The Double Danger of Christian Love

If we venture to mediate our love relations in this way, however, conflict with the world is inevitable because Christian love is the opposite of pagan, worldly, merely human conceptions of love (WL 118, 121, 123). As Kierkegaard sees it, the Christian life is exposed to 'double danger', involving struggle on two fronts, first of all inwardly in striving to develop a Christian disposition within oneself, and then outwardly with the world, which rewards the true expression of love to others with 'hate, contempt, and persecution' (76, 81-2, 191-2). Ironically, the more we succeed in the first struggle, the worse it goes for us in the second. In Kierkegaard's view, opposition from the world is essential, not merely accidental, to Christianity since they are qualitatively heterogeneous to one another, and anyone who does not encounter opposition 'is obliged to be a bit dubious' about his or her self (194). It is thus essential for those who choose Christianity to know what they are getting into: 'A young person should not be promised anything other than what Christianity can keep, but Christianity cannot keep anything other than what it has promised from the beginning: the world's ingratitude, opposition, and derision, and continually to a higher degree the more earnest a Christian one becomes' (194). Thus, if'the last difficulty' or second danger of becoming a Christian is suppressed, there can be 'no talk of Christianity', which in Kierkegaard's view is 'essentially abolished' unless it can be demonstrated that the world has become 'essentially good' and therefore no longer heterogeneous to Christianity as it was originally assumed to be (194).

Although Christendom imagines that it is Christian, Kierkegaard charges that it has in fact done away with the possibility of offence, which is essential to Christianity, in the illusion that what it calls self-denial is Christian self-denial, whereas true Christian self-denial always bears the mark of double danger (WL 194-5). Labelling the worldly or merely human conception of self-denial as 'counterfeit self-denial', Kierkegaard maintains that 'as soon as the double mark is missing the self-denial is not Christian self-denial' (195). The worldly or merely human idea of self-denial is to 'give up your self-loving desires, cravings, and plans—then you will be esteemed and honored and loved as righteous and wise'; conversely, the Christian idea of self-denial is to 'give up your self-loving desires and cravings, give up your self-seeking plans and purposes so that you truly work unselfishly for the good—and then, for that very reason, put up with being abominated almost as a criminal, insulted and ridiculed' (94). Whereas merely human self-denial is done with the expectation that it will be positively rewarded by the world, Christian self-denial not only expects opposition from the world but freely chooses it, which for Kierkegaard is 'the very assurance' that one stands in a genuine relation to God (195).

In recognizing that the Christian life involves double danger and the practice of self-denial not only internally in the overcoming of selfishness and worldliness within ourselves but also externally in voluntary submission to being maltreated by the world, Kierkegaard arrives at the key insight that governs all his later religious writings, which increasingly emphasize voluntary suffering in imitation of Christ as the distinctive mark of what it means to be a Christian in contrast to paganism, Judaism, and ordinary human sufferings such as sickness and adversity. This does not mean, however, that there is no joy or consolation in the Christian life. On the contrary, just as the Christian life is characterized by the passions of faith, hope, and love, so too joy is experienced in the strife of suffering and consolation for one's own internal and external suffering is gained in and through consoling others (cf. CD 95-159).35

35 See Nelson (2007); B0geskov (2007); Walsh (2005: 123-6, 141-6).

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