Assessing The Attack

These extremely negative viewpoints expressed in Kierkegaard's final attack on Christendom have led many critics, both in his time and ours, to dismiss this last phase of his theological reflection and critique of Christendom altogether. Clearly, in certain respects it does represent a radical departure from some of the views expressed earlier in his authorship. This suggests, however, that these writings do not so much constitute the logical conclusion of Kierkegaard's theological reflection as a relaxing of the dialectical balance that characterizes the large body of religious writings produced during the second period of his literary activity from 1847-51. Theologically, it is primarily this second or middle phase of his authorship that should be regarded as normative for the interpretation of Kierkegaard's theology, although his thought undergoes considerable development even in the course of these writings as a result of his personal encounter with the Corsair and the political changes of 1848. But there is also a good deal of continuity between the attack literature and this body of writings. For example, Kierkegaard never departs from the conviction that God is love, evidenced by the fact that shortly before his death in 1855 he published the discourse on the changelessness of God's love written in 1851 (TM 26381; cf. 294). Nor does he repudiate Christianity's leniency and promise of a resort to grace.22 Moreover, the attack on Christendom itself, which began somewhat covertly in Kierkegaard's early pseudonymous works and continued to gather steam with increasing emphasis and directness in the later religious writings, reaches its culmination in these late writings. Many of the charges lodged against the established order and present age in these writings, such as the spiritlessness and worldliness of both church and society, are not new, but they do become shriller and more specific as Kierkegaard zeros in on the illusions and practices of the state church in dead earnest. What is different is the fact that he has now given up on the church as an institution, finding it completely indefensible and encouraging others to join him in ceasing to participate in it. But he has not given up

22 On Kierkegaard's view of rigour and leniency in Christianity see Possen (2004).

on Christianity itself, and that is what distinguishes him most profoundly from other nineteenth-century critics of religion such as Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche.

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