Kierkegaard's stern Christian vision originated with a strict, almost traumatic, upbringing. His defense of individualism and radical subjectivity would not likely have developed without it. But it's hard for the modern reader to get past Kierkegaard's freakish, introverted persona. A more sympathetic view of K. might be found in the 1984 BBC television series Sea of Faith, written and presented by controversial ex-Anglican-priest-and-Cambridge-dean-turned-radical-theologian Don Cupitt:
Watch on youtube.
In response to more cynical assessments of K., Cupitt provides this rejoinder in the book version of The Sea of Faith:
Yet to end on such a note could be to suggest that Kierkegaard was a side-show freak: we wonder at him, and then return to our humdrum lives. Not so. Kierkegaard, more than any other writer of recent centuries, has the power to make us believe that we might actually succeed in becoming something of worth... When we have fully grasped that time reduces everything to dust, including all the various monuments that people try to erect to prevent it from doing so; when we have grasped that nothing outside us can save us from our own futility; when we are reduced to Kierkegaard's 'state of anguish' -- then, he says, we might grasp what it means to love God and to become an individual.
A quick digression: Sea of Faith first aired on BBC television in 1984, and was influential enough to start a new theological movement within the UK. American evangelicals found the show threatening enough to block its screening on PBS. Back in England, Cupitt's unorthodox religious views got him ostracized -- if not quite excommunicated -- from the Church of England, but the ever-polite Anglicans seem to have quietly endured Cupitt as a renegade priest until he retired. Cupitt now describes himself as a Christian "non-realist," though he is described by others as an atheist lacking the manners to admit it. Whatever the merits of Cupitt's viewpoint, I like him. He's more interesting and entertaining than anyone else I've found discussing the subject:
Back to Kierkegaard. Anyone still interested in Kierkegaard's life might want to glance at John Updike's recent-ish book review of Joakim Garff's Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography,
which appeared in The New Yorker a few years ago. Updike's review lists some of the potential theories behind Kierkegaard's uniquely tormented personality, one of which is particularly intriguing, that Kierkegaard may have been an epileptic. A decent series of short filmed interviews with Professor Garff also appear on YouTube; I'll let him have the last word: