SKC Project Seminar: A.J. Goldman

A.J. Goldman

Resources for Rethinking the Secular in Philosophical Fragments

In the posthumously published Point of View for My Work as an Author (1859), Kierkegaard states quite definitively about his authorial project: “this is an authorship of which the total thought is the task of becoming a Christian.”[1] We moderns and postmoderns (and even post-postmoderns?) interested in Kierkegaard’s thought might begin to worry. If we are not interested in being evangelized to, what worth does Kierkegaard have for us? Or, even if we are Christian and are interested to deepen our Christianity, does Kierkegaard’s conception of “becoming… Christian” speak to those outside the bounds of our tradition(s)? And, does Kierkegaard’s delimitation of Christendom as the primary locus of his critique and intervention render his thought obsolete, given the massive cultural, political, and religious shifts that have transpired since the conclusion of his authorship?

Scholars who want to defend Kierkegaard as more than an author suited for members of a particular community (or, perhaps, more than a mere historical curiosity) have several options. For instance, they can attempt to excise elements of his thought that fail to fit current needs, extracting from him – like the product of a precipitation reaction – a critique of rationality, an aesthetic theory, an ethics, etc. Or they might treat his Christianity as code for something else, distilling it into a usable form. My research project asks whether there might be a way to demonstrate Kierkegaard’s prominence in intellectual history and relevance to current intellectual conversations, while avoiding either amputating or overly domesticating his Christianity. My solution begins in the pseudonymous Philosophical Fragments (1844). In this book, Kierkegaard offers a rethinking of the relationship between Christian and Christ that troubles the clean coupling of two often-overlapping dualisms: the immanent vs. the transcendent, and the secular vs. the religious.

It may seem odd to suggest that one of Kierkegaard’s major works on faith and Christology would contain resources for understanding his relevance in a secular (or is it now post-secular?) age. My argument is that, if we push his reasoning in Fragments, we can see the Christian transformation of history and the human being that Kierkegaard envisions in the text for what it really is: an attempt to evacuate humanity’s access point to truth (Christ) of its particular features while preserving its historical facticity as such. Crucially, the element of transcendence is not removed entirely; a sliver remains in history, a small splinter (an enabled grace) in the heart of the human being. This theological position has the effect, I claim, of stripping away Christian doctrine down to single kernel, namely Incarnation, whose importance is further cleaved from purported supernatural or sensory details of the event. The result is a form of faith whose primary content is that there is equal access to (transcendent) truth that does not require commitment to any particular community or dogma beyond the idea that such access is now possible. By articulating faith in this way, Kierkegaard effectively transforms Christianity into a form of inclusivism that generates (rather than denies) a (mostly) open discursive space for conversation and debate about the particulars of the good life. In this sense, Kierkegaard’s Christianity is not only compatible with secularism, but in fact serves as the basis of a form of secular engagement.

[1] PV 55 / SKS 16, 37. Hong and Hong translate Forfatter-Virksomhed as “authorship” in this passage, but as “work as an author” in the title of the English translation.