The Emancipation of Women

Kierkegaard's negative attitude towards social equality also led him to oppose the emancipation of women, the subject of his very first publication in a newspaper article while still a university student (EPW 3-5).31 In the 1830s there was already a women's liberation movement brewing in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe which continued to gather steam in the 1840s, particularly after the political revolutions of 1848.32 Viewing Christianity as seeking to bring about only the change of infinity within individuals, not a change in their external social status or privileges, in Works of Love Kierkegaard advises a poor charwoman, for example, to be content with her socio-economic situation:

Christianity's divine meaning is to say in confidence to every human being, 'Do not busy yourself with changing the shape of the world or your situation, as if you (to stay with the example), instead of being a poor charwoman, perhaps could manage to be called "Madame." No, make Christianity your own, and it will show you a point outside the world, and by means of this you will move heaven and earth; yes, you will do something even more wonderful, you will move heaven and earth so quietly, so lightly, that no one notices it.' (WL 136)

In like manner, while objecting to the abominable treatment of women almost as animals or disdained beings of another species in the history of male-female relations, Kierkegaard makes the following observation concerning women's rights:

What battles there have been to establish in a worldly way the woman in equal rights with the man—but Christianity makes only infinity's change and therefore quietly. Outwardly the old more or less remains. The man is to be the woman's master and she subservient to him; but inwardly everything is changed, changed by means of this little question to the woman, whether she has consulted with her conscience about having this man—as master, for otherwise she does not get him. Yet the conscience-question about the conscience-matter makes her in inwardness before God absolutely equal with the man. (WL 138)

This aspect of Kierkegaard's view of Christianity and Christian love reveals the degree to which, on the woman question at least, he was a man of his time, limited by the patriarchal perspective and practices that prevailed in both religion and culture of that period.33 But there are deeper implications of Kierkegaard's social views that serve to temper and qualify the negative viewpoints noted above. Christian love is an inward concern or passion for the other as a neighbour, but it is not such a hidden feeling that it has

33 See Léon and Walsh (1997) for a variety of feminist critiques of Kierkegaard.

no outward expression and consequences. On the contrary, the 'essential mark' of Christian love is that it bears fruit and is made recognizable in works oflove (WL 10-11). 'Indeed,' Kierkegaard says, 'if there could actually be such a self-contradiction in love, it would have to be the greatest torment that love insisted on keeping love hidden, insisted on making love unrecognizable' (WL 11). Thus, while there is no work or act that unconditionally demonstrates the presence of love, which depends solely on the inward motivation or how a work is done, love for the other as one's neighbour or spiritual equal will or should express itself in outward forms and ways that seemingly would preclude patriarchal and other structures of domination between men and women, even if they are allowed to stand externally.

That Kierkegaard would affirm this interpretation is supported by the fact that he credits Christianity with having done away with the institution of slavery: 'The times are past when only the powerful and the prominent were human beings—and the others were bond servants and slaves. This is due to Christianity' (WL 74). Moreover, he encourages an active concern for the material plight of the poor and needy among us—not at a distance but close at hand and without condescension.34 In this way Christianity 'quietly' goes about bringing change in the temporal sphere externally in social relations as well as internally in the individual. Kierkegaard states:

Christianity has not wanted to topple governments from the throne in order to place itself on the throne; it has never contended in an external sense for a place in the world ...and yet it has infinitely changed everything it allowed and allows to continue. In other words, just as the blood pulses in every nerve, so does Christianity want to permeate everything with the relationship ofconscience.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Transcend the Power of Words

Transcend the Power of Words

Finally, The Secrets Of Affirmations Unrevealed... Who Else Wants The Ultimate Guide To Affirmations And Witness Its Magic To Change Your Life Forever? Discover How Ordinary People Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through Affirmations!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment