Monday, October 6, 2008

Mailbag: Existentialism

A friend writes:

Hey Nader,
I want your opinion on Existentialism and if it is okay from the church point of view.

Existentialism is an incredibly broad topic. Suffice it to say, existentialism in and of itself is neither atheistic nor Christian. Atheistic existentialism posits that existence comes before essence. That is, I make my own meaning, rather than it being given to me by God. A Christian existentialist understands the world as created by God, but that it is up to him/her to create meaning in his/her own life. Thus, for example, one notes that our Lord's teachings, especially the parables, were often presented in a manner that left the hearer to come to the truth on his own.

One of the best-known Christian existentialists was Søren Kierkegaard. In his view, each of us must make independent choices. Cumulatively, these independent choices comprise our existence. It is the individual's responsibility to decide and act in her/his circumstance in a manner that will please God. No social structure can relieve the person of this responsibility. He wrote, "Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further." Thus, you see that he sees life as the relentless struggle of the inner self ("to come that far"), but in his view, the highest culmination of this struggle is in faith.

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