|Art by Delphine Lebourgeois|
Kierkegaard: Father of Christianity without the religion - Interview with Stephen Backhouse
CWR magazine is known to our readers as promoting Christianity Without the Religion. But of course, we’re not the first to do so. Some of the 20th century’s theological greats—Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, for example—were great critics of Christ-less religion as over against the living faith of Christ-centered revelation. But if we were name “the father of Christianity without the religion” in the modern era, the honor would surely go to the Danish thinker and provocateur, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). He once wrote,
There is nothing so displeasing to God as taking part in all the “religious” Christianity with the claim that this is worshiping God. If you believe, as surely you must, that to steal, rob, commit adultery, and slander is displeasing to God, then official Christianity and its worship is infinitely more abhorrent to him. Again, it is my duty to exclaim, “Whoever you are, whatever in other respects your life may be, by refusing to take part in all this public worship of God as it now is, you have one sin the less, and that a great one.” You have been warned.
A relentless opponent of the Danish Lutheran state-religion, he sowed seeds for today’s nones (non-affiliated Christians) and dones (“done with church” Christians). But his influence extended far beyond either Denmark or even Christendom. He is also recognized as the father of existentialism, leaving his mark on philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. With that introduction, CWR magazine is pleased to welcome Stephen Backhouse, author of Kierkegaard: A Single Life (Zondervan, 2016), to shed more light on this author, his thought and his influence.
CWR: Stephen, could you give us a brief summary of Kierkegaard the man?
Ha! No. I doubt I can briefly summarize Søren Kierkegaard, the funny, cranky, annoying, joyful, worshipful, genius who attacked Christendom in the name of Christ and the common man and who massively overestimated our ability to understand him as he did so. I can tell you that he died in 1855 at the age of 42 after a life of fragile health and probably epilepsy. That he spent almost all his days in Copenhagen, Denmark. That when he died there was a near riot at his funeral because his supporters and his enemies alike were offended he was being given an official Christian burial. That a popular newspaper waged a public campaign of mockery against him. That two generations or so of Danish boys weren't given the name Søren because of the association with him. That he loved - and was loved by - a wonderful woman named Regine but that he broke off their engagement because he knew he was being called to stand outside of the comfortable Christianized life that 19th century Danish marriage represented. That he wrote. A lot. All the time. That he invented existentialism, that he gave us the idea of 'the leap of faith', and that if you value 'being authentic' or like people who 'walk the talk' and 'practice what they preach', and that if you suspect there is a big difference between being a follower of Jesus Christ and being a member of common sense Christian culture then your imagination has been shaped by Kierkegaard whether you know it or not.