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Existentialism and Religion

Updated on June 21, 2013
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Existentialism and Religion

This articles shows different aspects of Existentialism and Religion, and how the two have much more in common than people realize.

What is Existentialism? These days, the term ‘existentialist’ is synonymously used when describing awkward situations, unusual movie plots, or strange life events which are too odd and incomprehensible by the greater part of society. To better explain: a hamburger, an automobile and a home, serve their purpose to us humans. A cook, an engineer and an architect have set formulas, so they understand what they are doing and the full purpose behind their en-devour. So even before a short order cook, starts to make that delicious burger for you, they always make sure all of the ingredients are readily available to the hungry customer. Likewise, though considerably more complicated, is the case with building an automobile or a home. Formulas and rules are always needed beforehand for everything to function in our world. Even the person who invented the hamburger knew, or at least had a good idea of its purpose before hand - ‘pre-existent’ is the key word to describe all of this. Now, suppose no one in this world had never seeing an automobile before. You wake up one morning and find one parked outside your home. You approach the strange apparatus, investigate it, feel it, etc. If you carry on this way, you’d then be acting like an existentialist of sorts.... Human beings are born with preset social laws handed to us by our parents, the country we live in - the world is full with 'status quo', so there’s little for us to create, especially if we decide to do something without a preset purpose in mind. We’re born, go to school, mature to adulthood, reach old age and eventually die - we even need to plan our death and decide whether we want to be buried or cremated, so that we’re not a burden to our love ones left behind. Just about everything has been worked out for us, in an attempt to make our lives easier and more useful. Dostoevsky, one of the great novelists of all times, as well as one of the few writers who delve deep into philosophy and psychology in his works, takes up the subject of existentialism in his controversial novella “Notes from Underground”; the underground man is hemmed by social confines that to him have little meaning. He tries to create a new moral code, but realizes he can’t. He exhibits psychopathic tendencies and ultimately sees the futility behind his relentless pursuit to change the structure of the world in which he lives.

During the past five hundred years or so, some of the major schools of philosophies were introduced by Decartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel and Marx - some say Marx represented the end of philosophy, and from then on after him, science and psychology have taken over where philosophy left off. To counteract each of these great men of philosophy, there were hundreds of detractors opposing their opinions and schools of thought - Kierkegaard took Hegel on....

Kierkegaard was trained in theology and philosophy - he was a Christian; however, he did not always agree with what the church had to say on the matter of his 'personal Christian faith. Kierkegaard is considered to have been an important forerunner of Existentialism, along with Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. Among one of the things which Kierkegaard questioned, was The Book of Genesis. “Fear and Trembling” is one of Kierkegaard’s greatest works, and it’s in this work where he examines the relationship between God and Abraham. Kierkegaard asks, whom was it that told Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac? Abraham heard a voice, but how did Abraham know it was an angel of God, and not Satan, or perhaps even another unknown entity? You've met these types of individuals before, a Jew or a Muslim who may not always agree with what their Rabbi or Imam has to say on the matter of their faith. This individual may be deeply religious, a devoted Jew, a devoted Christian, or a devoted Muslim. They want to understand their God, but on their own individual terms only. They may or may not go to their Synagogue, Church or Mosque on a regular basis. They may not always read The Torah, The Bible or The Koran, but they love their faith and their God, but are esoteric about their belief system. If you meet or know such an individual, he may be a religious existentialist without even knowing it....


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    • John Sarkis profile image
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      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Nina, and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I think Jesus was very clear on any given subject; Jesus was God, in my personal opinion/belief.

      Thanks and take care

      John

    • profile image

      nina 5 years ago

      Do you think that Jesus was an Extentialist?

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi dahoglund and thanks for stopping by.

      It seems as if Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, the three most important forerunners to existentialism were not clear on this subject either; nevertheless, the French were the first true existetialists, because, they put the school together. Until someone actually finds out why the "Undergroung man" behaved the way he did, no one will ever truly understand what it means to be an existentialist.

      Take care

      John

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi John, you are forcing me to try to recall college conversations that go back 50 years. I had a friend who was a grad student in Philosophy so such conversations came upThere was a discussion of Christian Existentialism but I cannot remember the name but it would have been a Catholic philosopher/theologian popular in the early 1950's.

      I never could get my mind totally around the subject. However, I was a fan of the TV show "Route 66" and on of the writers was an existentialist. His name was stirling Silliphant. I could spot one of his scripts without reading the credits. I still cannot put the philosophy into words though.

