SK on Habits

Soren Kierkegaard thought the how was more important than the what. Would more books explaining what Christianity is be better than an individual deciding to put what has been appropriated through the reading of the Scripture into use? The same can be said about habits. More and more words about overcoming our habits will not avail. Each single individual with an interest in bettering him or her self has to appropriate knowledge and put it into use. Kierkegaard talks about freedom and possibility in his writings.

“Freedom’s possibility is not the ability to choose the good or the evil. The possibility is to be able.” So wrote Soren Kierkegaard in his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety (49) “To be, or not to be, that is the question” wrote Shakespeare, but what about “to be able”?

Choice is another feature of Kierkegaard’s thought. He didn’t think it was a good idea to force anyone to be a Christian. The choice is imperative for freedom’s sake. The same goes to breaking a habit. The individual has to be interested in the choice between this or that. The promise can help but it can also become a stalling tactic.

Lets’ say you did something in the past that you promised yourself you would never do again. This promise can make you anxious because you might repeat the action again. The desire awakens in all its passion because you haven’t related yourself to your desire as being past and have kept it in your present as a future possibility.  You say to yourself, at this moment I will not do it. This moment, kept before you as your present and future, could save you. An hour could be the continuity that saves you.

But if repetition does come, then it’s the faith you personally possess that keeps you from standing still staring heavy-minded at yourself because you repeated what you promised not to repeat. Faith moves you forward because the continuity makes you the master of your mood.

Kierkegaard put it this way in 1851.

“Imagine a person who has been and is addicted to a passion. There comes a moment (as it does to everyone, perhaps many times – alas, perhaps many times in vain!), a moment he seems to be brought to a halt: a good resolution is awakening. Imagine that one morning he said to himself (let us suppose him to be a gambler), “I solemnly vow that I will nevermore have anything to do with gambling, never – tonight will be the last time” – ah, my friend, he s lost!  I would rather bet on the opposite, however strange that may seem.

If there was a gambler who said to himself, “Well, now, you may gamble every blessed day all the rest of your life – but tonight you are going to leave it alone,” and he did – ah, my friend, he is saved for sure! The first gambler’s resolution is a trick by the craving, and the second gambler’s is to fool the craving.”   Soren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination 1851, Hong p. 45

Kierkegaard discussed what has been translated “shutupness” and “enclosed reserve” in The Concept of Anxiety. This individual conceals himself within himself and fears disclosure. He has two wills, one that demands revelation and the other that demands shutupness. Whichever is stronger is the master of that individual. The Spirit asks the individual if some possibility is not being actualized, if the individual lacks the faith that he or she, as this specific individual, is able to disclose or preserve the continuity of the moment of decision in repentance then the spirit will mock him or her.

He wrote about it in Purity of Heart also in (1847). “For whether the weakling despairs over not being able to wrench himself away from the bad, or whether the brazen one despairs over not being able to tear himself completely away from the Good: they are both double-minded, they both have two wills. Neither of them honestly wills one thing, however desperately they may seem to will it.

He does not believe that the will is itself the mover, but rather that it should itself be moved, that in itself it is fluctuating and on that account should be supported, held firm, that it should be -[moved and supported by causes, considerations, advice of others, experiences, rules of life.

If we, quite properly, should compare the will in man with the headway impetus of a ship in which he (the man) is carried forward: then he believes, on the contrary, that the will, instead of its propelling all, is itself something that should be tugged forward, that there are grounds, considerations, advice of others, experiences, rules of life, that go alongside of and push or pull the will forward as if the will could be compared to a barge — yes, to a freight barge.” (61, 117)

Kierkegaard always takes the individual to the story of King David and advises that each person reads the Bible in a personal way.

“You know how the prophet Nathan dealt with King David when he presumed to understand the parable the prophet had told him but was unwilling to understand that it applied to him. Then to make sure, Nathan added: You are the man, O King. In the same way I also have continually tried to remind you that you are the one who is being discussed and you are the one who is spoken to.” Either/Or Part I, Swenson p. 5 (2 Samuel 12)

“When you read God’s Word, in everything you read, continually to say to yourself: It is I to whom it is speaking – this is earnestness, precisely this is earnestness. Not a single one of those to whom the cause of Christianity in the higher sense has been entrusted forgot to urge this again and again as most crucial, as unconditionally the condition if you are to come to see yourself in the mirror.”  Soren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination, Hong  p. 36-37

In this way you won’t confuse yourself with your neighbor or your rich friend or poor enemy. You won’t confuse yourself with the race, or the crowd or the mob either and try to teach them something you yourself haven’t even learned yet. Kierkegaard was against all these watchmen directed to pay attention to their neighbor rather than themselves.

“The Association of Watchmen, founded last year, held its ceremonial meeting yesterday at noon. Although it was noon, according to the host’s scheme the shutters were nevertheless closed and the candles were lit so that it could resemble an evening party, something the watchmen enjoy very much but in which they are actually prevented from participating.” (Kierkegaard’s Writing Sampler 1844)

Someone can talk all day about overcoming the habit of gambling and spend all night at the casinos. Someone can quit drinking and that’s a great thing but that doesn’t mean everyone must quit drinking.

“Who has the more difficult task: the teacher who lectures on earnest things a meteor’s distance from everyday life-or the learner who should put it to use?” Kierkegaard, Soren. Works of Love. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York, N.Y. 1962. p. 62


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