HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

Do not give God any credit for the good they do, they did it!

 

Existentialism: Even if there is a God there does not need to be a reason why we are here.

Existentialism is the doctrine that it is random forces that put us here so we have to impose a purpose on our lives. The Christians claim that doing that can be depressing and lead to something called existential angst. In fact existential angst, a form of depression or anxiety based on feeling that life is not worth having because there is no ultimate purpose or divine purpose, may only happen to people who are suffering from conditioning which tells them life is good for nothing unless there is a loving God who lives in your heart. Even God is no solution.

 

Existentialism argues that truth is of absolute importance and gives meaning but the reason this does not happen is that we cannot know we have the truth if we have it.  Existentialism is about knowing you cannot really know things that well so you try and have a relationship with truth as best you can. It insists upon truth having top and ultimate importance.
 
In Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance, Paul Kurtz writes:

"The meaning of life is not to be found in a secret formula discovered by ancient prophets or modern gurus, who withdraw from living to seek quiet contemplation and release. Life has no meaning per se; it does, however, present us with innumerable opportunities, which we can either squander and retreat from in fear or seize with exuberance."

 

Existence is not perfect and God or not this is the case. It is because of what existence is that there is a problem. It is the core problem.  It not God or love or morality or anything spiritual or material that matters.  That matters. It is the prime concern.   And because it is part of existing we have to learn to accept that existence is not perfect and nothing necessarily will make us see it differently.  Nothing is entitled to give us meaning and if we have it we are very lucky.  Even God cannot promise you meaning if imperfection is an essential for existing!

 

Even if there is a God there does not need to be a reason why we are here. An artist might create a painting because he can and have no real purpose. It is nonsense that God will only make if he has a reason. And God by definition alone matters so he cannot make us matter for that discriminates against himself. So if God means we have a reason for living it is about him and not us at all. It is a sin for us to feel our lives are important for us.
 
God might make a meaningless worthless universe hoping that we might create meaning. A good person will live up to the purpose for which they were made. A better person will live up to the purpose they make themselves in a meaningless universe. If there is no meaning or if it cannot be known if there is, the person will bestow meaning.
 
It is not true that atheism leads to hellish despair and makes life worthless. Atheism and crippling pessimism are not the same thing. One need not cause the other. One need not accompany the other. The despairing person may see life as useless and then adopt atheism but it does not follow that atheism is to blame or is responsible.
 
Perhaps seeing and feeling that life is meaningless need not be protective but realist?
 
Telling yourself that and feeling that life is meaningless is a form of protective behaviour. You fear that life might be meaningless so you think it is better for you to tell yourself that it is meaningless. You feel prepared for the worst. By blaming the universe, you protect yourself from the emotional risks that come from blaming yourself. The fact that you use protective behaviour in the face of the possibility that life is valueless shows you have the power to give yourself meaning. By protecting yourself you are saying your life is valuable. So you should simply see life as valuable. You should not need to tell yourself lies or use props such as religion. Even when you declare life useless you declare that you can see it as useful for you must have done this enough in the past to stay alive.
 
You might accept that life is useless because it is and not because you are trying to protect yourself. However, this need not be the same as being depressed. We can get by seeing life as useless and feeling that it is not all it is cracked up to be. It is only if the feeling reaches a point where it stops you functioning reasonably well in life then you are depressed. Suppose you are depressed. One thing that will help you a lot is if people put great faith in you that you will endure the low feelings and that when you get the chance you will deal with them and help yourself improve. But it has to be seen as entirely up to you. To bring God into it does not help at all. If God helps and the depressed person refuses that help then the person is to blame for their own problems. That is no message to be giving out. The person needs you to trust them that they can feel somewhat better and become happy again. You cannot do that if you think that faith in God is needed or even beneficial. Depressed people feel that if they try to help themselves they will only make it worse. It is vital mainly through companionship - not logic or evidence though these have their place too - to help them feel that this may not be true or is not true. Depressed people tend to perceive what they feel and not so much what they can do. Telling the depressed person that God has always been there for them only adds fuel to the fire. They are given new reasons to hate themselves and to be angry at themselves. If God comes first then it follows that it is more important to worry about his not wanting the person to be depressed than about the person being depressed. The depressed person should be more worried about God than herself too. Again that message is just vicious. Therapists have to abandon the faith but not necessarily faith.
 
Depression needs to be treated by cognitive therapy. If a person reacts badly to some event, cognitive therapy addresses the message that person read into the event. It looks at what the event meant for the person. For example, if a person is told he is a sinner and God hates him and he goes into depression, one reason the depression appeared is because being told that made him think that he has no right to have his fundamental needs met. Indeed, needs are not really needs if there is a God. For example, you cannot say you need shelter when there is a God to protect you from the elements or who should do it. And guilt is irrational and if planted in childhood can wreak lifelong destruction. So the only answer is to get rid of belief in God and sin. This will free the person.
 
