Monday, March 19, 2007

Kierkegaard's Advice to Notional* Anglicans

An old proverb pertaining to the outward and visible world says: 'Only one who works gets bread.' Oddly enough, the saying doesn't apply in the world to which it most properly belongs, for the outward world is subject to the law of imperfection; there it happens time and again that one who gets bread is one who does not work, that one who sleeps gets it in greater abundance than one who labours. In the outward world everything belongs to whoever has it, the outward world is subject to the law of indifference and the genie of the ring obeys the one who wears it, whether he be a Noureddin or an Alladin, and whoever holds the world's treasures does so however he came by them. It is otherwise in the world of the spirit. Here there prevails an eternal divine order, here it does not rain on the just and the unjust alike, here the sun does not shine on both good and evil, here only one who works gets bread, and only one who knows anguish finds rest, only one who descends to the underworld saves the loved one, only one who draws the knife gets Isaac. He who will not work does not get bread, but will be deluded, as the gods deluded Orpheus with an airy figure in place of the beloved, deluded him because he was tender-hearted, not courageous, deluded him because he was a lyre-player, not a man.

Here it is no help to have Abraham as one's father, or seventeen centuries of noble ancestry; of anyone who will not work here one can say what is written about Israel's virgins, he gives birth to wind - while the one who works will give birth to his own father.

Conventional wisdom aims presumptuously to introduce into the world of spirit that same law of indifference under which the outside world groans. It believes it is enough to have knowledge of large truths. No other work is necessary. But then it does not get bread, it starves to death while everything is transformed into gold. And what else does it know? There were many thousands in the Greece of the time, countless others in later generations, who knew all the victories of Miltiades, but there was only one who lost sleep over them. There were countless generations that knew the story of Abraham by heart, word for word. How many did it make sleepless?

The story of Abraham has the remarkable quality that it will always be glorious no matter how impoverished our understanding of it, but only - for it is true here too - if we are willing to 'labour and be heavy laden'.

Soren Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling

*March 20th: The original title of this post was "Kierkegaard's Advice to Nominal Anglicans", which was a mistake, and one that, perhaps, gave a little more offense to the party concerned than was actually intended. It could only make sense that I should have written "notional" rather than "nominal" as the Kierkegaard passage was meant to draw the attention of Jay Currie as a follow-up to the exchange we had here--wherein I belabour Mr. Currie's use of the term "notional" re. his Anglicanism. Mr. Currie astutely picked up on my reference anyway--in spite of my slight ham-fistedness--and replied here, to which you'll notice I left a ponderously long rebuttal in the comments section.