Title

Mystical and Buddhist Elements in Kierkegaard’s Religious Thought

Document Type

Book

Publication Date

2005

Abstract

Critics and sympathetic interpreters alike underestimate Kierkegaard's relevance to contemporary continental and comparative philosophy because they fail to see the extent to which his philosophy is mystical. Mysticism is often characterized by, among other things, the annihilation of the self and union with God. On a standard reading of Kierkegaard, of which David Law’s is an example, Kierkegaard’s insistence upon the absolute distinction between Creator and creation would force him to reject anything like mystical union with God. But this reading fails to take adequate account of Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, which assert the possibility of such a union. For Kierkegaard, when we attempt to secure some meaning for our lives that transcends the limits of those lives themselves, we meet with utter failure because of our finitude and, ultimately, sinfulness. Thus, we must “die” to our human longing to secure this meaning on our own, and must receive it from God through grace. Kierkegaard calls this openness to the divine “becoming nothing.” Only when the individual thus becomes nothing can God “illuminate” her. Critics and sympathetic interpreters alike underestimate Kierkegaard's relevance to contemporary continental and comparative philosophy because they fail to see the extent to which his philosophy is mystical. Mysticism is often characterized by, among other things, the annihilation of the self and union with God. On a standard reading of Kierkegaard, of which David Law’s is an example, Kierkegaard’s insistence upon the absolute distinction between Creator and creation would force him to reject anything like mystical union with God. But this reading fails to take adequate account of Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, which assert the possibility of such a union. For Kierkegaard, when we attempt to secure some meaning for our lives that transcends the limits of those lives themselves, we meet with utter failure because of our finitude and, ultimately, sinfulness. Thus, we must “die” to our human longing to secure this meaning on our own, and must receive it from God through grace. Kierkegaard calls this openness to the divine “becoming nothing.” Only when the individual thus becomes nothing can God “illuminate” her.

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