People may think it can be known that life is meaningless. They fear finding that is a fact and so they assume that life has no meaning. It is easier to just assume for assuming it does not make it true. Knowing for sure would be devastating. So they assume to avoid knowing it. They don't want to know life has no meaning but they prefer to guess it for it makes them feel deep down there is still hope they are wrong. They paradoxically get a sufficient sense of the value of life from that. Some assume that life is meaningless for they want to protect themselves against the risks of getting out there and living. They do think that life has meaning after all because they would not be trying to protect themselves otherwise. Religion ignores the fact that having a sense of the greatness of life is intrinsic to our nature. It does not want people to see this because it cons them by offering to help them get a sense of the meaning of life.
 
Atheists generally argue that life has meaning because we give meaning to life. Believers in God think there is nothing precious or special or worthy of respect in us if we are the products of blind forces rather than a loving God. This is very harsh. And as they are merely believers and not knowers, it follows that like everybody who believes something, it is just more believed than disbelieved or unbelieved. In so far as they are not sure or don't believe, then they are saying we are rubbish! If they do not even partly think or feel that, then it follows that unbelief in God does not stop you considering life and persons to have value and meaning.
 
The notion that you need God or religion in order to have a sense that your life has value, is based on the notion that if our existence is pure chance then this is scary. But chance is not all bad. When we realise that we don't want everything controlled by God or to control everything we see that chance is to be celebrated. If your life is a random accident, you can rejoice in its randomness. We forget that we value our sense of freedom even if we will mess it up most of the time. In fact, if we have free will, we have it because of God and still cannot go against him. It is he who empowers it all the time. It implies a form of predestination where we make ourselves bad by sinning but God is indirectly responsible for our sins and his role is justified because of his alleged plan. We cannot feel very free in such a scheme - if we do then we don't understand what the notion of God holding all things in existence means and how God by definition is the 100% reason anything exists. In other words, we have a god not God if we feel free. Improve your sense of freedom - it doesn't matter if you really have free will or not - what matters is feeling free. Do that and your sense that life is good or reasonably good will improve.
 
When religion attempts to justify God letting terrible things happen to the innocent, do not lose sight of the backdrop - the backdrop is the notion that we are all part of a divine plan. Why do many people want to believe in and follow a plan laid out by God through which they get a purpose in life? Why don't they make their own plan and get a sense of purpose from that? If the plan matters, then it doesn't matter who devises or authorises the plan! The plan matters not God even if God makes the plan. The stress on God implies that they want to draw others into their own plan that they attribute to God in order to hide its true origin. It is about controlling them in the name of God. The attempt to justify human suffering for the sake of an unnecessary interpretation of the plan and the wish to say it is a divine plan is pure selfishness of the worst kind. It is robbing people of their need to see that their own plan will do. Robbing them of that is undermining their right to independence and self-empowerment.
 
Making your own plan is the core teaching of existentialism.

 

SARTRE

 

Sartre is the best existential thinker.  His thought was very deep and somehow assuring.

 

Descartes held that self is in essence self-consciousness.  Sartre denied that there can be no object in consciousness and hence no self identical to it.  In other words it is just there like eyesight and thus you cannot call it a person.

 

 Sarte noted that self is ‘ out there’.  You make it outward looking so that things around you seem to be a part of you.  You look at them that way.  In other words you externalise your self or sense of self.  But your self is not what money you have or where you work or any other material thing.  That is what Sarte means by saying that the self has no material being in itself but being for itself only.

Sartre insists that our consciousness is not a materially determined thing and is not part of the causal order.  Does damage to the nervous system damage consciousness? Sartre says it doesn’t because the nervous system is not being for itself and anyway how can matter have ideas?  Matter is a thing not a person or anything like a person.

Sartre says we have a god shaped hole for we want to be god.  I would say that as each person seems to know better than God what God wants the worship of God is really an idol.  Idolatry is just a way of man trying to control what is thought of God and what God should do.

I can't be more than myself so freedom is the lack of power to do this. Sartre arrives at the paradoxical definition: freedom is really synonymous with lack.  Sartre's idea of freedom seems odd. Our instinct is to think of freedom as unrestricted liberty of action. But he says the way your consciousness is not a thing and its being not a thing is the reason you are free.  Being a thing would limit it too much.  The more something is a mere thing the less freedom it has.  A rock cannot go for a walk.  He is consistent in identifying the nothingness of one's consciousness with freedom.  Your consciousness being a kind of nothing is free to penetrate reality which is a thing.  What do we do with this insight?  Sartre wants us to lose not our minds but to be open to stopping them from holding us back.  Get out of your head so you can be other than what you are.

