Søren Kierkegaard And A Parable For Our Time

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In the early 1800s, Danish theologian/philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a parable describing the sense of safety a man gets from having a lighted lantern on a carriage ride. He went on to explain how the lantern prohibits the ability to see the stars. In our day and age, we don’t use lanterns very often, but we have no shortage of devices that give us the same illusion of safety while obscuring our view.

The parable:

“When the prosperous man on a dark but starlit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, aye, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him. But precisely because he has the lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason, he cannot see the stars. For his lights obscure the stars, which the poor peasant, driving without lights, can see gloriously in the dark but starry night. So those deceived ones live in the temporal existence: either, occupied with the necessities of life, they are too busy to avail themselves of the view, or in their prosperity and good days they have, as it were, lanterns lighted, and close about them everything is so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable – but the view is lacking, the prospect, the view of the stars.”

Some things are lost when we cling too closely to technology. Whether it is a lantern or an iPhone, we can all relate to the sense of comfort, convenience, and safety we have when our devices are close at hand. But how many of us ever consider the negative effects of always being connected and always having multiple devices within arm’s reach?

We may have lost the ability to see the stars. We struggle to remind ourselves about what is important.  We are those in Soren’s parable who are “too busy to avail themselves of the view.” Sure, we think everything is “so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable,” but much is lost.

So what do we do about it? The point is not to reject any new technology that puts us in danger of not “seeing the stars.” But we should be wise in how we engage with technology. We need to be aware of technology’s shortcomings.

May we be people who never lose sight of what’s important, and seek ways to find a balance between embracing all of the benefits without falling victim to all their traps.

–Ryan Satrom


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