Thursday, December 24, 2015

Kierkegaard on Christmas

There's a point where things can be too authentic. I've often said my generation's core value is authenticity, or at least a synthetic approximation of what we think that word means. Our parent's core value was loyalty, which is why so many of them had the same job for 30 years and none of us will ever do that--not that we want to.

The search for authentic experience drives us. We don't want to eat at a chain restaurant because it doesn't feel as real as a place with a high yelp score that miraculously "no one has heard of yet." We love craft beer, craft coffee, slow food, and homegrown tomatoes. We decorate with steel and wood like a midcentury modernist architect or a 60's James Bond villain. 

My generation's BS-detector is extremely high, and that has led to a overwhelming amount of cynicism and snark about anything that doesn't immediately feel authentic. It also has led to some amazing things in terms of gender-equality and race-relations. We are able to change the world from our twitter accounts, or at least we have been we convinced we can. We are lashing out against a society that lumps us all together, viewing us as consumers and customers leading us to a despair that we won't fulfill the old American dream of buying things we don't need with money we don't have.
In the 1820's a young man in Denmark was experiencing the exact feelings of 21st Century American hipster-youth. As he walked the crooked streets of Copenhagen, thinking about the life ahead of him, he committed himself to finding authenticity--whatever that meant. He was tired of the state church and the gospel it preached, and he wanted to find a faith that wasn't an illusion based on punishment. On those crooked Copenhagen streets, the ones even carriages couldn't navigate, young Søren Kierkegaard began to formulate a philosophy of authentic freedom. 

Imagine him walking a street in America and looking at a blow up snoopy dressed as Santa flying a by-plane all to celebrate the birth of a homeless Palestinian holy man. He might feel the same things he felt in snowy Copenhagen.

I am an enormous Kierkegaard fan-boy. I sometimes find it annoying because it seems that every time I think I have an original idea, Kierkegaard already had it. His parable of the King and his Maiden is still my favorite analogy of the Gospel, and I have never come close to thinking of a better one. His idea of the self as a relation that relates itself to itself was a monumental step in philosophy. He has helped me make sense of the way religion, culture, society, and people work in my life. 

"Becoming what one is" was Søren's goal for the self. In order to do this, one must act in a way that avoids mere introspection and instead focuses on a commitment to a relationship to something outside of the self which gives the self meaning. For Kierkegaard, the relationship to God is the thing which gives a person's life meaning, because it is the only thing he could find which was authentic. Finding authentic faith and becoming "true to yourself" were therefore synonymous to Kierkegaard. This is a recognition that the created exists to be in relationship with the Creator. 

The supposed "war on Christmas" that some say is taking place is ridiculous. No one needs to defend cultural Christianity, because religion devoid of authenticity should be attacked. Religion that serves nothing but itself is simultaneously worthless and dangerous. 

Authentic freedom involves the freedom to not choose to live authentically, and this is the hardest thing for me to accept. I turned 30 a few days back and a big milestone like that makes me prone to introspection. I began wondering what lesson I have found hardest to learn and what lesson, if learned, would make my life better. I decided that the hardest lesson I have ever learned is to allow people to be wrong. Allow people to say inaccurate things or things I disagree with without feeling the need to correct them in that moment. This is hard because of an innate priority on rightness. Some call it a highly attuned sense of right and wrong, but that's not exactly true. I, like many people, really only care if I'm right. My sense of right and wrong only kicks in when something wrong is happening to me or to something/someone I care about. We all do this. We all want to force our opinions or beliefs on other people because we get support in agreement. What I have lost is that the authenticity of my life is not contingent on the authenticity of anyone else's. If I am living an authentic life, from a Kierkegaardian standpoint, then the only thing that should matter to me is my complete surrender to nothing other than developing my authentic faith. No one else's behavior or beliefs affects my ability to do that. I am the only choice-maker who determines my authentic choices and if they are made. 

This Advent, we should attempt to recapture our own authenticity by taking the leap of faith into relationship with the Divine. The Word become flesh is an enormous announcement of victory into the void. Life's suffering and loss and weeping nights are proven to be expiring. The authentic life wages war against the inauthentic religion and the trappings of corporate greed that is the real villain in the Christmas season. May we live more authentically, love more deeply, and serve more completely in the coming year. May this Christmas be the one we look back on as the time Kierkegaard yelled at us through ages past "Be what you are." 

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About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.