The Ideal Neighbor To Love Is a Dead One

Sorren Kierkegaard continues to be source of delight for my theology and imagination. I do not understand him so much of the time and yet and drawn to him with some consistency.


Kierkegaard said the ideal neighbor to love is a dead one. Which sounds awful and, on the surface, a rational to kill a person. This is where literal meanings and the true meaning are miles apart.

Literally, loving a dead neighbor is a horrid idea. If we have to kill people in order to love them then do we really love them? Of course not. So if Kierkegaard does not mean this literally, then what the heck is he talking about?

If we understand someone as our “neighbor” then we have made the distinction of them and us. Specifically, when we make the distinction that someone is “my neighbor” we are “other-ing” them. When we put people into categories, even the category of “neighbor,” we are prone to keep people in those categories and see them primarily as that category and not as a fully human person.

You may see where Kierkegaard was going with this when he suggests the ideal neighbor is a dead one because what is dead is not the physical person but the very idea of someone being an “other”.

It is like Jesus showing us the best way to destroy an enemy is to love them. If you love someone then they are, by definition, no longer an enemy. “Loving enemies” and “killing the neighbor” are two ways to express the same thing - there is only one way to have no enemies.

Loving The Enemy is the Problem

Peter Rollins recently gave a wonderful reflection on the Liturgists podcast episode entitled Enemies. I will paraphrase one of his ideas - loving the enemy is the problem. 

Here is what I think he is getting at. 

Photo by  Nina Strehl  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Jesus said that we are to love our enemies. This is noble and the call, however, rather than loving our enemies we have a love for the enemy. Put another way, rather than showing compassion and loving kindness to those we call our enemies, we love having an enemy. We love having someone/something in our lives that we love to hate. We love the enemy, and that is the problem.

By having an enemy we are able to rally our tribe. We are able to motivate people with fear of the other. We are able to define who we are by who we are against. In this way, we love the enemy. 

So it is not too far off the mark to say that President Trump loves President Obama, the media and Hillary Clinton. Trump loves the enemy. Likewise, progressives love President Trump, the NRA and Steve Bannon. 

Notice that in Luke, Jesus calls us to love your enemies not to love the enemy:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6)

Until we repent of our need to love the enemy, or put another way, until we hate the idea of having an enemy, we will continue to be pulled apart.