May 16, 2010
In the midst of his profound and powerful discussion of “Our Duty to Remain in Love’s Debt” in Works of Love, Kierkegaard gets carried away, as he is wont to do, and goes on a tangent. All his tangents are good, but this one was a rare gem, since in it, he expresses as clearly, concisely, and compellingly as I have ever seen him do, the fundamental message of all of his work. When I read this, I couldn’t help thinking of Hauerwas, and wondering why it was that I had never mentally connected these two before. But I’ll let Kierkegaard speak for himself here, and let you make your own connections.
“When Christianity came into the world, it did not itself need to point out (even though it did do so) that it was an offense, because the world, which took offense, certainly discovered this easily enough. But now, now when the world has become Christian, now Christianity above all must itself pay attention to the offense. Therefore if it is true that many ‘Christians’ in these times miss out on Christianity, how does it happen except through their missing out on the possibility of offense, this, note well, terrifying thing! No wonder, then, that Chrsitianity, its salvation and its tasks, can no longer satisfy ‘the Christians’--indeed, they could not even be offended by it.From the looks of post-Christian Europe today, these final lines have been sadly prophetic.
“When Christianity came into the world, it did not itself need to point out (even though it did do so) that it was contending with human reason, because the world discovered this easily enough. But now, now when Christianity for centuries has lived in protracted association with human reason, now when a fallen Christianity (just like those fallen angels who married mortal women) has married human reason, now when Christianity and reason have a familiar relationship--now Christianity must above all itself pay attention to the obstacle. If Christianity is to be preached out of the enchantment of illusion and deformed transmogrification (alas, it is like the fairy tale about the castle enchanted for a hundred years), then first of all the possibility of offense must be thoroughly preached back to life again. Only the possibility of offense (the antidote to the sleeping potion of apologetics) is able to rouse the one who has fallen asleep, is able to revoke the enchantment so that Christianity is itself again.
“If, then, Holy Scripture says, ‘Woe to the one by whom the offense comes,’ we have the confidence to say: Woe to the one who first hit upon the idea of preaching Christianity without the possibility of offense. Woe to the one who ingratiatingly, panderingly, commendingly, convincingly preached to people some unmanly something that was supposed to be Christianity! Woe to the one who could make the miracle comprehensible or at least open up to us bright prospects of its imminent accomplishment! Woe to the one who betrayed and broke the secret of faith and perverted it into public wisdom because he took away the possibility of offense! Woe to the one who could comprehend the secret of the Atonement without perceiving anything of the possibility of offense, and once again woe to him for thinking that thereby he would do God and Christianity a service. Woe to all those unfaithful stewards who sat down and wrote false IOUs and in that way gained friends for Christianity and themselves when they deducted from Christianity the possibility of offense and added to it follies by the hundreds!
“Oh, what lamentably wasted learning and acumen! What lamentably wasted time in this enormous work of defending Christianity! Truly, if Christianity will just again rise up formidable with the possibility of offense so this horror can again startle people--then Christianity will need no defense. On the other hand, the more learned, the better the defense, the more Christianity is distorted, abolished, deprived of its powers like a eunuch. The defense simply out of kindness wants to remove the possibility of offense. But Christianity must not be defended. It is the people who must see to it whether they are able to defend themselves and justify to themselves what they choose when Christianity terrifyingly, as it once did, offers them the choice and terrifyingly compels them to choose: either to be offended or to accept Christianity. Therefore, take away from the essentially Christian the possibility of offense, or take away from the forgiveness of sins the battle of the anguished conscience, .... and then close the churches, the sooner the better, or turn them into places of amusement that stand open all day!”