In this post I present an excerpt from Soren Kierkegaard in which he presents some examples of persons that fail to love themselves with proper self-love. This is perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate how “natural” self-love is inadequate as a basis for neighbor-love, while also falling short of proper self-love.
I have divided the paragraph to facilitate thinking about the different persons he presents. We all know, or are such persons, and may God’s grace in Christ lead us from these portraits of despair, to genuine love.
The Law is therefore: you shall love yourself in the same way as you love your neighbor when you love him as yourself. Whoever has any knowledge of people will certainly admit that whenever he has desired the capacity of moving others to relinquish self-love, he has also frequently been constrained to wish that it were possible to teach them to love themselves.
When the activist wastes his time and powers in the service of vain, inconsequential accomplishments, is it not because he has not rightly learned how to love himself?
When the frivolous person throws himself, almost like a nonentity, into the folly of the moment, is it not because he does not understand how to love himself rightly?
When the melancholic dejectedly desires to be rid of life, of himself, is this not because he will not learn earnestly and rigorously to love himself?
When a man surrenders himself to despair because the world or some person has left him faithlessly betrayed, what then is his fault (his innocent suffering is not referred to here) except that he does not love himself in the right way?
When a man in self-torment thinks to do God a service by martyring himself, what is his sin except not willing to love himself in the right way?
Alas, and when a man presumptuously lays violent hands on himself, is not his sin just this, that he does not rightly love himself in genuine understanding of how a man ought to love himself?
There is a lot of talk in the world about treachery, and faithlessness – and, God help us, it is all too true, but still let us never because of this forget that every man has in himself the most dangerous traitor of all. This treachery, whether it consists in selfishly loving oneself or in selfishly not willing to love oneself in the right way – this treachery is certainly concealed. No outcry goes up about it such as otherwise goes up in cases of treachery and faithlessness. But is it not therefore all the more important that the teaching of Christianity should be brought to mind again and again, the teaching that a person shall love his neighbor as himself, that is as he ought to love himself?
Works of Love, 39-40.
Comments, questions, etc. are always welcome! Thank you.
BMC, Manifest Propensity, 2013