Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was an influential Danish Christian philosopher whose work set the foundations for the existentialist movement of the 20th century. Kierkegaard was supportive of the Christian religion, but rejected Christendom, the applied Christianity of his day. Kierkegaard claimed that Christendom of 19th century Europe strayed from the values of Jesus and declared that "official Christianity is not the Christianity of the New Testament". He called for Christians to embrace a life-affirming view of the world, rather than a false Christianity that provided easy comforts and wretched contentment. Kierkegaard's thoughts were taken in liberal directions with Karl Barth's neo-orthodoxy and Jean Paul Sartre's existentialism.
The knight of faith was a literary device used in Kierkegaard's pseudonymous writing, Fear and Trembling. The knight of faith exemplified a person who would overcome doubt & despair and affirm his individuality & embrace life.
The statement Truth is Subjectivity first appeared in Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. This aphorism does not mean that there is no objective truths, a view commonly called subjectivism, but rather that the individual appropriates objective truth subjectively, while not denying the existence of objective truths. For example, the objective question is, "Is Christianity true?", while the subjective question is "What is my relation to Christianity?". Both questions are important, but only the latter takes into account the existing individual.
In his book, Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI quotes Kierkegaard's parable of the clown that was not taken seriously while the world burned, and interprets the story as saying that theologians are the clowns are that are not taken seriously in today's world.
Views on existentialism
Kierkegaard saw humankind as needing to return to God through three stages:
- "aesthetic existence" - the pursuit of self-centered pleasure leads to despair
- "ethical existence"
- "religious existence"
- Kierkegaard, "Attack Upon Christendom"