One of my fondest memories is walking into the kitchen and seeing Dad with his bowl of Grape Nuts Flakes, a cup of coffee, and the Comics section of the newspaper. The ever conscientious engineer ensured that his day began with a dose of humor. One of those comic strips was Marmaduke.
My maternal grandmother, Nan, would often clip a strip or two she thought conveyed some truth for a young pastor. One I recall was Dennis the Menace. The simple comic had muddy footprints inside and outside the house that traced Dennis’ every step. Another often featured Marmaduke.
It would be years later that I learned of another Great Dane. Sören Kierkegaard. According to J Aaron Simmons the suggestion that Kierkegaard could be reduces to the fellow who described “the leap of faith” is a gross misrepresentation as well as a phrase absent from any of his writings. Stephen Backhouse’s biography, Kierkegaard: A Single Life, is worth your time. If all anyone can do is dismiss Sören as an existentialist and move on, it is akin to something I learned recently.
My friend Tripp Fuller and J Aaron Simmons have produced a six-session online course on Kierkegaard. Simmons just rotated off as President, or Grand Poo-bah, of a guild of Kierkegaardian scholars. That means that I am not like him. I have not read enough of SK to be considered a novice.
One take away from this six-session series came from the fifth installment. Simmons said for Kierkegaard, “God is the condition of neighbor.” This so struck me that I had to listen to the section several times. Here is my summary:
Kant asserted that reason was the main identity marker of human beings. When I look at you I am receiving you through the lens of myself. I see you as a thinking person. But, I will always be tempted to hold you in esteem when you’re thinking is like mine. When it is not you become the other that I am able to bracket out, marginalize, because you do not think like me. This runs all the way down to where we are all good as human beings until you only accept into your circle those who support [fill in the blank]. All others are cast off/aside.
SK undermined that by referring to that as Preferential Love. I love those who think like me. Which as we would put it, leaves living in silos of our own determination and for Christians, us, making God match our thoughts about God.
Keirkegaard pushed against that. When God asserts that we love God with everything and that we love love our neighbor, God becomes the condition for who is our neighbor. It does not matter what I am thinking. God’s love wrecks our understanding of love as different than our standard triblaisms, Preferential Loved Ones. Since God loves all then I cannot only love preferentially, that is not Divine Love. Neighbor Love wrecks my love for a preferred group of people. Any other form of love is idolatrous. I love only those who I receive as fitting my preferences.
What struck me is that I read this in Emmanuel Levinas before hearing about it in Kierkegaard. Simmons noted that SK was pointing us in this direction 100 years earlier.
Walking with Kierkegaard may well be like Marmaduke walking his master. If we dare follow it may unwind the very ways that we have idolized our own reception of others under the rubric of faithfulness to Jesus. In other words, Kierkegaard challenges us to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” in the same way Jesus intended when the aim was a loophole desired to eliminate some made in the Image of God.
Pastor, how has your idolatry formed the way you lead your congregation to only accept those who think like you, or them?