The Strenuous and Sufficient Task of Kierkegaard's Religiousness A

By Alessandri, Mariana | Philosophy Today, November 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Strenuous and Sufficient Task of Kierkegaard's Religiousness A

Alessandri, Mariana, Philosophy Today

To be regarded as lunatic - there's something to that - it is encouraging. It protects the quiet inwardness of an absolute relationship.'

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript ( 1 846), Johannes Climacus claims that ethics and religion (which belong to different spheres of existence on his account) overlap in the ethico-religious, or Religiousness A. Climacus sometimes refers to it as a transitional sphere between ethics and Christianity,2 and this is no doubt one reason that Religiousness A has not received enough attention in the otherwise ample Kierkegaard scholarship, as well as the fact that Kierkegaard wrote little about it compared with both ethics and Christianity.3 Thus, books have been written on Kierkegaard's ethics, his Christianity, and the relations between the two, but no book has been written exclusively on Religiousness A.4 C. Stephen Evans and Merold Westphal have dedicated significant portions of their research to Religiousness A, but more work needs to be done for it to be taken seriously apart from Christianity.5 My task in the present essay is to focus exclusively on Religiousness A, driven by Climacus's claim that "Religiousness A (within the boundaries of which I have my existence) is so strenuous for a human being that there is always a sufficient task in it" (CUP 557).

In 1 846 Climacus asked, "What do our times lack?" He answered, "Religiousness," but was deeply skeptical of how the Danish clergy planned to entice people back to religion:

According to what 1 have heard, the clergy are holding some conventions where the reverend brothers raise and answer the question: What do the times demand. . . . They say that now the convention is supposed to have come to the conclusion that this time it is a new hymnbook that the times demand. (CUP 478)

Climacus spends the next page satirically blaming the old hymnbook for producing the present lack of religiousness (e.g., "The times may soon demand that the pastor have a new gown in order to be able to edify all the more"). His backhanded message is clear: when trying to account for why a problem in the world is the way it is and how it can be fixed, people often seize upon a superficial cause (like an old hymnbook), since the solution (buying a new one) is easy and requires no personal or strenuous commitment. In Climacian terms, this amounts to giving an aesthetic answer to a religious question, which only confirms his suspicion that religiousness has lost its footing in the world. He implies that we live in an overwhelmingly aesthetic world, or are at least headed there, a view that is reinforced every time someone offers a solution like a new hymnbook. Climacus is not the only thinker to suggest that we live in a world devoid of strenuousness, but the way he uses the three spheres of existence - aesthetic, ethical and religious - is illuminating.6

Though it is not the focus of Postscript, the aesthetic sphere acts as the backdrop upon which the argument for religiousness appears. In short, the aesthetic sphere is one in which the ruling terms are "interesting" and "boring" rather than, for example, "good" and "bad," which are the terms that reign in the ethical sphere.7 To live in a world in which everything is judged almost exclusively on the basis of whether it is interesting or boring is to live in a predominantly aesthetic world, which is what Climacus is attacking.8 Going to church because church is interesting does not make one religious; indeed, many aesthetes mistake themselves for religious people. So instead of providing an aesthetic path back to Church - a new hymnbook, which would not make people more religious - Climacus suggests:

Suppose the single individual solicitously went to church, arrived on time, sang the hymns, listened to the sermon, observed decorum, retained the impression on Monday, went further, retained it on Tuesday, yes, even on Saturday - then the demand for a new hymnbook might decrease.

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