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Mystification as a Communicational Strategy

The Religios Space of Sren Kierkegaard

Sorin Petrof
PhD Candidate in Communication Sciences
Universit Paul-Valry Montpellier 3
petrofson@gmail.com

Introduction

In the religious communication field the Danish philosopher Sren Kierkegaard


employed the concept of mystification as a religious practice in order to communicate
in very particular way a religious message for someone who is not familiar with.
Apparently, mystification as a concept is prone to have a precise meaning due to its
famous, classical Marxist definition as a plausible misrepresentation of relationship
between socio-economic classes, the ruling one being the one that mystifies the
working mystified. But this is just the most used employment of mystification as a
category of theoretical analysis originating in the context of Marxist political
economic tradition. Mystification as a practice is older than Marx and has survived to
its ideological narrative. It is even older than 1750s conservative thinkers from the
Republic of Letters who co-opted the term to describe pranks played on members of
their own social circle.

For the purpose of this paper, the analysis will be focused on religious field of
communication, especially on thinkers like Sren Kierkegaard where the practice of
mystification was employed as a communicational tool in order to reveal a certain
understanding of human processes and how this practice contributed to an extended
meaning of the religious sphere. Here the concept of mystification will be addressed
primarily as a communicational alternative that generates a constructed hierarchy, an
alternate reality experience and a normative mythology. Furthermore, in the languagemeaning ecosystem, the secondary meaning of the concept, as synonym for deception
and dissimulation, while still applicable, mostly would subsist as a transitional
denotation.

Mystification as an Indirect Communication

In the context of the paradigm of mystification Sren Kierkegaard has introduced a


very interesting concept - the indirect communication1 , a topic intensively used
by the Danish philosopher. In his later works he advanced the notion of the
deceptive love something that is manifested for the sake of others (McCreary, p.
27). In the autobiographical work The Point of View for My Work as Author
Kierkegaard is flirting with alternative forms of inter-relationships, but he does it only
in a fixed context, were the transmission of a religious message occurs. This indirect
form of communication is producing a mystification indeed, but this very action could
enlighten the recipient. The scope of this mystification is a paradoxical one - the
deception is used that the other one may be introduced into the truth. Kierkegaard
does not claim any innovative or surprising move when he is suggesting this practice;
the ethical historical precedent is transferred entirely to Jesus Christ.

In Practice in Christianity the Danish theologian argues that the same motivation of
love had Jesus prompted to obscure his divinity when he became human. For
Kierkegaard, Jesus assumed the deepest incognito taking an unrecognizable2
shape (idem, p 29). This incognito did impossible the recognition of Jesus as divine
being and had the gift of transforming his particular communication into an indirect3
one (ibid.). Therefore, says Kierkegaard, as the incarnation of Jesus requires indirect
communication and adoption of an incognito so individuals who want to show love
for one another will imitate Jesus using the same kind of indirect communication by
adopting a kind of relational incognito, deceiving them in a mediated interaction
in order to be introduced into the truth. Kierkegaard identifies this as an indirect
method of helping others to love God (idem) and this method is called
mystification when someone is trying to deceive someone else in what is true4 .

See PhD thesis of Mark A. Tietjien, Kierkegaards Practice of Edification: Indirect


Communication, the Virtues, and Christianity , PhD Dissertation, Baylor University, 2006.
2
See Practice in Christianity, 1850, pp. 127-128, translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong,
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.
3
See pp. 132-36 from Practice in Christianity.
4
See The Point of View for My Work as an Author, 1859, in The Point of View, translated by Howard
V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, 21126. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.

The deception may consist in assuming a new identity or pretending to agree with
someone else when in fact you are not. All Kierkegaard's approach starts from what
he calls the illusion of Christendom . By that he is not referring to the illusory
character that religion may have on individuals, theme already extensively developed
by Marx5, but to the illusion produced by the Danish Christianity, namely that all
adherents of this religion actually live by the precepts of Christian teachings. Because
of this illusion, says Kierkegaard, to introduce the Christianity in Christendom a
difficult enterprise, the prerequisite for this action being to remove the illusion and
only by indirect communication this work can be done. In this context Kierkegaard
distinguishes between direct communication, the preferred contact method with those
who are ignorant6 in the religious truth and the indirect communication which
arises from the need to make the Christian values available to those who claim that
they already possess them. Where direct communication will fail, one who is
ignorant must be given some attention. . . But for those who are under the illusion,
then the illusion must be removed (1998, 53-54). Kierkegaard actually explains the
meaning of this paradox:
[i]f it is an illusion that all are Christians, and if something is to be done, it
must be done indirectly, not by someone who loudly declares himself to be an
extraordinary Christian, but by someone who, better informed, even declares
himself not to be a Christian. That is, one who is under an illusion must be
approached from behind [1998e, 43].

