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Connell, George B.
Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity.
Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2016. XIV, 183 S. = Kierkegaard as a Christian Thinker Series. Kart. US$ 30,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6804-6.
In Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity, George B. Connell courageously confronts the 21st century’s most pressing issue, the clash of religions, with a clever appeal to 19th century ethico-religious philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. Globalization, the hallmark of our age, has made it possible for distant peoples, with diverse religious beliefs and practices, to interact daily. As events in the news reveal, this »meeting« is unavoidable and has far-reaching and long-lasting effects. Thus, we must ask whether it possible for the world religions to peaceably coexist and, if so, how.
The phenomenon forces us to reevaluate our convictions, which C. contends happens in either an atheistic or aporetic manner. Atheistically, the lack of consensus among the different belief systems challenges the existence of religion. Aporetically, the worldwide presence of religion speaks to the essential role it plays, but nevertheless compels us to reconcile our particular beliefs and practices with those that differ. We are left either embracing our own faith, perhaps to the point of persecution or extremism, or diluting it in an effort to focus on our commonalities with others.
Although scholars acknowledge our anxiety over these options, they disagree about the best way to achieve harmony among reli-gions. Peter van Igwagen, for instance, advocates for particularism/ exclusivism, whereas John Hick and Wilfred Catwell Smith argue for universalism/pluralism. C., however, finds neither stance pre-ferable, given the compromises each involves. Instead, he sets out to make a case for preserving the tension between being true to our own religious faith and being receptive to the differing creeds and cultures of fellow human beings.
To flesh out just what it would mean to live with this »existential paradox,« C. appeals to the philosophy of Kierkegaard, the fa-ther of Existentialism himself (180). According to Kierkegaard, anxiety and ambiguity are part and parcel of being human. Being authentic amounts to loving ourselves and others as neighbors of God, and all the while regarding the anxiety and ambiguity in-volved – over particular and universal ethico-religious allegiances – as necessary and educative. Kierkegaard employs indirect communication to underscore this idea.
With Kierkegaard’s multifaceted work open to interpretation, C. teases out tensions in his thoughts on religion and argues that an inclusivist take is most compelling. For such a reading yields helpful tools, or a perspective, for navigating our dilemma with diversity. He writes, »a Kierkegaardian approach to healthy coexistence among different faiths would call for all religious traditions to embrace their particular faiths in their full specificity« (182). Kierkegaard’s philosophy has the potential to promote productive interreligious dialogue, for it encourages us, regardless of our creed, to be the best believers we can be, via accentuating the constructive, and downplaying the destructive, elements within our respective traditions.
C.’s admirable undertaking is not without its challenges. Kierkegaard was not acquainted with the present issue of religious diversity. Rather, his primary aim in the 19th century was to challenge his Danish society to live up to what it truly means to be Christian. As such, it would seem as though any mention he might make of other religions would in the service of his specific end, not ours regarding the coexistence of religions. Even if that were not the case, Kierkegaard’s use of pseudonyms would complicate the attempt to ascertain otherwise. By using Kierkegaard to help address an issue that was not an obvious concern of his, C. runs the risk of vitiating his philosophy.
However, C. anticipates as much and constructs his project accordingly. He first reviews Kierkegaard’s actual reception of religions, such as paganism and Judaism, in order to then read the texts (citing Kierkegaard and/or pseudonyms as appropriate) for the insights they might offer us. C. is careful to restrict his inclusivist reconstruction of Kierkegaard to Philip Quinn’s guidelines for discussing religious diversity, namely, topics regarding conflicting truth claims, religious intolerance, definitions of religion and constructive comparisons. In so doing, C. highlights the importance of being humble about our beliefs via humor, guarding against interpreting the likes of Abraham as condoning fanaticism, considering our faith in terms of teleological suspension and regarding Confucius and Kierkegaard as a model for juxtaposition.
By treating Kierkegaard’s œuvre as a resource, not just a historical commentary, on religious identity in this way, C. shows how we might live our faiths together with respect, openness and love. Therein lies the merit of C.’s work.