Inwardness, actuality, dogmatic policing, and conversion

I would have to say that Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments was the most anticipated volume in my Kierkegaard reading tour.  So far I have not been disappointed.  While it is penned under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus I really feel Kierkegaard ‘pouring it on’ in this volume (and as far as I understand this was to be last and climactic work).  There is no ‘imaginative construction’ to set the stage in so many of his other works.  From the gate Kierkegaard pours forth his account of Christianity as the truth of subjectivity; or, truth as subjectivity.  Throughout my reading of Kierkegaard I have tried to monitor just how he develops inwardness.  I wondered the extent to which I could accept his account given the temptation of introspection as a pretext for a spiritualism that does not take social structures and actions seriously.  I always held out on the side of Kierkegaard because of his insistence on actuality as opposed to abstraction.  I felt that the extent to which Kierkegaard’s thought would veer towards an isolated spirituality then in fact it would betray his commitment to existence (which demands particularity be taken with utmost seriousness).  This being said Kierkegaard’s notion of inwardness was always a little opaque.  Then I encountered this line about halfway through CUP,

The actuality is not the external action but an interiority in which the individual annuls possibility and identifies himself with what is thought in order to exist in it.  This is action. (339)

To risk putting this in a certain therapeutic language I would say this refers to being congruent.  For instance there remains Christian language about loving the sinner and hating the sin.  However, we all know this ends up looking a lot like hating the sinner even if it only sounds like hating the sin.  There remains a fundamental incongruence here.  Kiekergaard advocates famously in another place that purity of heart is to ‘will one thing’.  All possibilities become annulled in passionate clarification of existing in the actuality of love.  And so hating the possibility of hating the sin is annulled in the actuality of loving the sinner.

I frame this response to Kierkegaard due to my own recent conversion experience.  For years I have tried to reflect on how the Gospel calls individuals to orientate themselves towards peace and justice.  This led to significant life decisions in terms of where I lived, how I acted and what I studied.  It was only recently however that I have come to realize that I carried along with this commitment a certain dogmatic policing that continually annulled the actuality of the sort of life I sought.  This dogmatic policing continued to hold people in judgment while outwardly I tried to work for liberation (in what was of course limited and often naive ways).  I still harboured ambiguity around how I could support those in same-sex relationships.  I remained largely blind or at least unresponsive to the gender prejudice that swarmed around in many of my contexts.  I did not integrate the significance that the basic lack of resources can have on people’s lives.

I was not functioning congruently.  In what felt like a very short time something simply fell away.  I felt somehow released to love (yes I will let that stand for all its possible cheesiness).  I don’t have more answers and I don’t know how to act differently.  I don’t actually think anyone would notice the difference.  But I know I am living differently and I know this will effect my ethical posture.  I just know something changed (as I also now it can change for the worse).  Perhaps I am stretching Kierkegaard’s account of actuality but if I am, I don’t think it is by much.  My notion of’ ‘peace and justice’ was largely situated in a field policed by a dogma contrary to peace and justice and so I was given free reign to explore it within those bounds.  This is abstract and speculative thought according to Kierkegaard and the further that path is traveled the further away one is from existence.

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