Undercover Clergy

From the book “Provocations” by Soren Kierkegaard

Seeker: Tell me, Preacher. What in the world are you doing in our neighborhood?

Preacher: No, first things first. A glass of schnapps to open the meal and the heart. (Drinks a schnapps.) Well, to be brief, I am out here on behalf of the Temperance Society.

S: Ah, now I see why you had to have a glass of schnapps, for if you had not asked for one, I certainly would not have been able to have offered you a schnapps.

P: Please don’t misunderstand me. I have by no means joined the Temperance Society. Anything but! I will drink a second glass in honor of the Temperance Society. I always drink a second glass in honor of the Temperance Society. (They clink their glasses, both drink and say: Long live the Temperance Society!) Now to the business at hand. You see, it is well known that I have an extraordinary speaking ability. The Temperance Society became aware of my talents and in the interest of the Society it decided not to let them go to waste. To put it briefly, I have been called and installed as “Pastor” to the Temperance Society. That I do not fully subscribe to the Temperance Society’s explicit aims is understood. Yet, the Temperance Society Board is of the opinion, “What does it matter if the pastor drinks a schnapps or two? What does it matter as long as by using his gifts he is able to win scores of members for the Society?”

S: The Society is right about that. Even the strictest teetotaler knows that every such glass of schnapps for the pastor is well utilized, presupposing that you do get members for the Society.

P: So you agree. I, of course, am completely convinced it is right, and if I had not already done it I would drink another schnapps in honor of the Temperance Society. To go on with my story, I have made an agreement with the Society, whose activity involves diet, that I have my diet: four schnapps every day, two glasses of punch, and an extra glass for every one who signs up as a member. It all goes on the expense account. Just as I believe they are satisfied with me, so I am also satisfied with it. I really don’t want to make any alteration or to leave. I even grieve to think of leaving a congregation which I love and esteem and which loves and esteems me in return.

S: You have become a “pastor” and somebody of influence in this world. Maybe you can tell me one more thing. I have often imaged myself as a pastor. It must be easy to stand and preach the very opposite of what you are doing – after all, you certainly cannot feel what you are saying.

P: Why do you say that? I can assure you – and every one of my many listeners is able to testify – that I sometimes am so moved that I can scarcely talk. In the first place, I think of the four schnapps, the two glasses of punch, an extra glass, and also the fact that I am successful in the world and have a good living – isn’t that moving! Next I think of my useful and beneficial activity. While I stand there speaking I look at the people I am talking to and can read their eyes: there sits one who as sure as my name is Pastor H. will go right out of this meeting and sign up as a member. I can get so emotional over this that I sometimes start to cry, and this has such a powerful effect that I can see on his neighbor’s face that he is going to do the same. Now, if that isn’t moving then I don’t know what is. If I were a saint do you think I would be able to produce such an effect? The people would quickly lose interest. Am I right?

S: Perhaps. But isn’t it untrue to call yourself a pastor?

P: Not at all. If a person can proclaim the teaching that we should not aspire after earthly honor, esteem, wealth – if a person can proclaim this in such a way that he convinces people to live their lives accordingly, does it make any difference if he himself does just the opposite? Or isn’t this the best proof of his extraordinary talent for speaking, of his being truly a great orator, the fact that although he doesn’t exactly do what he preaches he still has such an enormous influence?

S: But doesn’t it ever happen that people complain that you are not a member? Don’t you get reproached for it?

P: Yes, of course, but I dismiss it. I explain it as a conflict of personalities, of style. Anyway, it is my job to preach, and one should stick to the subject of what I am teaching. That slays them.

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