Martens, Paul. "The Invigoration of Kierkegaardian Ethics." Religious Studies Review 29 (2003): 29-33.

[This article reviews five books: Kierkegaard After MacIntyre, edited by John J. Davenport and Anthony Rudd, Love's Grateful Striving, by Jamie Ferreira, Kierkegaard: The Self in Society, edited by George Pattison and Steven Shakespeare, The Genealogy of Violence, by Charles Bellinger, and The Politics of Exodus, by Mark Dooley. The text below is that portion of the review focusing on The Genealogy of Violence.]


Another voice in the conversation that demands serious consideration is that of Charles K. Bellinger. Bellinger's The Genealogy of Violence stands as a profound reading of Kierkegaard's self in society. In this text, Bellinger presents a theological reading of the self that intends to lead us to the root of the troubling twentieth-century preoccupation with political and social violence. Drawing heavily on The Sickness unto Death, Bellinger's thesis is that contemporary secular perspectives on violence prove to be insufficient in grasping the relationship between the development of the self and the corresponding need for spiritual growth and transformation. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, employing the cross as the interpretive key, provides a better way to understand sin as ego-protection, defined as the human attempt to evade the ongoing process of creation that God calls us to. In this way, Bellinger concludes that the basic root of ill will toward others is ill will toward the self that one is in the process of becoming. This ill will is a spiritual sickness that inherently needs to identify and attack an enemy. The impulse Bellinger identifies in this way explains why society, make up of individuals with this sickness, then identifies a scapegoat as a way of reinforcing its collective identity. In short, Bellinger claims that "the killing of the social Other results from the internal alienation and spiritual sloth of the individuals who make up the society" (68).

Leaning heavily on the insights of Rene Girard, Bellinger addresses the importance of mimetic desire and "the crowd" to illustrate the transformation of individual ego-protection to collective violence. He further asserts that the proper corrective is to remember that the category of individual always has a historical referent in Kierkegaard's mind: Christ. In order to disentangle the individual from the crowd, therefore, Bellinger suggests that a relation must be established between the reader, the individual, and Christ. For Bellinger, and for Kierkegaard, the reconciliation of this relationship occurred on the Cross, and it is only through Christ's atonement that the reality of the relation can be allowed to enter and transform people into those selves open to the ongoing process of creation. Of course, this claim is deeply theological and stands at the root of Bellinger's critique of secular theories of violence, such as those propounded by Alice Miller, Ervin Staub, Carl Jung, and Ernest Becker.

Bellinger is also well aware that violence "in the name of Christ," so to speak, has a horrendous legacy. To justify his reading of Kierkegaard against this charge, he turns, with considerable success, to the Anabaptist pacifist position advocated by John Howard Yoder (complete with the Constantinian "fall" of Christianity) as the best way to understand Kierkegaard's attempt to reintroduce Christianity into the violent history of Christendom.

There is no doubt, especially with his move to a type of Anabaptist account of history, that Bellinger will have his critics. At first glance, he appears to be claiming far too much. The case that he makes, however, is too cogent and compelling to ignore. Treating Kierkegaard as a theological social theorist, Bellinger has accomplished a tremendous feat in bringing the Atonement to bear not only on the individual alienation between a human being and God, but also on the realm of social and political violence. In placing Kierkegaard so firmly in the Christian theological tradition, Bellinger also challenges the readings of radical self-creation and departure from the whole tradition of moral culture that have been applied to Kierkegaard. Although he does not continue to elaborate on what a non-violent Kierkegaardian community would look like, he certainly provides the theoretical and theological foundation for its construction.