Some Reflections on Kierkegaard's thoughts on immaturity

I don't recommend reading Soren Kierkegaard's works for their theology, nor do I necessarily recommend that a Christian should get too involved in his ideas as a Christian philosopher. As a Christian, I always try to ensure that my views rest on the Bible. Each new thought and idea should be tested against one's study of The Bible and not borrowed straight from the secular world or from philosophy (which is a mistake which Liberal Christians make). Reading the Bible does not mean we should not read, debate and think widely. Below, I am meditating on some of Kierkegaards's more interesting thoughts, from the viewpoint of my own Biblical Christianity - as one might during an interesting conversation (AJB).


Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, saw that the ultimate meaning of New Testament Christianity (Love) had become perverted. Thus, Christianity today appears to have deviated considerably from its original threefold message of grace, humility, and love. For the most part, Kierkegaard equates God with Love. Thus when a person engages in the act of loving, he is in effect achieving an aspect of the divine.

Kierkegaard also viewed the individual as a necessary synthesis of both finite and infinite elements. Therefore, when an individual does not come to a full realization of his infinite side, he is said to be in despair. For many contemporary Liberal Christian theologians, the notion of despair can be viewed as sin (Kierkegaard aligned the word "despair" with the Christian concept of sin, a "falling short" of the standards that God's expects from us AJB). The sin of despair is something that Kierkegaard equated with the losing of one's self, the self being a free spirit that recognizes both the finite and infinite sides of his existence.

A final major premise is the systematic undoing of evil acts. Kierkegaard claimed that once an action has been completed, it should be evaluated in the face of God, asserting that holding oneself up to Divine scrutiny is the only way to judge one's actions (actually, we need to test good and evil against the written Word of God AJB). Since actions constitute the manner in which something is deemed good or bad, one must be constantly conscious of the potential consequences of one's actions.

Kierkegaard believed that the choice for goodness came down to each individual. Unfortunately, most people do not choose. As a result, humanity will continue to relegate itself to self-imposed immaturity, thus living in both stunned apathy and agonizing inertia.

Alison's Reflection

In this short reflection on Soren Kierkegaard's ideas above, I find that there are some aspects of his thought which are consistent with Biblical messages. Although not a theologian as such, we can take from his ideas those which "add flavour" to what we already know from Bible passages.

In the modern world, as people turn away from wider knowledge obtained through reading, thought, self-contemplation, observation and study and from the eternal truths of the Bible, they condemn themselves to failure, both in human terms, as whole men and women, and as spiritual beings, in the knowledge of God. This anti-intellectualism and "dumbing down" inevitably leads to perpetuating immaturity. It creates a "vicious circle".

We see this in many seemingly "rebellious" older people today who lack the "stature" of previous generations. Many (young in the 1960s) hold the same ideas about life as young people e.g. about hedonism, the purpose of life, values, self indulgence and money. We see it in middle-aged people, who remain in "phases of life" that they should have already passed through. Some are juvenile and irresponsible even in their key relationships, squandering the securities of their lives. We see it in young people wanting to misbehave like children, and then, when they settle down, finding family responsibilities (the ethical way of life) too heavy for their mental unpreparedness, seeking release and freedom to do "what I still want to do with my life". They yearn to return to infancy which they should have left behind. These are the outward signs of putting off maturity and putting "self" and the senses, before God. They are symptoms of lack of wisdom, ignorance, poor public messages, an irresponsible media, Liberal Church teaching and of the wasted precious years of youth, when reading and contemplation are possible. What we see all around us in the UK and in Europe today is the result of lack of understanding or "stature", gained from moving ever onwards and upwards.

Soren Kierkegaard says that these attitudes, stemming from rejecting the divine, lead to "stunned apathy". This stunned apathy comes from being people being powerless against difficulties and evil in their lives, having no strategy, like prayer. They cannot draw on resources e.g. on the church, the Bible and on their God-given capacities to learn and grow. They cannot control what is evil in themselves. They do not have the spiritual maturity and power to overcome its effects around them. We see inertia in the face of social problems in politics. We hear people say "What can be done? How can these social problems be understood or tackled? Who am I to change anything?" Nothing can be further from the truth, in fact, but inertia has paralysed much engagement with society, for good.

