A great book for Christian self-examination, dedicated by the author and recommended by this reviewer to “that solitary individual” who desires to commit himself to One Thing and guard himself against double-mindedness, mixed and hidden motives. hypocrisy and mediocrity.
Like Socrates, his role model, Kierkegaard excels, not so much in establishing the true religious or philosophical belief, as in distinguishing falsehood from truth, thereby prompting the reader to reflect and re-examine his own beliefs and practices.
Because Kierkegaard not only gives a rigorous and incisive diagnosis of the human condition, but also makes confessions about himself, his sufferings and struggles, reading his books is almost like getting to know the author, even to the extent that the reader might feel an affinity for him.
On Worldly Honor
“Like worldly contempt, worldly honor is a whirlpool, a play of confused forces, an illusory moment in the flux of opinions. it is a sense-deception, as when a swarm of insects at a distance seem to the eye like one body; a sense-deception, as when the noise of the many at a distance seems to the ear like a single voice. …
The fact is that the worldly goal is not one thing in its essence because it is unreal. Its so-called unity is actually nothing but emptiness which is hidden beneath the manyness. In the short-lived moment of delusion the worldly goal is therefore a multitude of things. So far is it from a state of being and remaining one thing, that in the next moment it changes itself into its opposite. Carried to its extreme limit, what is pleasure other than disgust? What is earthly honor at its dizzy pinnacle other than contempt for existence? What are riches, the highest superabundance of riches, other than poverty? For no matter how much all the earth’s gold hidden in covetousness may amount to, is it not infinitely less than the smallest mite hidden in the contentment of the poor! What is worldly omnipotence other than dependence? What slave in chains is as unfree as a tyrant! No, the worldly goal is not one thing. Diverse as it is, in life it is changed into its opposite, in death into nothing, in eternity into damnation; for the one who has willed this goal.”
Against the “Will to Power”
There is a wisdom which is not from above, but is earthly and fleshly and devilish. It has discovered this common human weakness and indolence; it wants to be helpful. It perceives that all depends upon the will and so it proclaims loudly, ‘Unless it wills one thing, a man’s life is sure to become one of wretched mediocrity, of pitiful misery. He must will one thing regardless of whether it be good or bad. He must will one thing for therein lies a man’s greatness.’ Yet it is not difficult to see through this powerful error. As to the working out of salvation, the holy Scripture teaches that sin is the corruption of man. Salvation, therefore, lies only in the purity with which a man wills the Good. That very earthly and devilish cleverness distorts this into a temptation to perdition; weakness is a man’s misfortune; strength the sole salvation: … But the slave of sin is not yet free; not has he cast off the chain, ‘because he scoffs at it’. He is in bonds, and therefore double-minded, and for once he may not have his own way. There is a power that binds him. He cannot tear himself loose from it. Nay, he cannot even wholly will it. For this power, too, is denied him.
No matter how desperately such a man may seem to will one thing, he is double-minded. When he had found no rest in the desert, when the giddiness passes away for a moment and he feels an agonizing longing for the Good, shaken in his innermost being, and not without sadness, his painful double-mindedness discovered. Desperate as he was, he thought: lost is lost. But he could not help turning around once more in his longing for the Good. How terribly embittered he had become against this very longing, a longing that reveals that, just as a man in all his defiance has not power enough wholly to loose himself from the Good, because it is the stronger, so he has not even the power wholly to will it.
Patience in Suffering
“Let us first of all distinguish between what it is to will in the sense of inclination, and what it is to will in the noble sense of freedom.
Is patience not precisely that courage which voluntarily accepts unavoidable suffering? The unavoidable is just the thing which will shatter courage. There is a treacherous opposition in the sufferer himself that is in league with the dread of inevitability, and together they wish to crush him. But in spite of this, patience submits to suffering and by just this submission finds itself free in the midst of unavoidable suffering. … Courage voluntarily chooses suffering that may be avoided; but patience achieves freedom in unavoidable suffering.”
Eternal Vocation For Man
“But this I do believe (and I will gladly listen to any objection, although I will not believe it) that at each man’s birth there comes into being an eternal vocation for him, expressly for him. To be true to himself in relation to this eternal vocation is the highest thing a man can practice, and, as that most profound poet has said: ‘Self-love is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.’ Then there is but one fault, one offense: disloyalty to his own self or the denial of his own better self.”