Passionate appropriation, the moment of decision, does away with the interval of history and makes one inwardly contemporaneous with Christ. The method is not intellectual; it is an experience of suffering and despair. The detached objective truth of Christianity is not to be had. Beginning with the preaching of the Apostles, all the centuries of history are worthless as a proof of it. The objective truth of Christianity is equivalent to its subjective indifference, its indifference to the subject, i.e., to me.
This type of thought provokes an obvious question. If there is no objective truth, if the how supersedes the what, then can truth be distinguished from fancy? Would not a suffering Satan be just as “true” as a suffering Savior? Would not an inner, infinite, decisive appropriation of the devil be as praiseworthy as a decision for God? The philosophy of William James will later raise the same question, though James does not seem to be aware of the question; Kierkegaard notices the dilemma, but can hardly be said to solve it. There is a half-hearted effort to distinguish between the inwardness of infinity and the inwardness of the finite; and he seems to say that the infinity of Christian inwardness is based on God, whereas the inwardness of finitude relates to some other object. Now, if there were objective knowledge of God and of other objects, an individual could judge the quality of his passion on the basis of its objective reference; but if God and perchance the devil also are hidden, and if one is limited to a subjective, passionate appropriation, there would seem to be no distinguishable difference between the truth of God and the truth of Satan. Objectively it is indifferent whether one worships God or an idol. Whether God exists or not is immaterial. What counts is the individual’s relation to an unknown Something.
In his vivid style Kierkegaard describes two men in prayer. The one is in a Lutheran church, and he entertains a true conception of God; but because he prays in a false spirit, he is in truth praying to an idol. The other is actually in a heathen temple praying to idols; but since he prays with an infinite passion, he is in truth praying to God. For the truth lies in the inward how, not in the external what. Or, again, Kierkegaard says, “An objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual.”
Finally, another statement also found in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript – a statement just as definite as the preceding – expresses Kierkegaard’s subjectivity. After remarking that a search for objective truth takes no account of the relation of the individual to that truth, Kierkegaard continues, “If one asks subjectively about the truth, one is reflecting subjectively about the relation of the individual; if only the How of this relation is in truth, then the individual is in truth, even though he is thus related to untruth.”
Suppose now that there are serious flaws in Hegel’s “System”; suppose too that the Communistic mass man violates the prerogatives of the moral individual; suppose in the third place that the Danish Lutheran Church was formal, hypocritical, and dead; suppose, therefore, that Kierkegaard has made some telling criticisms of his contemporaries. Does this then imply that the cure can be effected by a suffering or passion, a subjective feeling, to which objective truth and untruth are equally indifferent? If this were true, not only would an idol be as satisfactory as God, but Hegel or Marx would be as satisfactory as Kierkegaard.
Through the nineteenth century and down to World War I, Kierkegaard remained unknown. The revolt against reason, however, continued. Though much must be omitted, the advance made by Friedrich Nietzsche is particularly worthy of mention.
Gordon H. Clark. Religion, Reason and Revelation (Kindle Locations 1792-1828). The Trinity Foundation.