The Relation Of Religion And Politics

The political turmoil of the time also provided an occasion for Kierkegaard to articulate in a more theoretical fashion his views on the relation between religion and politics or church and state. Reflecting Luther's distinction between the two realms or kingdoms, Kierkegaard's general position is that their viewpoints are worlds apart, as the religious takes its point of departure from above and seeks to transfigure and lift the temporal or earthly to the level of the heavenly, spiritual, or eternal, whereas the political 'begins on earth in order to remain on earth' and 'has nothing to do with eternal truth' (PV 103, 109-10).15 Yet they are not wholly unrelated, as Kierkegaard suggests that, with a little patience, the politician will become aware that 'the religious is the transfigured rendition of what a politician, provided he actually loves being a human being and loves humankind, has thought in his most blissful moment, even if he will find the religious too lofty and too ideal to be practical' (103).16 The political ideal to which Kierkegaard refers here is perfect human equality, which in his estimation, as we have seen, is not attainable in the temporal realm. Politics has to do with the external system of government under which people live, whereas religion, particularly Christianity, is a matter of inwardness, of the individual's personal relationship to God, before whom every individual already enjoys true human equality in the form of spiritual equality. In line with 'the old Christianity', by which he presumably means the original apostolic

15 On Luther's theory of the two kingdoms, see Cranz (1998: 159-78).

16 On 'the patient politician', see Perkins (2003b).

tradition, Kierkegaard holds that Christianity is fundamentally indifferent towards all forms of government and 'can live equally well under all of them', even 'under the most imperfect conditions and forms', which is what constitutes 'Christianity's perfection' JP iv. 4191, 4193; COR 54). It is not Christianity's business, therefore, to be concerned with bringing about external changes in the political realm.

This is not to say, however, that 'Christianity consists purely and simply of putting up with everything in regard to external forms, without doing anything at all' (COR 56). On the contrary, Kierkegaard maintains that 'there are situations which an established order can be of such a nature that the Christian ought not put up with it, ought not say that Christianity means precisely this indifference to the external' (56). He does not spell out what those situations might be, leaving them to be determined by individual conscience in a particular social situation. He also suggests that 'If at a given time the forms under which one has to live are not the most perfect, if they can be improved, in God's name do so', which leaves the door open for a wide range of political action on the part of individual Christians (53).

These remarks were written in response to a book by Andreas G. Rudelbach (1792-1862), a Grundtvigian who took Kierkegaard to be an advocate of the emancipation of the church from the state and wanted to claim him as an ally in the Grundtvigian political campaign to usher in religious freedoms such as civil marriage (COR 51). Kierkegaard published An Open Letter (1851) in order to clarify his position vis-Ă -vis the established order, both political and ecclesiastical. While admitting to being a hater of 'habitual Christianity', he denies having fought for the emancipation of the church or any other form of external change but only for 'the inward deepening of Christianity' in himself and others (53). In fact, he insists that 'I have overscrupulously seen to it that not a passage, not a sentence, not a line, not a word, not a letter has slipped in suggesting a proposal for external change or suggesting a belief that the problem is lodged in externalities, that external change is what is needed, that external change is what will help us' (53). Expressing suspicion towards the 'politically achieved free institutions' championed by the Grundtvigians and other political parties of the time, 'especially of their saving, renewing power', Kierkegaard states: 'There is nothing about which I have greater misgivings than about all that even slightly tastes of this disastrous confusion of politics and Christianity' (53-4). In the aftermath ofthe crisis of1848, therefore, Kierkegaard sees his task as opposing those who want to reform the church in political ways and by political means rather than religiously or inwardly through individual penance before God as a true reformation would require (JP vi. 6719-21, 6727; FSE 21; JFY 130-1, 211-13). He thus declares: 'The evil in our time is not the established order with its many faults. No, the evil in our time is precisely: this evil penchant for reforming, this flirting with wanting to reform, this sham of wanting to reform without being willing to suffer and to make sacrifices' (JFY 212-13). In his view, 'Dabblers in reforming are more corrupting than the most corrupt established order, because reforming is the highest and therefore dabbling in it is the most corrupting of all' (212). Thus, if one is 'not willing to walk in the character of being a reformer', one ought to hold one's tongue (212).

These views are amplified by a number of journal entries in this period in which Kierkegaard continually maintains that he has sought to defend the established order, not to attack or do away with it, although that does not mean that he agrees with it (JP vi. 6343, 6344, 6693, 6705, 6774, 6778). Politically, we have seen that Kierkegaard's polemic is directed primarily against the crowd, in relation to which he severely criticizes those in charge, both political and ecclesiastical officials, for their failure to govern in the crisis of 1848: 'I saw how the ones who were supposed to rule, both in Church and State, hid themselves like cowards while barbarism boldly and brazenly raged' (JP vi. 6444; cf. 6699, 6719). With regard to the established church, Kierkegaard maintains that 'in the highest Christian sense there is no established Church, only a Church Militant', by which he means a church in the process of becoming victorious in the world through struggle in a hostile environment as opposed to a church triumphant in which the time of struggle is over and victory is declared (JP vi. 6671, 6672; CD 229; PC 211).17 Factually, of course, the established church does exist, although Kierkegaard repeatedly charges in his writings that it has abolished true Christianity and substituted a confused, illusory, 'toned-down approximation of Christianity' that is paganism and worldliness (PC 35, 135, 144; JFY 212). But at this stage in his authorship he does not call for the overthrow of the church or for a political separation of church and state, although ideally he recognizes that is what Christianity requires: 'There is hardly a person hereabouts who is as cognizant as I of all the objections that can be leveled from a Christian point of view against a state Church, a folk Church, an established Christian Church, and the like, also that in the strictly Christian sense the demand is separation—this is ideality's maximum requirement' (JP vi. 6671, 6761). As Kierkegaard sees it, however, such an undertaking would require 'such a qualitatively religious operation that only a qualitatively distinguished religious character' such as an apostle or witness to the truth willing to become a martyr would be able to accomplish it (JP vi. 6761; i. 599). Since such a person cannot be found

17 See also Cranz (1998: 120), and Schmid (1961: 587-8), on the distinction between the church militant and triumphant in Luther and early Lutheran theology in the present age and Kierkegaard does not regard himself as physically able or spiritually qualified to assume such a role, he concludes that the established order must be allowed to stand. But at least an admission that the established church does not represent true Christianity is required of the church officials, particularly Primate Bishop J. P. Mynster (JP vi. 6699, 6723). Unsurprisingly Kierkegaard waited in vain for such a statement to be forthcoming.

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