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Bob, I'm really impressed with your knowledge of Christian Theology and philosophy. I find your articles quite interesting and different than the norm and I think that's great.

      See around in HP - thanks

      John

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 6 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Interesting article, John...thanks. In answer to Kierkegaard's question, Abraham's faith was what convinced him he heard God's voice. Note particularly in the rest of the story that God stopped the killing because Abraham showed he was willing to be obedient. Lack of obedience in the Biblical view of things in the Garden of Eden is what required later sacrifices. Also, Abraham accurately predicted that God would provide the lamb; which Biblical scholars...or simply we Bible readers...see as a 'picture' of the Lamb of God with His crown of thorns given as a sacrifice for sin for "all who believe" as John 3:16 states. I think Plato might talk about the Perfect Sacrifice existing prior to the creation of the sheep, if my college philosophy courses are properly remembered. If not, I can always stand some correction!

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you Vinaya...

      "Perspective" is correct. Yes, I truly believe that if you put Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, the 3 most important forefunners to Existentialism, in the same room, they'll most likely kill each other. Yet, it's different ideologies like my example that make Existentialism unique....

      To quote Woody Allen "the only philosophy course I took was on Existentialism. ...final exam... returned exam paper back to teacher with no answers... passed!" LOL

      Take care and God Bless

      John

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 6 years ago from Nepal

      Religion and existentialism, sometimes can be complimentary, and sometimes opposing. Thanks for this short introduction. I enjoyed reading your perspective.

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you AudreyHowitt for commenting.

      Yes, I can see how you'd like this type of literature judging from your writings on HP.

      Thanks again and God Bless

      John

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you gifalcone for stopping by.

      Yes, I love the existentialist myself; Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Kafka are my favorite authors of all times. They've have always been credited with having been important forerunners to modernism in both literature and philosophy.

      Thanks and take care

      John

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 6 years ago from California

      I liked your hub quite a bit--I am a bit of an existentialist (therapist) mixed with some psychodynamic tendencies---mostly, I am a singer and poet---I guess I am--or I hope I am--outside the box a bit--great read--

    • gjfalcone profile image

      gjfalcone 6 years ago from Gilbert, Arizona

      Thanks for your Hub on Existentialism and Religion,

      Thoroughly enjoyable read I associated with my Life's experience throughout.

      Thanks For SHARING

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you Jewels. Yes, and hey, I'm a real square myself...all of my friends are a testament to this fact. I think this is why I enjoy Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard, because they get me to think outside the box once in a while....

      Take care of yourself!

      John

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

      The set of laws handed to us is what constitutes a meme and unraveling that set of laws, in my opinion, is paramount to defining individualism. I've often pondered free will and how it is really difficult to have it when we are influenced by those set of laws handed to us. Who defined the laws and what were those laws based on?

      I enjoy philosophy but is it just intellectual ping pong? My understanding of ancient philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, they were drawing from a wisdom, a learned knowledge direct from experience. We are in such a different epoch where tactile experiences are few. In ancient times those tactile experiences were many. But even to them the laws of the universe were difficult to grasp. The lost art of knowing is like an atrophied muscle.

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Micky,

      Yes, I couldn't agree with you more on the subject. I believe in God, but like everyone else, I have problems agreeing with every thing said in The Bible.

      Thanks and take care!

      John

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hello Jean,

      Yes, I couldn't agree with you more. I have problems with that section of the Book of Genesis as well....

      Thanks!

      John

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Nicely done John. I have problems with the BOOKS. I have problems with Abraham.

      Whenever the story of Abraham is told - there should also be a disclaimer, a warning.

      MY GOD will NEVER tell me to sacrifice my child.

      My God is a CREATOR - not destroyer. I certainly will not adhere to every word that comes from ANY BOOK.

      MAN touched them all. God's word can be distorted by a printer. THIS is why - Micky Dee WILL have a personal relationship with God and NO preacher, priest, guru of any sort will sway me. God bless!

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 7 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello John,

      This was very interesting and I enjoyed it. Years ago I lent my fave philosophy book to someone and she never gave it back. I may have to order a few new ones. I have never read Fear and Trembling, but always found the idea of Abraham sacrificing his only son something a loving god would never ask someone to do to prove their faith.

    • John Sarkis profile image
      Author

      John Sarkis 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Tony, if I've inspired you to read anything, then I can pad myself in the back for sure. You're so much much more knowledgeable than I am in philosophy, it's intimidating....

      God Bless you and your family - take care

      John

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      You've inspired me to re-read "Fear and Trembling". Thank you.

      Love and peace

      Tony

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