The Christianity of the New Testament: The Christianity of "Christendom"

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The Christianity of the New Testament: The Christianity of "Christendom"
by Søren Kierkegaard, translated by Lee Milton Hollander
As translated in 1923; while later revisions had their copyrights renewed, this version was allowed to expire.

The intention of Christianity was: to change everything.

The result, the Christianity of "Christendom" is: everything, literally everything, remained as it had been, with just the difference that to everything was affixed the attribute "Christian" and for the rest (strike up, fiddlers!) we live in Heathendom so merrily, so merrily the dance goes around; or, rather, we live in a Heathendom made more refined by the help of Life Everlasting and by help of the thought that, after all, it is all Christian!

Try it, point to what you will, and you shall see that I am right in my assertion.

If what Christianity demanded was chastity, then away with brothels! But the change is that the brothels have remained just as they did in Heathendom, and the proportion of prostitutes remained the same, too; to be sure, they became "Christian" brothels! A brothel‑keeper is a "Christian" brothel‑keeper, he is a Christian as well as we others. Exclude him from church membership? "Why, for goodness sake," the clergyman will say, "what would things come to if we excluded a single paying member?" The brothel‑keeper dies and gets a funeral oration with a panegyric in proportion to the amount he pays. And after having earned his money in a manner which, from a Christian point of view, is as filthy and base as can be (for, from a Christian point of view it would be more honorable if he had stolen it) the clergyman returns home. He is in a hurry, for he is to go to church in order to deliver an oration or, as Bishop Martensen would say, "bear witness."

But if Christianity demanded honesty and uprightness, and doing away with this swindle, the change which really came about was this: the swindling has remained just as in Heathendom, "every one (every Christian) is a thief in his own line"; only, the swindling has taken on the predicate "Christian." So we now have "Christian" swindling and the "clergyman" bestows his blessing on this Christian community, this Christian state, in which one cheats just as one did in Heathendom, at the same time that one pays the "clergyman," that is, the biggest swindler of hem all, and thus cheats one's self into Christianity.

And if Christianity demanded seriousness in life and doing away with the praise and approbation of vanity why, everything has remained as before, with just this diference that it has assumed the predicate "Christian." Thus the trumpery business with decorations, titles, and rank, etc. has become Christian and the clergyman (that most decent of all indecencies, that most ridiculous of all ridiclous hodge‑podges), he is as pleased as Punch to be decorated himself with the "cross." The cross? Why, certainly; for in the Christianity of "Christendom" has not the cross become something like a child's hobby‑horse and tin‑trumpet?

And so with everything. There is implanted in man no stronger instinct, after that of self‑preservation, than the instinct of reproduction; for which reason Christianity seeks to reduce its strength, teaching that it is better not to marry; "but if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it better to marry than to burn." But in Christendom the propogation of the race has become the serious business of life and of Christianity; and the clergyman that quintessence of nonsense done up in long clothes the clergyman, the teacher of Christianity, of the Christianity of the New Testament, has his income adjusted to the fact that the human race is active in propagating the race, and gets a little something for each child!

As I said, look about you and you will find that everything is as I told you: the change from Heathendom consists in everything remaining unchanged but having assumed the predicate "Christian."