Radical Accountability, Issue 112

June 20, 2017 by Presbyterian Foundation


Søren Kierkegaard used literary “indirection” as a theological stratagem. He regularly employed pseudonyms, irony, misdirection, and parables to engage his readers. The following parable is as timely today as it was 165 years ago.

Imagine a country. A royal command is issued to all the officeholders and subjects, in short, to the whole population. A remarkable change comes over them all: they all become interpreters, the office-holders become authors, every blessed day there comes out an interpretation more learned than the last, more acute, more elegant, more profound, more ingenious, more wonderful, more charming, and more wonderfully charming. Criticism which ought to survey the whole can hardly attain survey of the prodigious literature, indeed criticism itself has become a literature so prolix that it is impossible to attain a survey of the criticism. Everything became interpretation – but no one read the royal command with a view to acting in accordance with it. And it was not only that everything became interpretation, but at the same time the point of view for determining what seriousness is was altered, and to be busy about interpretation became real seriousness.

Suppose that this king was not a human king. Suppose this king was almighty. What do you suppose this almighty king would think about such a thing? Surely he would say, “The fact that they do not comply with the commandment, even that I might forgive; moreover, if they united in a petition that I might have patience with them, or perhaps relieve them entirely of this commandment which seemed to them too hard – that I could forgive them. But this I cannot forgive, that they entirely alter the point of view for determining what seriousness is.”

What is the difference between criticism of a text and radical accountability to it?
in, For Self-Examination (1851)

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