MT: In your Preface you movingly acknowledge your personal debt to Kierkegaard, saying how important he has been for your own intellectual journey (“a source of delight and edification”). If, God forbid, Kierkegaard hadn’t existed who would you turn to fill (some of) the gaps?
DH: This is a lovely question but I absolutely don’t know how to answer it! I simply cannot imagine who I should be or what conclusions I should have come to had Kierkegaard not been on the scene. I have read him, as I said, since a teenager – and I am now 70. He has been inextricably wound into my life in that he has been a constant dialogue partner as I have engaged with his thought. That is exactly what he desired his readers should do.
For myself, Kierkegaard allowed me, at an earlier stage and with far greater clarity than might otherwise have been the case, to arrive at an understanding as to what it is that Christianity implies and claims. I may have come down on the other side of the fence than he; but it has been important to think this out – and at least we should have understood each other as to what the issues are. So I’m grateful. I’ve also thought a lot about what is the difference in historical context between us: what is it that has changed more generally?
But also in other subtle ways – as I’ve indicated – he has been endlessly edifying. Kierkegaard has enabled me to think out what my values are or confirmed me in what I already thought. Last but not least I think it has sometimes encouraged me that Kierkegaard could keep going, all those hours working on his own, while receiving little recognition. Kierkegaard speaks to one as an individual in a way that few authors do. That is why one comes to care about him – however much one might think differently.
MT: Why and how is Kierkegaard still relevant? Why should we read him?
DH: I think I may have answered this question. Or perhaps Kierkegaard can best answer it when he writes: ‘I know what Christianity is. And to get this properly recognized must be, I should think, to every person’s interest, whether he be a Christian or not, whether his intention is to accept Christianity or to reject it.’ People need to stop faffing about and to consider the validity of what it is that Christianity maintains. Anything else won’t do.
But others will surely read Kierkegaard for the sheer joy of the beauty of his prose (which comes through even in translation), for his insights into human life (including its pain), and not least for his wicked humour and his joy. At the end of the day I have to say of Kierkegaard that read him on account of his tender love of God, which I in some sense and in some moments share, even though I may have come to judge Christianity otherwise.