Monday, August 7, 2017

The Radical Origins of Christianity

From The New Yorker-

Kierkegaard relates a chilling parable in “The Sickness Unto Death.” An emperor summons a poor day laborer. The man never dreamed that the emperor even knew of his existence. The emperor tells him that he wants to have him as his son-in-law, a bizarre announcement that must strike the man as something he would never dare tell the world, for fear of being mocked; it seems as if the emperor wanted only to make a fool of his subject. Now, Kierkegaard says, suppose that this event was never made a public fact; no evidence exists that the emperor ever summoned the laborer, so that his only recourse would be blind faith. How many would have the courage to believe? Christ’s kingdom is like that, Kierkegaard says.

The French writer Emmanuel Carrère doesn’t mention Kierkegaard in his latest book, “The Kingdom” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), but the Danish philosopher—the Danish Christian lunatic, one might say—hovers over the book as God’s face is said to have hovered over the waters during the creation of the world. The Kierkegaard whose work is scarred by the great “offense” of Christianity, by its shocking challenge to reason and empirical evidence; who claimed that modern philosophy amounts to the premise “I think therefore I am,” while Christianity equals the premise “I believe therefore I am”; who writes that the best proof that God exists is the circular proof one was offered as a child (“It is absolutely true, because my father told me so”)—that brilliant, mutilated Christian is the unnamed patron of “The Kingdom.” An amazingly various book, it narrates the author’s crises of religious faith in the nineteen-nineties; combines conventional history and speculative reconstruction to describe the rise of early Christianity; deftly animates the first-century lives and journeys of Paul, Luke, and John; and attempts to explain how an unlikely cult, formed around the death and resurrection of an ascetic lyrical revolutionary, grew into the established Church we know today. “Can one believe that such things are still believed?” Nietzsche asked, scornfully. “And yet they are still believed,” Carrère replies.

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