Soren Kierkegaard wrote his heart out in the service of the idea of Christianity. It has too much possibility to offer that hasn’t yet been developed. He used his understanding in and with his Christianity but he knew that knowledge puffs up while love builds up (Works of Love 1847). So he decided to believe Christianity against the understanding while at the same time using it freely. He allowed negative uncertainty about Christianity and regarded that as the meaning of faith.
Kierkegaard said, “The continued striving is the expression of the existing subject’s ethical life-view …. ethically understood, the continued striving is the consciousness of being an existing individual, and the continued learning the expression of the perpetual actualization, which at no moment is finished as long as the subject is existing; the subject is aware of this and is therefore not deluded.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Postscript, 1846 Hong p. 91-92)
He thought the preacher of Christianity had but one job, “His task is: to be himself, and in a setting, God’s house, which, all eyes and ears, requires only one thing of him-that he should be himself, be true. That he should be true, that is, that he himself should be what he proclaims, or at least strive to be that, or at least be honest enough to confess about himself that he is not that.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity 1850, Hong p. 234-235) He even asserted that it was everyone’s job to be him or her own best self. He liked Christianity because it always gives each individual enough to do. “A decision in the external sphere is what Christianity does not want (except insofar as it wants to establish some sign that is an offense to worldliness, such as, for example, the sign of a sacrament); to test whether the individual will keep the secret of faith and be satisfied with it. The worldly always needs decisions in the external sphere; otherwise it mistrustfully does not think that there is a decision. But this occasion for mistrust is the spiritual trial in which faith is tested. (Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love 1847 Hong p. 145)
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his heart out against Christianity.
He thought Christianity had created a system that had trapped people. He said, “What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence—and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!”” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom p. 341) He was against systemizers.
But so was Kierkegaard.
“So let us ask very simply, as a Greek youth would ask his master about the impossibility of a system of existence: Who is supposed to write or finish such a system? Surely a human being, unless we are to resume the peculiar talk about a human being’s becoming speculative thought, a subject-object. In committee deliberations, it is quite all right to include a dissenting vote, but a system that has a dissenting vote as a paragraph within it is a queer monstrosity. If the introductory discipline is waiting for one more book before the matter is submitted to judgement, if the system lacks one more paragraph, if the speaker holds one more argument in reserve-then the decision is postponed.” (Postscript)
Kierkegaard wanted individuals to make a decision “as existing human beings” in their God-relationship. If a repetitive system was created by Christendom it would tie everyone to another’s assent. He was against taking choice away from the single individual. The choice should be difficult but “the system” made it easy.
Nietzsche wanted to advance some positivity into Christendom. He said, “To-day everyone takes the liberty of expressing his wish and his favourite thought: well, I also mean to tell what I have wished for myself to-day, and what thought first crossed my mind this year,—a thought which ought to be the basis, the pledge and the sweetening of all my future life! I want more and more to perceive the necessary characters in things as the beautiful:—I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer! (The Joyful Wisdom 341 Friedrich Nietzsche p. 276) “A blesser have I become and a Yea-sayer: and therefore strove I long and was a striver, that I might one day get my hands free for blessing. This, however, is my blessing: to stand above everything as its own heaven, its round roof, its azure bell and eternal security: and blessed is he who thus blesseth!” (Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche XLVIII)
This blessing attached to the continual striving of an individual was equally important to Kierkegaard but striving is common to all who enter into Christianity.
“The continued striving is the expression of the existing subject’s ethical life-view …. ethically understood, the continued striving is the consciousness of being an existing individual, and the continued learning the expression of the perpetual actualization, which at no moment is finished as long as the subject is existing; the subject is aware of this and is therefore not deluded.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Postscript, 1846 Hong p. 91-92) “God says, “Am I not able to help everyone just as I am helping you? Do you have anything of which you could give me some? Why do you think you can benefit all humankind? When doing your utmost are you not simply returning my property to me, and perhaps in rather poor condition?” The earnestness is his own inner life; the jest is that it pleases God to attach this importance to his striving, to the striving of one who is only an unworthy servant.” (Luke 17:7-10) (Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Postscript, 1846 Hong p. 139)
Striving can include suffering since the kind of striving a philosopher like Nietzsche wishes for makes one free from all presuppositions. He said, “Only great suffering; that great suffering, under which we seem to be over a fire of greenwood, the suffering that takes its time—forces us philosophers to descend into our nethermost depths, and to let go of all trustfulness, all good-nature, all whittling-down, all mildness, all mediocrity,—on which things we had formerly staked our humanity. I doubt whether such suffering improves a man; but I know that it makes him deeper.…” (The Case of Wagner p. 80 by Friedrich Nietzsche)
Kierkegaard described this descent into the abyss this way in this Postscript. “With youthful decorum [the thinker] abstains from every conclusion regarding the lack of a conclusion-and full of hope he begins his work. So he reads, and he is amazed. Admiration holds him captive; he submits himself to a superior power. He reads and reads and understands something, but above all he sets his hope on the clarifying reflection of the conclusion upon the whole. He finishes the book but has not found the issue presented. And yet the young dialectician puts the entire awesome trust of youth in the renowned person; yes, like a maiden who has only one wish, to be loved by that someone, so he wishes only one thing-to become a thinker. Alas, the renowned person has it in his power to decide his fate, because the youth, if he fails to understand him, is rejected and has suffered shipwreck on his one and only wish. (Soren Kierkegaard, Unscientific Postscript, p. 14) The youth is left to his own devices and ends in that dark abyss where he comes into contact with his deeper self.
