Kierkegaard’s spiritual communism

Faith hope and charity by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1794-1872 1874
Wikimedia Commons
Don’t use these gifts grudgingly.

People blame the world, the environment, the circumstances, the situation for standing in the way of good fortune and peace and joy. But it’s the person himself that stands in the way by being bound up too closely with the world, the environment, the circumstances to be able to come back to himself and to find rest and hope. But what if one could find a trapdoor that lead to the desired goods? What if you walked into wealth? Many will say that without money there is no joy in life and will work very hard to acquire money. But money is an uncertain good. Perhaps Prometheus and Epimetheus made an error by failing to ask for money when they gave the gifts of foresight and hindsight. But the person who works for money does so begrudging because the more money he gets the less money there is available for others. This results in envy.

Pandora Offers the Jar to Epimetheus.
Paolo Farinati  (1524–1606)

Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Protagoras by Plato

Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his Christian Discourses of 1848 about the parasitic plant that creeps along the ground but has the idea that it wants to grow in height. But it can never grow in height so it has devised a scheme for the making of this opportunity. It finds something on which it can hang and sneaks upward through the help of outside assistance. But Kierkegaard says Eternity has hidden trapdoors to ascent. Christ has shown that God has provided outside assistance to every single human being for the acquiring of his goods.

If a human being had the power to create a scarcity in the material world, he would indeed find much to do; for the merchant says rightly enough that though each article has its price, this price depends so much on favorable circumstances; and when there is a time of scarcity, the merchant earns larger profits.
Soren Kierkegaard, Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life, 1845 Swenson 1941 p. 91

The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs. … Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in the place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat. The Communist Manifesto 1848
Karl Marx 1875 John Jabez Edwin Mayal (1813–1901)

Karl Marx wrote in his Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” His whole focus was the creation of better material circumstances for the human race. He said, again in his Manifesto: “What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed? The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”

Karl Marx and Soren Kierkegaard had much in common. Both of their fathers died in 1838 while they were still in the University. Soren Kierkegaard graduated from University of Copenhagen in the same year Marx graduated from University of Jena 1841. Both were intensely interested in the writings of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who passed away in 1832. One was devoted to the material world and didn’t believe in the existence of the world of the spirit. The other was devoted to the world of the spirit but couldn’t help noticing the existence of the material world. Marx published The Communist Manifest in the same year that Soren Kierkegaard published his Christian Discourses, 1848. Kierkegaard lived from 1813-1855 and Karl Marx from 1818-1883.

Soren Kierkegaard asked this question in 1848: (Christian Discourses)
What is the difference between riches and riches (earthly/spiritual)?

Kierkegaard says “every earthly good is in itself, begrudging, its possession is begrudging or is envy and in one way or another must make others poor. The more I have, the less someone else must have.” He would designate earthly goods; including worldly honor and power also, unjust and makes for injustice because they cannot be acquired or possessed equally. These goods are begrudging and selfish because they never have any thought for the others.

From the Depths,
William Balfour Ker  (1877–1918)
The worship of mammon by Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919)

The goods of the spirit is communication, so its possession is merciful. While I work in order to acquire my faith I am also working for all others because of this spirit communication. My having faith never is begrudging others anything because it takes nothing from anyone. If I have eternity’s hope I have not taken anything away from others. But, instead I have worked for all. The whole generation and every individual in the generation is a participant in one’s having hope.

Thus the goods of the spirit are in themselves essentially communication; their acquirement, their possession, in itself a benefaction for all. You do not only have hope, but even just by having it (what blessed possession!) you are one who is communication, you are doing a good deed to others. (my emphasis)

If it is to be Possible, That a Man Can Will Only One Thing, Then He Must Will the Good. Purity of Heart 1847

That one person has hope, or that there is one person who has hope, is for all others a much more joyful news, just because it is much more reassuring, than the news, just because it is much more reassuring, than the news that one ship has reached its goal is for all the other ships steering to the same goal. With regard to ships, accidental circumstances can determine the outcome for each one, and “the other” ships are not by an essential possibility participants in the one ship’s good fortune. But that there is one person who has hope, or every time there is a person who has hope, is decisive for all, that they are able to have it. Here it holds true that one is all and all are one. (p. 117)

Here it holds true that one is all and all are one. In the spiritual world the whole is more than its parts because every single individual knowingly or unknowingly helps every other single individual. “This is the humanity of spiritual goods in contrast to the inhumanity of earthly goods. Even if a person is willing to share his earthly goods, at every moment in which he is occupied with acquiring them or is engrossed in possessing them, he is selfish, just as that is which he possesses or acquires. Not so with the goods of the spirit. The believer has only what every human being can have, and to the degree that his faith is greater, that the same degree it is seen, but all the more clearly, that this glory and blessedness are possible as a common possession for all human beings.”

