The fundamental premise of the first bit of this essay is an exploration of the concept of “infinite debt” in Christian ethics, i.e. the idea that because God created everything, everyone who exists owes everything they have to God, which means every transgression against God cannot ever be repaid because everything was owed to God in the first place. This whole line of argument begs an important question: Why should gifts indebt someone to someone else? And also: Why is the arguer so eager to provide justification for any amount of heinous acts committed in the name of a nominally benevolent God? Someone with a relentlessly transactional approach to morality could reasonably come to the whole “infinite debt” conclusion without propping up authoritarianism in the name of God, but in practice most Christians end up in one of two categories (three, if we count the “I only go on Easter and Christmas” types whose beliefs impact their actions so little that they’re basically atheists anyway): The “what would Jesus do” types who use God as an example to live up to, and the ones who imagine God as their personal attack dog, allowing them to get the last word in every argument by subjecting everyone who makes them angry to a thousand years of torment. If someone starts expounding upon how you are infinitely in God’s debt, it’s pretty good odds you’re talking to the second type.
A related concept is the idea that only God, who did not owe anything to himself, could incarnate and build up goodwill with which to pay the debt on behalf of humanity. This is dumb. If God can repay the debt to himself on behalf of other people, he can also just forgive the debt.
Kierkegaard makes this point, the next section of the essay explains, that it seems weird to ascribe ethics based entirely on accounting to an allegedly omnibenevolent God, that it is utterly bizarre that the Christian God, of all people, should be so stringently opposed to the concept of forgiving debts.
The essay then wanders through a few more ethical frameworks for Christianity: Being a good Christian means helping other people, love one another and all that. But then aren’t we all destined to fail, even if we have the preternatural ability to always choose correctly? Sooner or later we’re gonna have to pick between helping one person and helping another, and then we’ve failed to help someone no matter what we do. Maybe being a good Christian is fulfilling Christian morals, but apparently true selflessness requires suffering and being generous simply because you like helping people doesn’t count for some reason.
But mostly there’s a lot of gobbledygook that’s trying way too hard to be profound. Like this:
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) called the kind of infinity we are dealing with here a bad infinity (schlechte Unendlichkeit), one that is characterized by everlasting lack, rather like the line that can be extended indefinitely, yet never finds completion anywhere. Against this bad infinite, Hegel set the true infinite, which signifies a fullness of being, of which God as described by Anselm forms the exemplar.11 Such a superior kind of infinity is like the circle, ever complete in itself, and it is toward this sort of fulfillment that we should strive.
Now, in context, this paragraph makes sense. But in context, this paragraph is also irrelevant and can be cut from the essay completely with no consequences. As far as I can tell, Taneli Kukkonen just wanted to talk about lines and circles for a bit. The essay relies a lot on use of metaphor in place of argument, saying X is like Y, and then founding the next two pages of discussion on the assumption that this is true without ever bothering to justify the metaphor. In the end, this essay is terribly concerned with sounding profound and not so concerned with communicating ideas, and the further into its length it goes, the more it disappears up its own ass and comes unmoored from the more salient points being made by the philosophers its quoting. Anselm’s “infinite debt” might be a bad idea, but at least it is an idea, clearly stated.