Kierkegaard’s Critique of Secular Time

Augustine and Kierkegaard bookend the complex sacred time of the Christian Age. Augustine’s critique of the Physicalists in the City of God was the last critique of ancient pagan time, while Kierkegaard’s critique of our present “abstract infinity” is the first critique of modern pagan time. Kierkegaard is the first to call modern Christians “pagans.”

Modern secular time is organized around the workday and workweek rather than the liturgical calendar, a change which involved a 14th century struggle over Europe’s clocktowers. There is also a political dimension: the modern public makes laws then judges their outcome, rather than looking for ways to apply the eternal law. And then, most obviously, communication technology has effected a social acceleration of time.

Modernity hurtles forward in homogenous, linear, empty time. Unlike our forebears, we are cut off from a mythic past. As critical theorists once warned, this amputation has hobbled a powerful resource for critical or radical politics. Do we demand the fulfillment of the promises made to our ancestors?

Kierkegaard is less concerned with the implications of social justice, and more concerned with the nature of Christianity. For Kierkegaard, genuine Christianity always keeps the eternal God “in view”. Christ is the Absolute Paradox, the figure of eternity within time. The paradox — the essential constituent of Christianity — relies upon a classical theism that has been abandoned by many prominent Christian philosophers in our times. (See Edward Feser’s definition here.) It seems that Kierkegaard correctly sensed the onset of a hostile culture, a modern time-consciousness that threatened to close the Christian imagination across society.

This week, TELOSscope ran a longer excerpt of my February conference paper on the topic.



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