Perfume doesn’t possess its good for itself but gives it freely to all within its radius. It isn’t a begrudging good. It communicates its good to all.

“Oh, how all the blessings of heaven follows these goods of the spirit from first to last and at every moment – for “I do not weary of repeating the same thing,” and to me it seems that the thought is so blessed that it could not be repeated often enough; indeed, it would not even be too often if a person’s life were a repetition of this thought every day.

Whereas earthly goods in themselves are grudging and therefore (what immense latitude for accidental possibilities, what uncertainty!) it must, alas, depend on whether they happen to be possessed by someone who wants to do good with them; and whereas possession of them all too often only tempts the possessor to become begrudging just like the goods, the goods of the spirit are to such a degree a blessing that possession of them (quite apart from any mention of the use of the possessor makes of them) is a blessing to others, is communication, sharing. It is just as impossible to possess the goods of the spirit for oneself in the selfish sense as it is impossible to prevent air from penetrating even the thickest walls.

If we may speak this way, this is not due – and precisely this is what is so eternally reassuring – this is not even due to the possessor but is due to the goods themselves, which are communication, although it is self-evident that if the possessor does correspond to the goods, he does not possess the goods of the spirit either. Just as costly fragrant essence spreads fragrance not only when it is poured out but, to the extent that it contains fragrance in itself, is fragrance, so that it permeates the vial in which it is contained and even in concealment spreads fragrance – likewise to that degree the goods of the spirit are communicated, so that possession is communication, and just to acquire them is to enrich others.” (Christian Discourses p. 118)

Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; wisdom (centre), fortitude (top) and then in clockwise direction: counsel, understanding, fear of the Lord, piety, and knowledge.

These gifts depend on whether they happen to be possessed by someone who wants to do good with them or not. Sometimes the possessor becomes begrudging with them just as many do with the material gifts. Some don’t want to communicate them but want to become more and more learned and end up becoming so learned that no one can understand them. “But of the true goods of the spirit it holds true that they can be possessed only in truth, and the one who does not possess them in truth does not possess them at all.” (119)

Christian Discourses by Soren Kierkegaard published in 1848 and translated first in 1941 by Walter Lowrie and then by Howard V and Edna H Hong in 1997. These ideas were taken from the Hong translation.

III The Joy of It: That the Poorer You Become the Richer You Are Able to Make Others. Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses 1848, Hong 1997 starting on page 114 All images from wikimediacommons.

The story of Epimetheus and Prometheus by Plato from his Protagoras

Once upon a time there were gods only, and no mortal creatures. But when the time came that these also should be created, the gods fashioned them out of earth and fire and various mixtures of both elements in the interior of the earth; and when they were about to bring them into the light of day, they ordered Prometheus and Epimetheus to equip them, and to distribute to them severally their proper qualities.

Epimetheus said to Prometheus: “Let me distribute, and do you inspect.” This was agreed, and Epimetheus made the distribution. There were some to whom he gave strength without swiftness, while he equipped the weaker with swiftness; some he armed, and others he left unarmed; and devised for the latter some other means of preservation, making some large, and having their size as a protection, and others small, whose nature was to fly in the air or burrow in the ground; this was to be their way of escape. Thus did he compensate them with the view of preventing any race from becoming extinct.

And when he had provided against their destruction by one another, he contrived also a means of protecting them against the seasons of heaven; clothing them with close hair and thick skins sufficient to defend them against the winter cold and able to resist the summer heat, so that they might have a natural bed of their own when they wanted to rest; also he furnished them with hoofs and hair and hard and callous skins under their feet.

Then he gave them varieties of food-herb of the soil to some, to others fruits of trees, and to others roots, and to some again he gave other animals as food. And some he made to have few young ones, while those who were their prey were very prolific; and in this manner the race was preserved.

Thus did Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities which he had to give-and when he came to man, who was still unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. The appointed hour was approaching when man in his turn was to go forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man.

Thus man had the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven, where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athene and Hephaestus, in which they used to practise their favourite arts, and carried off Hephaestus’ art of working by fire, and also the art of Athene, and gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus.

Thanks for reading if you got this far.

Published by kierkegaardschallenge

I found myself becoming interested in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and can't get my interest to end.

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