“There is an upside-downness that wants to reap before it sows; there is a cowardliness that wants to have certainty before it begins. There is a hypersensitivity so copious in words that it continually shrinks from acting; but what would it avail a person if, double-minded and fork-tongued he wanted to dupe God, trap him in probability, but refused to understand the improbable, that one must lose everything in order to gain everything, and understand it so honestly that, in the most crucial moment, when his soul is already shuddering at the risk, he does not again leap to his own aid with the explanation that he has not yet fully made a resolution but merely wanted to feel his way.
Therefore, all discussion of struggling with God in prayer, of the actual loss (since if pain of annihilation is not actually suffered, then the sufferer is not yet out upon the deep, and his scream is not the scream of danger but in the face of danger) and the figurative victory cannot have the purpose of persuading anyone or of converting the situation into a task for secular appraisal and changing God’s gift of grace to the venture into temporal small change for the timorous.
It really would not help a person if the speaker, by his oratorical artistry, led him to jump into a half hour’s resolution, by the ardor of conviction started a fire in him so that he would blaze in a momentary good intention without being able to sustain a resolution or to nourish an intention as soon as the speaker stopped talking. (Soren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, One Who Prays Aright Struggles In Prayer and is Victorious-In That God is Victorious p. 380-381)
Nietzsche was interested in this “blaze” coming into existence and expressed it this way.
“Let us imagine a rising generation with this undauntedness of vision, with this heroic impulse towards the prodigious, let us imagine the bold step of these dragon-slayers, the proud daring with which they turn their backs on all the effeminate doctrines of optimism, in order “to live resolutely” in the Whole and in the Full.” (The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche An Attempt at Self-Criticism 7)
Yes, turning the back on doctrines of optimism may be Nietzsche’s way but Kierkegaard is always for turning inward on your own transparency so that you “can learn to live as a human being.”
“The transparence of thought in existence is inwardness. … Inwardness has become a matter of knowledge, to exist is a waste of time. That is why the most mediocre person who concocts a book these days talks so one would believe he had experienced everything, and simply by paying attention to his intermediate clauses one sees that he is a rogue. … People can recite the rigmarole of pain and suffering by rote, likewise the glorious law of steadfastness. Everyone recites by rote. …
People know everything, and in order not to stop with that, they know also that they are not to do the least of what they know, because with the aid of external knowledge they are in seventh heaven, and if one must begin to do it, one will become a poor, wretched existing individual who stumbles again and again and progresses very slowly from year to year. Indeed, if one can at times recall with some relief that Caesar had the Alexandrian library burned to the ground, one could, well intentioned, actually wish for humankind that this superfluity of knowledge be taken away again so that one could again come to know what it mean to live as a human being.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Postscript 1846, Hong p. 254-256)
Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche wrote about loving the neighbor in characteristically different ways.
“A nature that is only capable of purely un-egoistic actions is more fabulous than the phoenix; it cannot even be clearly imagined, just because, when closely examined, the whole idea “un-egoistic action” vanishes into air. No man ever did a thing which was done only for others and without any personal motive; how should he be able to do anything which had no relation to himself, and therefore without inward obligation (which must always have its foundation in a personal need)? How could the ego act without ego?
Should a man desire to be entirely like that God of Love, to do and wish everything for others and nothing for himself, the latter is impossible for the reason that he must do very much for himself to be able to do something for the love of others. Then it is taken for granted that the other is sufficiently egoistic to accept that sacrifice again and again, that living for him,—so that the people of love and sacrifice have an interest in the continuance of those who are loveless and incapable of sacrifice, and, in order to exist, the highest morality would be obliged positively to compel the existence of un-morality (whereby it would certainly annihilate itself).” (Human All Too Human Part 1 by Friedrich Nietzsche 135-136)
Kierkegaard thinks loving the neighbor is difficult but is possible only because “with God all things are possible”. (Matthew 19:26)
“The concept of “neighbor” is actually the redoubling of your own self; “the neighbor” is what thinkers call “the other,” that by which the selfishness in self-love is to be tested. Christ does not speak about knowing the neighbor but about becoming a neighbor oneself, about showing oneself to be a neighbor just as the Samaritan showed it by his mercy.
It is in fact Christian love that discovers and knows that the neighbor exists and, what is the same thing, that everyone is the neighbor. If it were not a duty to love, the concept “neighbor” only then is the selfishness in preferential love rooted out and the equality of the eternal preserved. When one shall love the neighbor, then the task is, the moral task, which in turn is the origin of all tasks.
