Thursday, February 23, 2006

An Upbuilding Discourse on those Silly Cartoons

The recent uproar over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has left me wondering what Kierkegaard would make of all the turmoil in his native land. Interestingly, Kierkegaard himself was mocked in a series of devastating cartoons published in the satirical weekly the Corsair, and these caricatures made him nearly as angry as the Muslim mobs we now see on TV. So I cannot imagine that he would have much sympathy for the editors of Jyllands-Posten and their crude form of "satire". Furthermore, Kierkegaard was not an enthusiastic supporter of the free press, having once remarked that "people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." That said, I imagine that would have equal disdain for the vicious and disproportional reaction of the Muslim world, as he harbored a deep hatred of the "crowd".

The bigger question is what Kierkegaard would think about modern Denmark, where Christianity has become a mere memory. As The New Republic points out, Denmark suffers from "a particularly European prejudice... The prejudice is not simply against Islam. Rather, it stems from Western Europe's inability to take religion seriously at all. One reason why Muslims find it harder to integrate in Western Europe than in the United States is that, in Western Europe, integration is often presumed to mean secularization. In defending his decision to print the cartoons, the editor of Jyllands-Posten declared, 'This is about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society'... But most Americans - like most Muslims - do not think 'modern' and 'democratic' equal secular. And if an American leader criticized 'these people for whom religion is their entire life', as the Danish queen recently did, she would be out of a job fast." Given this state of affairs, would Kierkegaard even recognize his own country? What would he make an agnostic nation that still has a cross on its flag, and a Christian queen who views Christianity as an afterthought?

While he might be appalled by modern Denmark, I doubt that he would be surprised. After all, in his Attack on Christendom, he argued that the Danish society of his time was only superficially Christian, and it looks like he was right. Indeed, if Kierkegaard were to return today, he might praise modern Danes for giving-up their past religious hypocrisy and honestly behaving like the pagans that they've always been since the days of the Vikings. Clearly, his "attack" was a huge success, and the sham of Christendom is long since gone. He just might take some pleasure in that.

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