In my mind, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and German composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) are the same person. Just look at pictures of them and you could see the facial resemblance. And it isn’t all that necessary to know better in that regard.
It’s easy for artistic types to imagine that the pinnacle of human life is aesthetic contemplation. Much of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, the at-heart pagan Greek, assumes such, and when I read Kierkegaard place art at a lower level to ethics, which is lower yet to religion, which is lower yet to Christianity, I resisted such an idea. Without realizing it, I was caught up in a materialistic, naturalistic manner of understanding things, something affirmed by those I once thought of as the wisest of men, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Immanuel Kant.
I couldn’t quite get how so many philosophers, atheists needless to say, were indebted to Kierkegaard, a Christian. I liked his moral discussion — of the imitation of Christ and how this involves suffering and yet more suffering — well enough, but to take this Christ as a historical figure on whom the fate of the world rested! Even the beginning of ‘Concluding unscientific postscript’ seemed to reject that notion, which prompted me to continue reading it at all, and thank God I did, for it bore lasting fruit and continues to bear lasting fruit to this day.
This awakening is only hinted at towards the end of my ‘Depression and other fictions’ (Sept. 2019), and even then, with an appeal to something ‘substantial,’ an attempt at grounding faith in impersonal observations, such as in etymology, as opposed to discovering the essentially personal.
But even such a poorly balanced ‘leap,’ for lack of a better term, made a world of difference, the difference between a “No” and a “Yes” to Christ.
Kierkegaard has helped me glean that Christ’s dying and rising from the dead are mysteries that are meant as mysteries. They’re not for us to solve. But that does not mean believing in Christ is arbitrary.
What we do know is that to be with Christ is to be rejected, even killed. Funny how in ‘Depression and other fictions’ I spoke much of adhering to an ideal, when Christ is the only true ideal, and Catholic doctrine is the only doctrine that holds on to such an ideal, however the world goes.
As terrible as the world is depicted by those who hold to the one true faith, we also know that Jesus in being God is the one true life. And how assuring is it that true life is also true love! Put this way, the Resurrection and its defying of what little we understand of the world is hardly the hardest thing to believe.
As grateful as I am for Kierkegaard’s influence, I do consider him more as a gateway to Christianity, rather than ‘the way’ so to speak. Kierkegaard let his understanding of ‘truth as subjectivity’ get in the way of community, misassociating the social aspect of religion with a herd mentality that deviates from God and godliness. But the Church is of souls whose fundamental union is of Christ, however corrupted the events in Christendom and history in general may be.
I’m just glad certain books of Kierkegaard came into my life at times that I was receptive to some of his message, soon enough leading me to, of all things and quite anti-climactically to everyone else, Catholicism full-circle. That’s the thing I noticed about the truth that is Jesus. However distorted your understanding may be in this world of materialism and ‘objective’ science, He will reach you, He will speak your lingo, if only you want to believe. All you need to get started is something as simple as, “Jesus, please let me know You are with me.”