This occult approach of someone who is under the illusion and achieved by
indirect means is very necessary providing much needed opportunity for direct
communication. For Kierkegaard these indirect means may include, among others, the
disposition to temporarily accept a erroneous opinion or even ideas directly contrary
to their own beliefs in order to establish a communicative bridge to the other party in
order to convince the absurdity of his position that subsequently he may be introduced
5

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest
against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and
the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. Karl Marx, Critique of Hegels
Philosophy of Right. Introduction (1843)
6
In his Book on Adler, Kierkegaard also mentions Socratess method of indirect communication.
Here, too, the reason for indirect communication was the presence of illusion. For Socrates was aware
that those who should receive the communication were possibly in the untruth of all kinds of illusions;
then it would not do to communicate the truth very directly (1998b, 170).

into the truth, as in the case of Socrates, simulating ignorance in order to engage in a
conversation that produce meaning. The purpose of this deception is to stimulate and
produce a conversation that may lead to the realization of truth. However,
Kierkegaard offers an innocent definition of deception , an action that should not
be based on a dubious motivation or any profane goal but an approach that will
strictly limit to the communication strategy: What is, then, to deceive? It means that
someone will not start a conversation directly with what he would like to
communicate but will assume the illusion of his interlocutor taking it as certainty
(McCreary, p. 31). According to the Danish philosopher what matters in this
communicational construction is the goal, not the method.

But Kierkegaard is aware that when it comes to communicating the essence of the
Christian message the maieutic cannot be the final form because it requires a
temporary suspension of teleology. This could affect the understanding of truth but on
the other hand it would be wrong for not using this temporary suspension, cautious
and contextual, just for the transmission of truth. Eventually, opines Kierkegaard,
transmission must invariably result in direct communication, the transmitter must be
direct and honest about this: Direct communication is: to communicate the truth
directly; communication in reflection is: to deceive into the truth. But since the
movement is to arrive at the simple, the communication in turn must sooner or later
end in direct communication (McCreary, p. 33). Therefore to engage in this
missionary practice of mystification is not a simple action not even desirable one;
it will be limited to special cases, maintaining the exceptional circumstantial nature of
the practice.

Kierkegaard's literary work itself reflects this mystifying nature, the writer being
convinced that the indirect method of communication was much needed in religious
context of his time. His contemporaries lived in a grand illusion, and the essence of
this illusion was, according to Kierkegaard, a form of religion that lacks the aesthetic
Christian axiological content. Therefore, a frontal, direct, transparent approach proved
not only useless but completely unproductive. In this context Kierkegaard was
forced to adjust its strategy, his approach being a concealed one, using literary
pseudonyms to establish a communicative bridge to his contemporaries, but an
indirect, mediated and obscure one.

Kierkegaard called frequent his early works as aesthetic writing a direct reference
to the formal dimension of ceremonial, aesthetic religiosity of his contemporaries,
hence the need to address it in this form (McCreary, pp. 36-38). Also in the same
register the Danish writer refers to his work as an aesthetic deception7 in the form
of an incognito so all his pseudonymous writings are actually maieutic in nature,
although the early ones, while mystifying, being somehow in the service of
Christianity.

After establishing the initial relation between the "mystifier" and the "mystified"
Kierkegaard's role is to lead the audience book by book to the revelation of his late
writings where he is assuming the authorship of the works, directly and openly, to
demonstrate what actually mean to be a Christian. In this way, Kierkegaard begins
with the pseudonymous works, which seem to accept Christendoms illusion as truth,
but only in order to demonstrate its falsehood directly with the later works
(McCreary, pp. 37-38). As can be seen Kierkegaard is convinced that deception
into truth must have a purpose, the latter8 works being the culmination of his early,
maieutic, writings that completes them through a direct, transparent and explicit
communication.

The first lines from The Point of View for My Work as an Author are: A point has
been reached in my authorship where it is feasible, where I feel a need and therefore
regard it now as my duty: once and for all to explain as directly and openly and
specifically as possible what is what, what I say I am as an author (McCreary, p. 38).
By assuming the paternity of his writings Kierkegaard reveal the belief that
mystification is not an end in itself and that the strategy of indirect communication to
understand what it means to be a Christian must be completed in a direct, explicit
communication.
7

In regard to the early works being a deception he admits that he did not have a complete
overview of the whole dialectical structure from the very beginning of the whole work as an author .
Therefore he would justify his actions by saying this: . . . Thus the esthetic writing is surely a
deception, yet in another sense a necessary emptying. The religious is decisively present already from
the first moment, has decisive predominance, but for a little while waits patiently so that the poet is
allowed to talk himself out [1998e, 77] . See McCreary, p. 37.
8
See the Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments (1846) the reference point
of Kierkegaard's later works which although written under a pseudonym is considered as a semirevelation in the author's intentions in passing the "truth", but the work that will reveal mystification
is considered The Point of View for My Work as an Author (1848 but published in part in 1851).

