"Christians Are A Bunch Of Scheming Swindlers"

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

– Soren Kierkegaard


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  1. OMG! Is there something with this quote?! This quote has been a conversation starter and stopper for a week now with some friends… man, I am HAUNTED (perhaps hunted…) by the ghost of Soren K… yikes!

    Great words and very, very thought provoking (as one could expect from a Danish philosopher…)

    I always find statements like this slightly ironic:

    1. We have a statement “Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close” cited by Kierkegaard that is to provoke us to a ‘sola scriptura’ (only the Bible) stance of authority… when the citation itself carries weight basically because Kierkegaard said it – a figure of Christian scholarship whose worth as an authoritative figure holds weight because so-called Christian scholars (pastors, literate Christians interested in history, etc) tell us so.

    2.Kierkegaard originally wrote “Kill the Commentators” under the pseudonym ‘John Climatus” – i.e. he essentially makes a declarative statement and refused to own the responsibility of the critique.

    3.Is the bible really that easy to understand? If so, why do we need preachers to engage in the kerygmatic proclaimation of the Word? Why have Bible studies? For that matter, why church?

    I just read Philemon… made slavery is a good idea? Hmmm… why should I think differently since its there in scripture and its easy to understand?!

  2. in response to sensei:

    but, first Soren kicks ASS, i’m gonna get his portrait tattooed on my stomach!

    1. I don’t think he is after ‘sola scriptura’ – I think he is saying, stop being jackasses and coming up with “excuses” to weaken Jesus’ words. Just do it.

    2. His pseudonyms weren’t really because he wouldn’t take responsibility. More an idea of presenting “parts” of the truth. IE, pseudonymous writings are things that even K thought were extreme, and represnted parts of the whole truth.

    3. Yes, the Bible is really THAT easy to understand. We need community and preachers to say “bullshit!” now do it.

  3. Guess I better get into the slave trade again…

    Thanks for giving me the impluse to ‘follow my heart’ and ‘follow the word’…

  4. It’s important to remember, too, Kierkegaard’s bent toward interiority, and the fact that he was writing polemically toward what he saw as a particularly abusive and watered-down form of Christianity being practiced around him. Now, I of course this that which he was writing against is very much in-line with the so-called “religious right” in the USA, so I’m certainly not being dismissive, but, like St. Paul’s letters, it’s important to keep them in context…I don’t think K was pointing toward “sola scriptura” (he was a philosopher, mind you, and a poet – a dangerously potent combination, which is what makes him so great) so much as criticizing the misrepresentation of the Bible being proffered by eccesial authorities.

    I agree, too, w/ jimmy white shoes that Kierkegaard wasn’t using the pseudonyms to alleviate himself of authorial responsibility (have you read MCTaylor’s book on Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings, sensei?). He realized (like Nietzsche, almost prophetically) the problematic of writing/saying itself – i.e. that his words are always not quite his own, and that, in some sense, to speak with any Real Authority one must deny oneself as “author.”

    But I have to go w/ JFK on the final point…reading the Bible really is something that takes the whole community to be valid and in any sense True. We only learn to read the Bible truthfully in communio, and the Bible is only True inasmuch as it bears witness to the story of Jesus and is proclaimed and embodied by the Body of Christ in her worship and (self-)sacrifice.

    Then again, to “understand” it is to miss the point – the point is to “do” it (poieite, right JFK?). That is, it’s much easier to understand Jesus’ central message – “love God, love each other, love, love, love, even if it kills you!” – than it is to DO it. So maybe I’m not diagreeing with jimmy’s comment after all! 😉

  5. can we allow for the fact that Kiekegaard was being hyperbolic when he says “take any words in the NT…”? (I just re-read the quote.)

    your second point doesn’t hold, sensei, because there is no way interpret those problematic verses according to the life/message/witness of Jesus – you can’t reconcile a claim that subjugates others (slaves, women, whatever) when you operate with Jesus as your hermeneutical lens – and again, we learn to do this communally. i don’t understand why you’re defaulting to such cliche examples of “bad-Bible-reading” to make your point. there’s a difference between saying the Bible should be considered simple and its reading should be literal, and saying that it isn’t all that difficult to understand the Truth of the Bible, which is the Truth of Jesus.

  6. Brannon – I wish I had your level of idealism and ultimately trust in people’s humility,ability and willingness to use Jesus as their hermeneutic lens. Unfortunately, history does teach us otherwise – when Kierkegaard makes the statement:

    “The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand”

    He is surely being hyperparabolic but he is doing so to his intended audience… the authority of the Danish church (i.e. learned folks rather than ‘noble savages’) In that light – yes, Soren… I stand rightly judged as one who reads too much and does not enough. However, the fact remains that the Bible gives twisted, isogetically stepped on, and squeezed to make the KKK, Branch Davidians, and German National Socialism possible as forwarding the will (der wille) of God. I dont think I am defaulting to a bad cliche, rather just raising a concern amidst an age that loves its quotes and aphorisms regardless of its source context and its historical context.

    To put a shaper point on my response (Jules in Pulp Fiction: “allow me to retort…”)I think it is pretty short-sighted to say ‘bad bible reading’ is cliche and dismissive by making the following comment:

    “there is a difference between saying the Bible should be considered simple and its reading should be literal, and saying that it isn’t all that difficult to understand the Truth of the Bible, which is the Truth of Jesus.”

