Kierkegaard believed that the command to love your neighbor as your self presupposes that every person must also love themselves. This is different than having self-love. Christianity’s intention is to wrest self-love away from us human beings. The commandment to love others is incompatible with self-love. Therefore, one must learn how to love oneself properly.
Kierkegaard compares the love according to a poet to the love in Christianity. “Christianity knows better than any poet what love is and what it means to love.” He says that erotic love (eros) is not something eternal–its highest expression is the foolhardiness of riddles.
We have erotic love for a beloved. We have agape love for a friend.
He says that only One can truly love an object more than himself, and that is God. That is why, he feels, God doesn’t ask us to love Him more than ourselves, but with our whole mind, heart, and soul. When God says that we shall love him, we are loving in obedience and adoration. God is infinitely wiser than we, we only obey in love.
Preferential love to Kierkegaard is self love. Neighbor is a term that signifies nearness. Our neighbor is nearer to us than anyone else. Love thy neighbor means that we ought to love everyone, and love them equally. The key to pure love is to strip away self love. He writes that a person could love his neighbor being deserted on an island if he could strip away self love. More importantly, Christ does not talk about serving the neighbor, but of becoming the neighbor. One must love himself the right way before he can love his neighbor. We learn to become our true self when we strip away self love. Worldly goods are a service to self love. Even when one has them, the person should be taught that they are unimportant.
Kierkegaard believed that true love for God comes from a sense of duty. Duty stands the test of time–duty has gained enduring continuance. Only when love has become duty has love secured eternity. He felt that love without duty has a temporal nature to it, that it could change–even if it doesn’t change, there is the anxiety that it could.
The love of a friend wants to test the bounds of that friendship. The love of a lover is tested by the beloved. Why would anyone test another’s love, he says, if there was the highest sense of certainty. But you shall love your neighbor is eternally secured.
The jealous person tortures himself with the flame of reciprocal love, which is to focus all the energy on his own love. Jealousy loves as it is loved. And then there is the anxiety and torture by the thought of whether he is loved at the same level. Can a person love fully if he doesn’t believe absolutely on this reciprocated love? One must not confuse love with the sense that one possesses his beloved.
Love comes with freedom and only ‘duty’ can give this kind of freedom. Despair is the lack of the eternal. Love’s commandment forbids despair. You shall preserve yourself, so you shall love. The commandment consumes and burns out the unhealthiness in a person’s love.
There is a question of whether a person can learn to love spontaneously instead of acquiring love for a person over time. Here, Kierkegaard feels that spontaneous love can change and learn to develop as a person makes it a habit. When the habit is formed, love can have ardor and freshness.
Kierkegaard says that Christianity is criticized for displacing erotic love and friendship. But, he says, love for neighbor is more tender than erotic love. He says that the poet would be frustrated to search the Scriptures for inspiration on erotic love, for he would find not a word about this form of love. Christian love calls us to love all people equally and unconditionally: erotic love and friendship are preferential love and therefore inferior to the love out of duty for the love of God.