When you go with God, you need to see only one single miserable person and you will be unable to escape what Christianity wants you to understand – human similarity. When you go with God, hold only to him, and understand under God everything you understand, then you will discover … the neighbor; then God will constrain you to love him – shall I say to your own detriment – because to love the neighbor is a thankless task.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love 1847 Hong p. 21-22, 44, 51, 77-78)
“We seem to have forgotten that the dissimilarity of earthly life is just like an actor’s costume, or just like a traveler’s cloak, so that each one individually should be on the watch and take care to have the outer garment’s fastening cords loosely tied and, above all, free of tight knots so that in the moment of transformation the garment can be cast off easily. Yet we all, of course, have enough artistic sense to be jarred if an actor on stage, when in the moment of transformation he is supposed to throw off his disguise, has to run offstage to get the cords untied. But, alas, in the life of actuality one laces the garment of dissimilarity so tight that it completely conceals the fact that this dissimilarity is an outer garment, because the inner glory of equality never or very rarely shines through as it continually should and ought.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love 1847 Hong p. 87)
Nietzsche thinks that Christianity is just wrong about everything. He discussed this in his Twilight of the Idols.
Proposition Four. To divide the world into a “true” and an “apparent” world, whether after the manner of Christianity or of Kant (after all a Christian in disguise), is only a sign of decadence,—a symptom of degenerating life. The fact that the artist esteems the appearance of a thing higher than reality, is no objection to this statement For “appearance” signifies once more reality here, but in a selected, strengthened and corrected form. The tragic artist is no pessimist,—he says Yea to everything questionable and terrible, he is Dionysian. ….
Whether one ascribes one’s afflictions to others or to one’s self, it is all the same. The socialist does the former, the Christian, for instance, does the latter. That which is common to both attitudes, or rather that which is equally ignoble in them both, is the fact that somebody must be to blame if one suffers—in short that the sufferer drugs himself with the honey of revenge to allay his anguish.
The objects towards which this lust of vengeance, like a lust of pleasure, are directed, are purely accidental causes. In all directions the sufferer finds reasons for cooling his petty passion for revenge. If he is a Christian, I repeat, he finds these reasons in himself. The Christian and the Anarchist—both are decadents. But even when the Christian condemns, slanders, and sullies the world, he is actuated by precisely the same instinct as that which leads the socialistic workman to curse, calumniate and cast dirt at society. The last “Judgment” itself is still the sweetest solace to revenge—revolution, as the socialistic workman expects it, only thought of as a little more remote…. The notion of a “Beyond,” as well—why a Beyond, if it be not a means of splashing mud over a “Here,” over this world?
The Twilight of the Idols; or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer by Friedrich Nietzsche p. 23, 87)
But Kierkegaard sees the positive aspects of Christianity.
“If one were to state and describe in a single sentence the victory Christianity has won over the world or even more correctly, the victory by which it has more than overcome the world (since Christianity has never wanted to conquer in a worldly way), infinity’s change that Christianity has as its aim, by which everything indeed remains as it was (since Christianity has never been a friend of the trumpery of novelty) and yet in the sense of infinity has become completely new-then I know of nothing shorter but also nothing more decisive than this: it has made every human relationship between person and person a relationship and conscience.
Christianity has not wanted to topple governments from the throne in order to place itself on the throne; it has never contended in an external sense for a place in the world, of which it is not (in the heart’s room, if it finds a place there, it still takes not place in the world), and yet it has infinitely changed everything it allowed and allows to continue.
In other words, just as the blood pulses in every nerve, so does Christianity want to permeate everything with the relationship of conscience. The change is not in the external, not in the apparent, and yet the change is infinite. Just as if a person, instead of having blood in his veins, had that divine fluid that paganism dreamed of-just so Christianity wants to breathe the eternal life, the divine, into the human race. That is why Christians have been called a nation of priests, and that is why one can say, bearing in mind the relationship of conscience, that it is a nation of kings.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love 1847 Hong p. 135-136)
Kierkegaard emphasised the point that God is the same today as he was yesterday.
The Halt: Come Here To Me, All You Who Labor And Are Burdened, And I Will Give You Rest (Matthew 11:28)
Halt now! A vast crowd of people who labor and are burdened who accepted the invitation, you eventually will actually see the opposite, a vast crowd of people who shudder and recoil until they storm ahead and trample down, so that, if from the outcome one were to infer what had been said, one might rather conclude that “procul o procul este profani [away, away, O unhallowed one] had been said instead of “Come here”.
The inviter is and wants to be the specific historical person he was eighteen hundred years ago. He is not and does not want to be for anyone the person one has come to know something about incidentally from history. He does not want to be judged humanly by the results of his life; he is and wants to be the sign of offense and the object of faith.
Who spoke those words of invitation? Who is the inviter? Jesus Christ. It was in the condition of abasement that he spoke those words. (Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity 1850 Hong p. 23-24)