Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious DiversityOne of the courses I’m teaching this semester is World Religions. The course begins in India, moving to some of the Asian religions, before addressing the Abrahamic faiths. We cover history, theology, and contemporary issues of individual religions. In addition, throughout the semester we regularly return to the question of religious diversity.

How are we to understand seemingly mutually exclusive religious truth claims? Just last week we discussed the controversy at Wheaton College surrounding Larycia Hawkins. It is in this context that George B. Connell’s Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity speaks to.

My review will appear elsewhere, but I did want to highlight a couple of Connell’s thoughts here. Connell’s larger concern is applying Kierkegaard’s thoughts to the modern dilemma of religious diversity. This is not anachronistic. Connell is not attempting a monograph study of Kierkegaard’s position on the matter. Rather, he is taking Kierkegaard’s thoughts and applying them to a different context.

For instance, Connell uses Kierkegaard’s theory of moods to address conflicting truth claims.  The mood of seriousness represents religious exclusivity. Connell quotes Alvin Plantinga:

This is a stance that requires a certain epistemic hardihood: there is, indeed, such a thing as truth; the stakes are, indeed, very high (it matters greatly whether you believe the truth); but there is no way to be sure that you have the truth; there is no sure and certain method of attaining truth by starting from beliefs about which you can’t be mistaken and moving infallibly  to the rest of your beliefs. Furthermore, many others reject what seems to you to be most important. This is life under uncertainty, life under epistemic risk, and fallibility. I believe a thousand things, and many of them are things that others – others of great acuity and seriousness – do not believe. I realize I can be seriously, dreadfully, fatally wrong, and wrong about what it is enormously important to be right. This is simply the human condition: my response must be finally: “Here I stand; this is the way the world looks to me.” Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief , 436-7.[1]

With irony, Connell finds a pluralistic approach to religious diversity. Connell uses Richard Rorty’s definition of an ironist:

I shall define an ‘ironist’ as someone who fulfills three conditions: (1) She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered; (2) she realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts; (3) insofar as she philosophizes about her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others, that it is in touch with a power not herself. Rorty, Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, 73.[2]

For Connell, John Hicks is a prime example of religious pluralism. Hicks writes:

Each tradition will continue in its concrete particularity as its own unique response to the Real. As the sense of rivalry between them diminishes and they participate increasingly in inter-faith dialogue they will increasingly affect one another…. But nevertheless within this growing interaction each will remain basically itself. In this respect, the pluralistic hypothesis makes comparatively little difference to the existing traditions. Hicks, A Christian Theology of Religion, 30.[3]

With humor, Connell proposes an inclusivism towards religious diversity. Kierkegaard defines humor as:

The humorous, which is implicit in general in Xnty is expressed in a fundamental principle which says that the truth is hidden in the mystery (ἐν μυστεριω ἀποχρυφη), which teaches not just that the truth is found here in a mystery (an assertion which the world on the whole has been more willing to hear since mysteries have arisen often enough in spite of the fact that those initiated into these mysteries promptly apprehended the rest of the world in a humorous light), but even that it is hidden in the mystery, which makes it precisely the life-view that sees the most humor in worldly wisdom; otherwise the truth is usually revealed in the mystery. KJN 1

In Miroslav Volf, Connell finds a voice of humor and inclusivism. Volf writes:

The first thing we need to remember as we seek to learn anything from Jesus Christ is that we are note Jesus Christ. Applied to the question of truth this means that, unlike Jesus Christ, we are not the truth and we are not self-effacing witnesses to the truth. This is why we believe in Jesus Christ – to help us see that we are not what we ought to be and to help us become what we ought to be. Our commitment to Jesus Christ who is the truth does not therefore translate into the claim that we possess the absolute truth. If we know the truth, we know it in our human and corrupt way; as the Apostle Paul puts it, we “know in part,” we see “in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12f). Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 271.[4]

At the very least, Connell’s use of two films, Carl Dreyer’s Ordet  and Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Wavesto interpret Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is unique and makes Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity worth a read.


[1] Quoted in Connell, Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity, 436-7.

[2] Quoted in Connell, Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity, 94.

[3] Quoted in Connell, Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity, 96.

[4] Quoted in Connell, Kierkegaard and the Paradox of Religious Diversity, 104.


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