In this post we will consider Kierkegaard’s positive view of the duty of loving our neighbor. In previous posts we have seen neighbor mainly negatively, in the fact that neighbor love is not the “preferential” love of those close to us, whom he calls our beloved (lovers), friends, and relatives. He has also, when dealing with the preferential love of “the beloved” called that love “poetic love.”
But Kierkegaard has shown that any type of “preferential love” is not Christian love, which is to “love thy neighbor.” He quotes Jesus, and says,
“to love the beloved, asks Christianity – is that loving, and adds, ‘Do not the pagans do likewise?'” (p. 66)
The saying of Jesus comes from Matthew 5:43-48:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It is curious that Kierkegaard does not specifically mention the duty of loving our enemies, at least in this part of the book. But his view concluding this section would include love of our personal enemies, since his view of the positive duty of loving our neighbor means that we should love all people equally rather than love only some preferentially. (We saw this in an earlier post where he said that every person we see is our neighbor.) He goes on to explain that the preferential love of paganism is actually another form of self-love and quotes Augustine approvingly who said.
“The virtues of paganism are glittering vices.” (p. 66)
So to move to Kierkegaard’s positive view of the love that Jesus commanded, “to love thy neighbor,” we see that it consists in an “equality in loving.”
“Love to one’s neighbor is therefore eternal equality in loving, but this eternal equality is the opposite of exclusive love or preference. This needs no elaborate development. Equality is just this, not to make distinctions, and eternal equality is absolutely not to make the slightest distinction, is unqualifiedly not to make the slightest distinction…
…One’s neighbor is one’s equal. One’s neighbor is not the beloved, for whom you have passionate preference, nor your friend, for whom you have passionate preference. Nor is your neighbor, if you are well educated, the well-educated person with whom you have cultural equality – for with your neighbor you have before God the equality of humanity. Nor is your neighbor one who is of higher social status than you, that is, insofar as he is of higher social status he is not your neighbor, for to love him because he is of higher status than you can very easily be preference and to that extent self-love. Nor is your neighbor one who is inferior to you, that is, insofar as he is inferior he is not your neighbor, for to love one because he is inferior can very easily be partiality’s condescension and to that extent self-love. No, to love one’s neighbor means equality…
…Your neighbor is every man, for on the basis of distinctions he is not your neighbor, nor on the basis of likeness to you as being different from other men. He is your neighbor on the basis of equality with you before God; but this equality absolutely every man has, and he has it absolutely.” (pp. 70, 72)
We need to remember that the teaching of Jesus that Kierkegaard is basing his views on, was not merely the text included above, but other teachings including the parable of the samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
Another thing to bear in mind, related to the topic of the teaching of Jesus on love, is the fact that Paul also plainly based his teaching on the teaching of Jesus. In the text from Matthew, Jesus said that the command to love all, including our enemies, was to imitate the Father. The following text from Paul shows the same concerns that we follow the Father in not making distinctions in loving all people.
11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:11-14)
I bring up this point of comparison of Paul to Jesus because there is a common myth circulating in the world that Paul invented a Christianity that was at odds with what Christ himself taught.
Another common myth that is related to the topic of Jesus teaching on love, is that Christianity is merely one of many religions that perpetuates the evils and warfares of humankind. But if we are honest, we should be able to see that what we generally categorize as “religious” evils and wars have more accurately been carried out for ethnic and nationalistic purposes than for “religious” purposes per se. I do not mean that there have not been instances of truly “religious” evils and wars, but I believe that generally the majority of ethnic/national aggressions have been politically motivated rather than religiously motivated. It is also the case that often the religious sentiments of peoples have been manipulated by their political leaders in the promulgation of such evils. A case in point is Nazi Germany, where Hitler often lamented the fact that he had such a weak religion, namely Christianity, to use for his political cause. Here is a link that deals further with this myth, and another from the Huffington Post.
In summary, it should be obvious that Jesus, Paul, and Kierkegaard, have all taught that it is common for all people to exercise preferential love, but that it is uncommon and yet commanded by God that we exercise equality in loving others. Is not this equality in loving what the world needs, having rather to this day perpetuated the “glittering vices” of paganism that are so easily seduced to tolerate or even collaborate in evils against others?
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.