Existentialism: A WorldView Essay, Research Paper
Existentialism: A WorldView
Existentialistic thought is predominately a 20th century revelation. As a philosophy, it states that man possesses free will over his fate and the direction he wants his life to take. Those who follow this believe they are in a world that does not always make sense, a world that is filled with uncertainty where well intended actions can become obscure and chaotic.
This belief is contrary to Christian morality in that it asserts the complete individualism and unimportance of man. Therefore, it is one of the most virulent forms of humanism. It has spread rapidly during this century, most apparently through the hippie movement, because of its individualistic undertones. Believers often express this through more artistic means; mainly novels, plays, art, and movies. Many are extremely moving and entertaining because they speak to genuine human situations.
Clifford Edwards, in Christianity Today defines existentialism as:
“On the testimony and evidence of existence, life is patently chaotic, incoherent, meaningless, and hence absurd; the only responsible and honest intellectual and emotional response is to turn to the imperatives of the human spirit, to assert the freedom and autonomy of the self in order to impose meaningful form on the chaotic flux of existence.”
Autonomous thinking is as old as the belief in a God. It is man surrendering to the temptations of wanting to be on a God-level (or anarchy, denying all forms of external authority) The belief was a reaction against the naturalism and philosophic materialism of the time.
The very concept of existentialism denies the very essence of a God, otherwise known as agnosticism (a sense of apathy regarding the matter) or atheism (denying God) This idea is fairly unique to this century. Essentially, if there is no infinite, omnipresent, creator-God who transcends all boundaries, then there can be no infinite reference point that provides life with meaning. Man is an insignificant being, alone in the cosmos and existing within his awareness of himself.
Existentialism’s goal is to avoid nihilism (meaninglessness) Nihilism is the denial of all truth and value. Albert Camus said: “In the darkest depths of our nihilism I have sought only for the means to transcend nihilism.” Camus believed that the one who lives an actual life is the one who rebels against the absurdity and creates his own meaning. Essentially, the individual creates his own reality and meaning within his head, because no higher power outside himself exists.
A major theme of this philosophy is existence precedes essence, or doing overrules being. They believe in harmony, but reject community. Jean Paul Sarte wrote in Essays in Existence:
“At first, he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no god to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, he is also what he wills himself to be.”
Therefore, a man is a summation of the actions of his life. When a man is alive (conscious) he maintains power over his life. When he is dead, he is an object. No soul exists, no life after death – as there is no where to go. This is all there is.
Essentialists emphasize passion and will. They do not stress ideals, but rather the thinker maintaing the ideas. It places the importance on freedom rather than determinism, and subjectivity over objectivity. It states that man’s feelings and passions are what make him a man. Feelings are the standard for truth.
Existentialism is opposed to rationalism yet most writers pen very rational books using all the laws of logic to persuade readers that irrationalism is the way to meaning. Assuming values are relative, how can any society cohere? Wouldn’t everyone simply follow his particular mindset, therefore causing chaotic disputes? (How can people band together for a common cause?) They deny the existence of any absolutes, but assert human subjectivity and freedom as absolutes.
To understand this philosophy as a Christian Catholic is to mourn those who’ve fallen to this lost humanity. Even the basic philosophy of Forest Gump is existentialism (the feather amidst the chaos of life) It parallels Chaos Theory, in that it affirms life’s utter haphazard nature; but, Chaos states a pattern does exist (it is too infinite to comprehend)
Ecclesiates probes into the questions of meaning and existence, but comes to a contrasting conclusion. His solution was the acknowledgement of the existence of a personal Creator who revealed Himself. His essence, therefore, precedes existence and gives life meaning.
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