Failing to read to "grow up" to wholeness in the knowledge of life and God, failing to know what life means, is causing a crisis today across Europe. It is condemning millions to continuing "adolescence" and to an unsatisfying, self-serving, vacuous way of life (what Kierkegaard calls "despair"), The young are being told by the media to "spend your youth in sensory self-indulgence" , laying waste their powers to develop the mental and spiritual tastes and resources for the formidable "struggle of life". They need such deep inner resources to face the tensions, evils, lovelessness, manipulation, illness, bereavement, broken relationships and the endless other demands of real life. Inner resources and wisdom are like a bank account: you cannot draw on them in emergencies if you have not paid in. As the philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) wrote "Medicine heals the body, music the spirit and theology the soul" (Letters).

The Bible says that "knowing" involves "intimate or deep knowing". This refers to "head" knowledge as well as "heart" knowledge. It refers to factual knowedge as well as moral and spiritual understanding, to "EQ.". In failing to "know" in the Biblical sense and to seek higher enlightement, these young people lose themselves. They fail to identify what is productive, fail to commit themselves to the best option. As Kierkegaard rightly sees, they fail to know and choose what is good. This prevents the "undoing of evil acts", since only God can "undo", reverse evil, bring good out of evil (through Providence). It may even prevent the finding of true love in a suitable life partner caused by a kind of "love blindness" in judging who is "kindred in spirit and ideas". Immaturity and blindess to what constitutes "love" and "goodness" are part of the cause of the spiralling divorce rates, especially in the UK.

This failure to choose what is "good" and what is "love" is the crux of many of our social problems like divorce, marriage breakdown, dumbing down and social breakdown in Europe today. These problems are draining the wealth of Europe. They are detrimental for the next generation and for effective wider action in the world. In the Post-Enlightenment world, until we return to valuing holistic learning, engagement with God's truth in the Bible, to wise counsel and to sound preaching which helps us to choose what is good, hundreds of millions will grow ever more inert, apathetic, trapped, confused. They will end up emotionally and morally bankrupt, having been given what they craved and found it wanting, enslaved by greed and vice, and even, in some cases cruelty. They will die without ever having taken stock of the most important things in life, having failed to find the great treasure, true love, or ever having been loved. They will leave behind them a trail of damaged people. Most serious of all, they will face God on Judgment Day, without having repented of all the hurt and pain their blind and immature choices and selfish actions have caused others. That is the ultimate cost to pay for "immaturity".

Christian's Duty to Grow Up in Christ

Eph 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Greek auxano = grow up
Pe 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

More on Keirkegaard:

Soren Kierkegaard's masterwork is regarded as "Either/Or". He uses the term "the aesthete" which denotes the sensual way of life. An "aesthete" is one who wants immediate gratification, has no interior life and fears commitment. Unrefined immediacy is characterized by immediate cravings for desire and satisfaction through enjoyments that do not require effort or personal cultivation. Alcohol, drugs, one-night stands, couch-potatoes and other self-indulgent lifestyles are some such examples of unrefined immediacy. Refined immediacy is characterized by planning how best to enjoy life, aesthetically.At its highest, it can mean valuing art and beauty highest. Elsewhere in his work, he explores and contrasts the relationship between the "aesthetic" and "ethical" (the latter involves committed and married) ways of living . He felt that an ethical (and even a religious) person could still enjoy some aesthetic values but that the difference is that the pursuit of pleasure is tempered with ethical values and a sense of responsibility. The aesthete essentially shuns responsibility and everything which brings maturity. The aesthete, accordingly to Kierkegaard's model, will eventually find him or herself in "despair," a psychological state (explored further in Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death) that results from a recognition of the limitations of the aesthetic (sensual) approach to life. Once the limitations of the sensual way of life have been apprehended, the natural reaction is to make a "leap" to the second phase, the "ethical" phase which is characterized as a phase in which rational choice and commitment replace the capricious and inconsistent longings of the aesthetic mode. Ultimately, for Kierkegaard, the aesthetic and the ethical are both superseded by the final phase, which he terms the "religious mode" (which in a whole and committed Christian produces maturity). For a brief overview of the philosopy of Kierkegaard cllck here . The disclaimer at the top of the page applies to this too.

Some excerpts above are taken from Wikipedia