Lately I’ve been listening to the wonderful biography Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle. I did not know a lot about Kierkegaard, but the biography is a great introduction that makes you want to read more of Kierkegaard. When I heard the section shared below it resonated with me and our current political moment. I had planned on sharing it today earlier in the week, but it seems more fitting after the today’s events. My guess is many people will see today as a call to more politics and more crowds, just of a different sort. I’ve already seen several public ‘intellectuals’ find sophisticated ways of saying, ‘I told you so’. Others will find ways to deny the reality and sadness of where we have ended up. But all together I have a feeling our souls will be diminished. So, for me Kierkegaard’s call to hear the growing public noise as call to set ourselves more toward ‘inwardness’ is a call to sanity in face of a world gone mad.
It is 1 September 1848, and Kierkegaard is preaching for a third time at Friday communion in the Church Of Our Lady. A small, frail figure standing before Thorvaldsen’s massive statue Of Christ, he takes as the subject of his discourse a verse from John’s Gospel, ‘From on high He will draw all up to Himself, and explains to the small congregation that following Christ will lift them above worldly concerns. ‘If a man’s life is not to be frittered away, being emptily employed with what while it lasts is vanity and when it is past is nothingness, or busily employed with what makes a noise in the moment but has no echo in eternity, then there must be something higher that draws it,’ he tells them in his soft, expressive voice. Outside the tranquil church, the streets and the newspapers are noisy with electioneering: on 5 October all men, even peasants, will vote for members of the assembly which will draw up Denmark’s new constitution. But Kierkegaard’s sole concern is the spiritual life of ‘the single individual’. He believes this to be ‘diametrically opposite to politics’, since it has nothing to do with ‘earthly reward, power, honour’. The louder the public clamour about these things, the more decisively he sets himself against them: all that matters religiously, he insists, is the ‘inwardness’ of each human being, ‘not seeking to be a power in the external world’.