SKC Project Seminar

Hjördis Becker-Lindenthal

(University of Cambridge, UK)

"The World is Not a Barn: Imago Dei, Human Exceptionalism and Ecology in Kierkegaard"

Environmental thought perennially accuses Christian theology of two main issues, and these are, at first sight, also prevalent in Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses on the Lily and the Bird: human exceptionalism and the prioritization of “God’s eternal kingdom” over the concrete Here and Now, thereby fostering acosmism and – read from a contemporary perspective – climate change indifference. The talk first explores Kierkegaard’s dialectic approach to the imago Dei that leads to a humble acknowledgment of the limits of humanity rather than a justification of dominion over Earth. In dialogue with the recent work of eco-theologians like Sallie McFague, it explores alternative notions of human exceptionalism that can also be found in Kierkegaard’s thought. And as it turns out, the natural world is necessary for our God-relation: the lily and the bird are divinely ordained teachers that cannot be replaced by anything or anyone. Hence, acosmism or, in contemporary terms, climate change escapism actually leads us away from the “Kingdom of God.” Finally, what the lily and the bird teach us, is that ideas of self-reliance and control over natural resources, but also excessive worrying about the future is hubristic, delusional and futile. For the lily and the bird help us realize that human agency is dependent on divine agency. Read in our current planetary crisis, Kierkegaard’s creatures thus put environmental action into its proper place: they ask us to continuously work on saving the planet while abstaining from any phantasies of control of and dominion over Earth.