    I await your illumination here…because this smites of cliche and bumper sticker thinking to me…

  7. First off, I apologize if you took offense to my “cliché” comment – I didn’t intend this rather vague word nearly as dismissively or pejoratively as it might’ve come across. To clarify: I didn’t say that your examples of bad-bible reading were irrelevant (and I didn’t say they were “bad clichés”, either – your phrase), and I don’t meant to be dismissive of such examples of bad-reading – I just, as I said, didn’t understand why you resorting to these examples. To me, they represent extremes, extremes that need to be dealt with, not dismissed, but extremes that have, in a sense, been created by the fact that the Christian Church has not stood up and screamed, “YOU are not allow to read the Bible! (or, “you are not allowed to read the Bible like that.”) We say NO.” I’m not being short-sighted; I think Christians should be freaking pissed off about this kind of bad reading, and call it like it is.

    Sure, I’m being idealistic. And sure, if you want to be cynically realist about it, you might think my statement cliché. But don’t abstract it from everything else I’ve written, i.e. “We only learn to read the Bible truthfully in communio, in worship and (self-)sacrifice…it’s much easier to understand Jesus’ central message than it is to DO it”, etc. Isn’t that the very thing you’re (we’re) criticizing?

    If you think this sentiment is trite and you wanna put it on a T-shirt, well, apparently (to quote Cool Hand Luke) “what we have here is failure to communicate.” If you think it’s “bumper-sticker” easy to read the Bible according to the Truth of Jesus, then it is I who await your illumination, because it friggin’ wears me out. I just still fail to see how this discussion of the Kierkegaard quote leads to “Guess I better get into the slave trade again…” (I know you’re just being caustically sarcastic, but help me understand where you’re coming from in the context of this discussion.)

  8. Truce! Truce! Uncle! I Give!

    First, Brannon…no need to apologize… *I* am the one who is being ‘cynically realistic’ and focusing on the extremes which, ultimately results in my being a bit OOT and reactionary on this issue…mea culpa…mea culpa

    Second, this Kierkegaard quote is my damnation – it brings nothing but pain and suffering for some reason (akin to the Speed Racer episode with the ‘killer engine’ that drove so fast everyone who drove it died – so they buried it in a grave yard, then they unearthed it and Speedy got addicted to drugs trying to master the ‘killer engine’… somthin’ like that…)

    Regarding reading the bible (let alone our very lives) in communion is certainly dead center with my ‘credo’ – so I can only agree whole-heartedly and say ‘selah’

    I wont go any further on this string other than to say –

    1. I do like ol’ Soren, quite a bit actually

    2. I do believe that the truth of scripture of profoundly basic
    (but basic like gravity and oxygen… we have to fully understand the degree to which they operate in sustaining our lives) and we need courage and humilty more than data on this account

  9. i was on the phone with dear sensei earlier and had, as alcoholics call it “a moment of clarity.” (thanks, again, Jules)

    Anyways, this and our “head/heart” conversatin while extrmely importnat in an ecclesiastical sense, seem to point to insecurity.

    We are insecure about our who we are and our faith, as individuals. Let me explain…

    Faith IS experience – how you experience God is dependent on how God created you… a thinker, a feeler, an observer, a combination, etc. Unfortunately, we are insecure about ourselves and therefore, the way we experience God.

    It seems to me this drives us to validate our experience of God by:
    1. Asserting it is the only way to experience God
    2. Asserting it is the better way to experience God
    3. Asserting that experiencing God in other way sis not a real experience at all
    4. Any combination of one through three

    If Christian X is a thinking type and finds interaction with God through reading and thinking – fan-FUCKIN-tastic. If Christian Y is very emo and finds God interacting with him/her through feeling and expereinces – fan-FUCKIN-tastic.

    The problem is that we are insecure – well, what if X’s way is the ONLY way, the BETTER way, does that mean MY experience of God is invalidated? No, it can’t be. The real answer MUST be that X’s approach is inferior and/or wrong.

  10. Everybody’s right…all around. Three cheers for consensus…”hip hip – hooray!” (x3)

    sensei’s #2 point is spot on to what, I think, everyone here is basically after, whatever one’s point on the continuum – intellectual/anti-intellectual, head/heart, high church/low church/no church.

    something I’ve realized lately: if every church were “happy-clappy” (to use a good british phrase), crazy-off-the-wall-tongue-speakin’ pentecostal, there would be a lot of people who would say “You’ll never catch me inside a church!” Likewise, if every church were “smells-n-bells” high anglican liturgical, there would be a lot of people who would say “You’ll never catch me…” You see what I mean?

    As much as I, personally, often contend (not so much in this venue…yet [cue evil laugh]) that the way we worship matters, that there is a right way and many wrong ways (or at least a “best” way and lots of not-good ways), and that our communal worship directly corresponds to our life, our walk, our sanctification…as much as I try to argue this, I’ve come to believe that there is something beautifully multiplicitous (or to use a wonderful Mark C. Taylor word, plurisignificant) about the Body of Christ, and that without all the colours and styles and differences, it wouldn’t – nee, couldn’t – be the vehicle of redemption that it is.

    This discussion is positive, because these things are “basic” to our insecure little lives of faith – how we worship, how we read the Bible, how our fellowship matters, how our thinking matters, etc, etc. (so don’t back off, JFK, or anyone.) The fact that we’re insecure is, I think, essential – we know in part, we see as through a glass darkly. To quote some song lyric, “we’re hoping that our hope holds out / as we walk this line between faith and doubt.” That’s why this “community” is worth being a part of, and why our discussions are worthwhile. Because (and I’m still not sure how sensei orchestrated this, if he did) it seems we’re all pretty well-aware of our frailty, our brokenness… we’ve all wrestled with the angel and come away limping.

  11. havent seen HGTTG yet – certainly a project that has taken a while to get to the big screen. I have been meaning to read the books for quite some time. It is one of those ‘must read cuz its a cult classic thang…’

    saw ‘kung fu hustle’ though – very, very funny 🙂

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