 

For Freud, the emotion you have indicates what is lurking in the unconscious mind. But emotion and the conscious mind are totally separate. Sartre rejects this as nonsense. He said that if you choose to repress some feeling or thought, you have to know what is in the unconscious in order to do that. So it is not really unconscious after all. For Sarte, self-deception does not really exist. Self-evasion and self-distraction are behaviours that are described as self-deception when in fact they are not. Every emotion has an object so emotions are intentional ways of perceiving and understanding what happens around you and in you. Emotion is directed towards something. To love is not just to love. It is to love someone. Fear is always fear of something. Emotion is a way of dealing with a scary existence in a scary world. By hating an enemy you think you magically change the situation so that it is no longer as dangerous and that you can handle it. Emotion is that which makes you feel you can magically weaken or destroy the danger and thus you feel safe. Emotions are about serving this function.

Sartre advocates a form of virtue ethics wherein morality is not about rules and laws and abstract principles but about living in a way that lets your human potential flourish.  Virtue is getting on with people and not about how you adhere to principles such as kindness or compassion.

Sartre is helpful for those who wish to cultivate gratitude.  This is his understanding.  Nothing is really your own which is why gratitude is possible. So you must not relate to any person or thing in a possessive way.  These teachings show you must let others be themselves and accept these differences as something to be gratefully celebrated.  You must also let you be free to be yourself instead of trying to possess yourself.

 

I would point out that if God owns all things then he can make whatever you have belong to you. Thus true gratitude and the strongest gratitude can only arise in so far as you ignore God.

 

He says that Christians are arguing that if you sin and are unrepentant and get damned in Hell forever then you force God to damn you so God's power is limited.  God wants to save you and you won't let him.  The point here is that God is limited by being unable to do anything about it.  Who knows what other limits God has and if there is any point in wanting his salvation.   The God thing does not automatically fix the problem of the meaning of existence.

Too many confuse ultimate goal with eternal goal. Looking for meaning in the here and and now could be the ultimate goal. A goal that is ours by accident or luck is no less a goal.  The most important goals depend on accidents and the power of chance.

 

INTENTION

 

Intention is not essential for meaning. Religion presumes that you need a God to intend your life to be valuable for it to be valuable! But life has to be valuable for intending cannot make it valuable. You cannot make a pebble you pick up on the beach as important as the Hope Diamond.  To want God to intend you to be precious is making it about you not him.  Existentialism tells you to intend your life to have meaning regardless of what a God intends.  Ironically both God believers and existentialists are doing the same thing: they are trying to make life have meaning by giving it meaning.  So believers are really existentialists who wish to use God or the God idea like a placebo.  Again they are just being manipulative.  To treat God like that is like atheism in the sense that God is not taken seriously.

 

SUMMARY OF EXISTENTIALISM

 

Existentialism says that truth is largely unknown and is of total and complete importance even when you do not know for sure what is true.

 

According to Sartre, no theory about how we know anything is valid except the truth that the experimenter is a component of the experimental system.  You are part of every experiment you do so what you do teaches you something about you. Being a member of a family gives you real knowledge of what the family is about but coming into it from outside does not.  You are part of the experiment which is why it is so informative.

 

I would add that is meaning and truth are inseparably linked understanding that you are part of the experiment and everything is an experiment gives you a sense of meaning.


Existentialism summaries five themes.

 

The first is that your existence precedes your essence. Your choices create your essence and make you what you are. It is wrong then to think that you exist and that is why you are the way you are.

 

The second is that we are at our core all about time. The past and the future are not as important as the present.

 

The third is that I must look after myself as an individual.


The fourth is we are bigger than our lives in the sense that we can stand outside them and reflect on them and evaluate how they are going. We have freedom and thus we also have the responsibility that comes with it.

The fifth is that we must live according to our freedom which means we must be ethical.

 

A sub-theory is that evil cannot be fixed. The evil one degrades his own freedom and his own self.

 

Another sub-theory is that instead of discovering what is right and wrong the existentialist must decide what is right and wrong.

 

Another sub-theory is that you must think that when you choose something you choose for all people. Sarte argued that if you decide what you will be, you have no ability to do that without automatically deciding what other people should be as well.

 

Another sub-theory is that if you see you have no ultimate value or ultimate hope then if you choose to accept this then you end up showing yourself superior to entities in nature that cannot make that deliberate choice. So you get meaning from choosing.  I would insist that ultimate value and ultimate hope are two separate things.  You can have ultimate value without having ultimate hope.  The first is the most important.  Ultimate value is not to be confused with absolute value.  You can still be the most important thing in the universe without having ultimate value.  Not having ultimate value is not to say you have no value at all.  On the contrary you are still as valuable as you need to be.