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Lane, Keith H.
Kierkegaard and the Concept of Religious Authorship.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2010. VIII, 171 S. gr.8° = Religion in Philosophy and Theology, 45. Kart. EUR 49,00. ISBN 978-3-16-150120-3.
Keith H. Lane’s study of Kierkegaard’s religious authorship, based on a Ph.D. thesis completed in 2008, explores the relationship between a religious and a philosophical authorship. Where Kierkegaard is taken as the paradigm case of a religious authorship, Wittgenstein is chosen for the main example of a philosophical authorship – although L. also engages a succession of philosophical interlocutors who are by no means Wittgensteinian (e. g. Michael Weston, Richard Creel, and C. S. Evans). Where the religious author (including Kierkegaard) does not question the sense of speaking religiously, the philosophical author, in his ›cool‹ way, questions how discourse is possible at all. Early on, L. defines a religious authorship as being »before God, to speak or write about God and the world (including religion and things religious), in a religious way, with a religious concern or interest, to a specific audience« (4). In the light of this definition, he goes on to ask such questions as how such a religious authorship is motivated, how far it can coincide with a philosophical authorship, how it ought to influence philosophy, what are the constraints and challenges relevant to a religious authorship? And, assuming that Kierkegaard was, as he said he was, a religious author, what was Kierkegaard’s own conception of a religious author and how did it relate to the aim of ›living Christianly‹?
Of course, that Kierkegaard was, really was, a religious author has been questioned. For Michael Strawser, even Kierkegaard’s religious writings do not entirely escape the orbit of irony, so that all of the authorship can always be read both, i. e., both aesthetically and edifyingly. For Louis Pojman, on the other hand, Kierkegaard is »a Christian philosopher« (25). L. rejects both these views, though – as throughout the book – he is prepared to see the positive points in the positions he criticizes. More generally, he thinks that an »over-concentration on the aesthetic works is exactly the state of Kierkegaard scholarship today« (20) – a remark that serves to make a point, but is not entirely justified by the facts (think of the enormous attention paid to Works of Love alone in recent years).
Kierkegaard, then, was a religious author, and neither a thorough-going ironist nor a philosopher. A religious author shares a certain common interest in dispelling illusions with the philosopher, but has a defining interest in »the actuality of another« (32). This interest is absolute and involves such an author both in a relation to God and to other human beings. A religious authorship is polemical and is about changing hearts and minds. As Kierkegaard himself insisted, Christianity is not a doctrine but an existence-communication and understanding and argument are relevant only in the context of existential appropriation of the message.
But L. does not accept Conant’s and Weston’s view that the philosophical bits of Concluding Unscientific Postscript are simply parodic or that one must just shut the book, stop philosophizing, and start believing. Acknowledgement of parodic elements does not exclude going some of the way with philosophy – just not all the way. Similarly, he rejects Richard Creel’s view that faith be allowed to trump doubt in all cases, since where Creel sees faith as a matter of holding onto beliefs, Kierkegaard sees it in terms of action, discipleship, and imitation. Faith, we may say, is a matter of faith. C. S. Evans attempts to turn Kierkegaard into a kind of ›responsible fideist‹ who uses arguments as well as faith won’t do either, since this »seems to want to put a net under the venture of faith« (89).
Yet – and this is well observed – Kierkegaard does seek to persuade his readers that faith might be an existential possibility for their lives, not least because of the imperative of love of neighbour. The believer cannot justifiably withhold from another what s/he has experienced as a supreme good (104). But what this involves is more like »basic propositions or intuitive assumptions or first principles« (92 f.) or »ultimate concerns« (97), than anything that can be proved. This leads Kierkegaard to seek a new kind of grounding of Christian communication in rhetoric, and L. gives a capable run through of the unpublished lectures on communication in which Kierkegaard worked out some of these ideas. This leads finally to questions of certainty, uncertainty and authority.
This is a creditable, clearly written book that tries hard to be fair all round and makes a number of good points. Its most original contribution is simply to flag how taking Kierkegaard’s understanding of what being a religious author involved affects how we then use his work in negotiating the frontiers of faith and philosophy. And this is not insignificant.