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On Kierkegaard’s 200th Birthday

Hans Ulrich has been very kind about my work.  He suggested to me once in conversation that, while my first book (Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love) is about Kierkegaard, my second book (Conceiving Parenthood:  American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction) is my attempt to inhabit Kierkegaard.  And so is my third.  Teaching Kierkegaard’s texts is a joy, but I am not terribly invested in creating more Kierkegaard scholars per se.  I am happiest when one of his texts surprises a young, pious student into the realization that Christianity is often more amenable to delicate fairy tales than to managerial plans, logical proofs, or other sorts of ecclesial body-armor.

Suppose there was a king who loved a maiden of lowly station in life – but the reader may already have lost patience when he hears that our analogy begins like a fairy tale and is not at all systematic.

Philosophical Fragments

With this third book, on “Muscular Christianity,” Kierkegaard is again a treasured friend.  Listening to men in the U.S. whose ministries focus on men, I am struck often that Kierkegaard’s Jesus is no less an offense to American notions of masculinity than he is to our default ideas about proper domesticity.  I suggested in KTL that Kierkegaard brings the sweaty, bloody Jesus into our well-appointed living rooms.  Kierkegaard also brings the impotent Jesus into the board room (or gym, or doctoral seminar).  That first image is my gleaning from Gerhard Forde’s suggestion that Martin Luther strips the roses from the cross.  In a note to my dad recently, I said that some of the men I have heard from seem not only intent to de-sentimentalize the cross, but to put a shield around the cross, to make Jesus a Holy Iron Man.  I see this impulse in some men reaching out to men whose livelihoods have been stripped of them, as in this ministry to hunters, and also in ministries catering to the men supposedly gaining ground in this brutal economy, as seen in the manly men icon for this group.

He will appear, therefore, as the equal of the lowliest of persons.  But the lowliest of all is one who must serve others – consequently, the god will appear in the form of a servant.  But this form of a servant is not something put on like the king’s plebian cloak, which just by flapping open would betray the king . . . but it is his true form.

Philosophical Fragments

The passage goes on to stress that God’s omnipotence – God’s power – is shown precisely in God’s capacity to recreate a love that seeks equality.  Some men’s ministries seem monomaniacal in their quest to reestablish hierarchy, emphasizing a vigorous, stoic capacity for men to accept suffering underneath the dominion of God and, sometimes simultaneously, exhorting men toward a passionate precision for disciplining those underneath them.  Even the unbelievers do as much.  Really, is there a difference between Daniel Craig’s 007 and the Optimal Christian Man?  If so, what, and why?

Years ago, a friend recommended to me an article in Prism by Craig Wong called “Blackwater as Ecclesiological Problem.”  Pastor Wong says this:

Profiting from war through violent means likely generates a sour taste for most observers, but what does the watching world think when Christians are behind such entrepreneurial endeavors? Blackwater’s intimate family ties to some of the most high-profile evangelicals in America are no secret. Publicly known is the generous, philanthropic distribution of its family wealth among several esteemed Christian colleges and academic institutions, religious-based policy think tanks, and nationally-known parachurch ministries. Intriguingly, a number of these entities are associated with prominent leaders that helped bolster evangelical support for the Iraq war. Connect the dots.

I think Erik Prince is both more and less than an ecclesiological problem.  He represents all sorts of systematic theological problems, but he also represents the good, old-fashioned problem of manna.  With a sufficiently connected matrix of money-makers, you can create the meaning of a Man.

Kierkegaard took on the relatively little mess that was striving, ostensibly Christian Denmark with a remarkable series of beautifully written puzzles about faith.  I am taking on a truly hot mess in one little, fairly straight-forward book about men.  

Dear Kierkegaard, at 200, please stay my muse.  

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