peace.
In conclusion, I believe that a literary reading of biblical texts allows for subjective interpretation, which allows individuals to follow inspired convictions, which lead to internal restiveness.
Here I drop the mic. Bam!