Although Kierkegaard does not use the term "demystification", he is referring to this
process when he says that where a mystification . . . is used in the service of
earnestness, it will be used in such a way that . . . the true explanation is available to
the person who is honestly seeking [it] (McCreary, p. 34).

Therefore the incognito, suggests Kierkegaard, must be permeable enough and the
deception easy to be deciphered if in the end is to be identified as deception. Christ
again provides an handy example for Kierkegaard, because the Danish writer states
that Christs whole life here on earth would indeed have become a game if he had
been so incognito that he had gone through life totally unnoticed (idem).

So the writer's advice is that when someone wants to use mystification as method he
must be sure that the true explanation is at hand for those who seek the truth
earnestly. Here Kierkegaard is closer to the original almost etymological meaning
of the concept of mystification, especially one developed by Goethe and Rousseau.
This meaning was quite familiar and very handy for Kierkegaard a method of
initiation into the mysteries of reason using obscuring, deception, for the other to be
taken to a higher level of understanding and which necessarily must be completed by
a demystification (Jeandillou 1994; Abramson, 2005). However, unlike the French
and German Enlightenment, for Kierkegaard mystification is a sacred and not a
profane practice, not indexed as a game for the aristocratic elite and not even as an
initiating pedagogical method of the mystified into the superior knowledge.

For the Danish writer the mystification can occur only in a certain space and time 19th century Danish9 Christianity a religion the despite its claim cannot provide the
mechanisms for an authentic Christian life, hence the need for the Christianization of
Christianity or the sacralisation of the profane. But this sacralisation cannot occur
through direct communication or collectively but by restricting the communicational
space at individual level through the mystifying approach. This conversion of public10
space into a private one creates the basis for communicating the truth of God to those

It about the state church in Denmark (Den Danske Folkekirke) formal known as Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Denmark.
10
In the context of Danish Christianity as state religion, the distinction between the public and private
space on religious ground is completely useless being branded by Kierkegaard as oxymoron.

who claim to already know and practice this truth, this newly created space becoming
a sacred one. One who assumes the position of mystifier can do this only from a
fixed, almost still perspective, as he is called only to reproduce the circumstantial and
contextual of Christs example11, motivated by the same love for others. Here's how
the production of meaning in Kierkegaard paradigm of mystification is based on a
prefabricated meaning built already on the historical-ethical precedent of Christ. The
modern apprentice who communicates Christs message should assume the status of
imitatio Christi, a perspective where in the context of his approach, the semiotics
is reduced just to an ethical mimicry.

Conclusions

Because the Danish official religion generated the illusion that of truth, Kierkegaard
felt entitled to use mystification, obscuring and deception in order to lead sincerely,
concerned individuals preoccupied of Christianity towards an authentic adoption of
the real, practical values and to dispel the illusion of a single, public, uniform
experience. In other words if the religious illusion is to be shattered, the individual
must be disconnected from the source of that illusions and then initiated on a personal
level to paradoxical another illusion, a temporary but a necessary one in order to
achieve the goal, namely the mystification into truth. Obviously some ethical
objections could formulate here for even using such methods in the first place.
However it should be noted that Kierkegaard himself warned against an irresponsible
using of the practice of mystification always calling for caution and moderation
(McCreary, p 40). In this regard, for Kierkegaard, the mystification must not exceed
the circumstantial context; as indirect method of communication it has already been
revealed in permanent example of Christ; so any attempt to overrun beyond that
and to streamline and secularise the practice of mystification is considered risky
and false . As a language tool, being a symbolic form of communication,
mystification should have an ambivalent character, an ambiguous one, precisely
because the production of the meaning does not suffer a semiotic obstruction.

11

Kierkegaard has proposed even the assuming of an humble, low position in order that the
mystification effect be quite credible .

Bibliography

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Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2005.
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Paris, Les ditions de Minuit, 1994.

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1991.

Kierkegaard, S., The Point of View for My Work as an Author, Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1998.
Marx, K., Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right. Introduction (1843).

McCreary, M. L., Deceptive Love: Kierkegaard on Mystification and Deceiving


into the Truth , The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 1 (March 2011), pp.
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