Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kierkegaard's Works of Love Part I

The first half of Kierkegaard's Works of Love affirms that Christianly speaking love is always in the contexts of works and that Christian love is above all and ultimately only love of the neighbour. This is set in distinction between erotic love and friendship. It has been a little while now since I read this opening section and there was nothing too striking about his exposition (in comparison to the second half). I would need to re-read if I wanted to do any kind of thorough commentary. What I did take note of, in light of my recent coursework in systems therapy, was his concept of self-love and loving the other-I. And as I worked through his break in love-of-self I began to see some of the larger implications for criticisms of SK's lack of social vision for the church.

Appropriate self-love is necessary for Christian love and as one cannot love their neighbour as they love themselves (as we hear all too often now). Of course Kierkegaard's concept of self-love is no light and fuzzy matter as it is the rendering of the self naked and alone before God. And so self-love becomes a love of self-renunciation. As usual SK takes an additional step in our received commands. He says that loving your neighbour as yourself can be stated, you shall love yourself in the same way as you love your neighbour when you love him as yourself. In this way SK creates another push in keeping someone from focusing too much on what 'self-love' is before they can properly get on to the task of loving their neighbour. And this way SK moves quickly away from meditating on the value of self-love towards the need of self-renunciation.
SK rejects erotic love and friendship as foundationally unchristian because they are loves of preference (and therefore exclusion). SK does not reject friends and lovers as such but demands that they be set within the context of neighbour love. SK criticizes these two loves not only for their preference but because of their tendency towards an insulated self-love . . . that they in fact do not actually love the person or persons they intend to. In this way the friend and the beloved are not loved for themselves but rather the lover loves the other-I. In beginning with the inadequacies of self-love SK writes that,
The fire of self-love is spontaneously ignited; the I ignites itself by itself. He then shifts his target to erotic love and friendship. But in erotic love and friendship, poetically understood, there is also self-ignition.
He states that, poetically speaking, erotic love and friendship is based on a devoted admiration. This admiration has its source and sustenance in the lover not the beloved and so ultimately this becomes an act of self-love as any interference becomes a threat to self and so quickly jealousy or unfaithfulness emerge.

As he progresses SK addresses the notion that love is the fulfilling of the law. He asks, in what sense is this said? He provides this analogy,

The relation of love to the law is like the relation of understanding to faith. The understanding reckons and reckons, calculates and calculates, but it never attains the certainty which faith has. So it is with the law: it defines and defines but never reaches the sum, which is love. When one speaks of a sum, the very expression seems to invite counting, but when a man has become tired of counting and nevertheless is all the more eager to find the sum, he understands that this word must have a deeper meaning.
SK says though that there is no quarrel between law and love only that one requires and the other gives. Love does not wish to do away with any of the law's provisions but in love they become complete. There is no quarrel, then, any more than between hunger and the blessing which satisfies it.
In order then to break out of a despairing self-love SK inserts the 'infinite' difference between worldly love and Christian love.
Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between: man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term. . . . For to love God is love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved.
This is the manner in which a non-preferential love can be initiated and sustained. I think this is a significant statement in how it can move quickly counter any superficial or serious claim of a destructive individuality. SK remained focused and relentless on the initial building blocks of humanity which in fact is not the individual (self) but the self in relationship to God (self-God) from here it is possible and actually occurs simultaneously (which is important to remember) to relate as self-God-other. It is not hard to imagine (though reality may be another case) a web spreading out from these basic relations. But I suspect because SK was so unyielding in his position as an individual that he could never construct such a web because that would assume a position outside and beyond that of the individual and one can never go beyond that. I am offering conjecture here. In this we might be able to more fully proclaim that Christ will build the church.

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