How would you, as an Existentialist yourself, respond to charges that Existentialism is too relativistic and undisciplined for Christian faith? Also, how would you reconcile Kierkegaardian radical individualism with the traditional and Biblical idea of the importance of church and fellowship?

It’s fair to say that pure existentialism is unsustainable. The burden of radical free choice quickly become mentally and emotionally overtaxing, as though one was carrying the weight of the universe on one’s shoulders. My existentialism, therefore, is anchored by Christianity at one end and humanism at the other –as Kierkegaard, godfather of existentialism, intended.

For an atheist existentialist such as Sartre or Camus, the burden of choice extends beyond the self to encompass the entire world. If some facet of my world is not as I would have it be, I bear complete and undiminishable responsibility for that fact. I have chosen it to be that way, and must choose and act differently if I wish it to change. In effect, each person is viewed as having the same position of responsibility as the deity of his own universe.

A Christian existentialist is aware, however, that the universe rests ultimately in God’s hands. This removes the insupportable burden of perfection from our shoulders (although perhaps Matthew 5:48 may indicate the opposite).

Humanism comes into play on the other end of things –in relationship to the incompatibility of radical freedom with the basic fabric of human interactions, as epitomized by concepts such as discipline and fellowship. The key Kierkegaarian move is to realize that all our human affairs are meaningless in relationship to the all-encompassing importance of our relationships with God –but then to treat those affairs as though even the most trivial among them was filled with profound meaning. This produces another paradox from a philosopher who reveled in paradox: in that he argues that the highest use of radical freedom is to invest it in conventional institutions and values such as marriage and fidelity (see Kierkegaard’s Narrative).

The Kierkegaardian life, however, only appears on its surface to be as trivial and prosaic as the lives lived by less reflective or existential figures. On the inside it is radically restructured so that even the most programmed moment within it is a free choice, and every free choice is a prayer, and every prayer leads towards a deepening of the personal relationship with God. I do think Kierkegaard erred, however, in never extending this concept beyond the individual level to encompass a community. Even the Kierkegaardian marriage is only really considered from the perspective of one of the partners; and thus as a personal act, not a communal one (perhaps explaining why Kierkegaard failed so miserably at putting the idea into practice).

If we look to the Bible, however, we can view Jesus’ transformation of the basic communal act of sharing a meal into the the sacrament of Holy Communion as a model for a communal life lived in the same mindful way as the individualist life envisioned by Kierkegaard –and the lives of the early Christians as a example of that same concept in action.  In the end, what Kierkegaard was trying to teach us is not so different from one of the central lessons of Saint Paul –that Christianity can never be lived by a rulebook. It is founded on a living relationship with God through Christ, and the discipline it provides must come from within.

Would you agree with those such as Alister McGrath that Christianity is rationally defensible, or would you say that the rational aspect is unimportant? If the latter, how would you respond to charges of thoughtless fanaticism in your religiosity?

This is a fantastic question.

I begin my answer by noting that rationality is overvalued and its capacity overestimated. The ability of the human mind to apprehend what it considers is vast, but not unlimited. Not everything, therefore, can be understood in ways that make apparent sense and align with all the other things that we know. In particular, God would not be God if He could be fully comprehended. For this reason, I side with those who call faith unreasonable.

As a student of Kierkegaard, however, I also note that the central paradox of Christianity, of God present with us, is no more of a paradox than the paradox of existence itself. Why should there be something rather than nothing? Why does our existence mainifest in the shape that it has, rather than in some other form? Why does each of us individually and idiosyncratically exist, and why are we bound by space and time? These are questions that have no rational answers, yet we live with the paradoxes they imply because we lack the ability to do otherwise.

This leads me to what I take to be the key Kierkegaardian insight: The mystery of Christ is not only on a par with the mystery of existence, it is in fact the same mystery. The mystery of why God would enter the universe and suffer and die is the very same mystery as why that universe would exist at all, and why there would be suffering and death within it in the first place.

All this having been said, however, I think there’s a danger in dismissing faith as merely or dogmatically irrational. The believer, I would claim, is not simply a believer in defiance of all evidence –which would indeed make him the thoughtless fanatic of your query.  Speaking as a believer, I would say that God has demonstrated His existence to me with evidence that is plentiful and personally compelling –yet not of a sort that lends itself to conclusive depersonalized proofs.

My aim in making such a claim is not to present a case for God’s existence capable of convincing the non-believer, but to advance the argument that the intrinsic irrationality (or what we might call the “transrationality”) of faith does not necessarily imply that the person who embraces faith must do so in an irrational manner. One may safely assume that the person who believes does so for personally valid reasons, even if those reasons are not easily understood by the non-believer.

This, it seems to me, is the best way to approach the ontological proofs of theological rationalists like Aquinas and Descartes, the apologetics of someone like C.S.Lewis, or the calculated wagers of Pascal and his ilk –not as attempts to equate faith with reason, but rather as ways of demonstrating that faith and reason are at least compatible with one another; and therefore that the embrace of one does not necessitate the destruction of the other.

democracy implies that, the majority rules, what if the majorities are wrong, the minorities being right

There’s not much to say here other than “you’re absolutely right!” What you’ve identified is the chief problem with majority-rule democracy. One person can be right while ninety-nine are wrong. Whatever the popular mythos may claim, there is nothing magical about voting that ensures the right decision will be made.

It’s important to remember that voting the way we do it –assuming that you are an American, or from a country with a similar system –is nothing more than a compromise solution designed to give individual citizens a say in the way their government is run, while still giving some protection to the nation as a whole from the idle whims and sudden enthusiasms of the mob.

There are other solutions as well, each with its own weaknesses:

In a pure or direct democracy, the citizens make the laws themselves, with no elected officials between them and the process. This system has almost always ended in disaster, both because there is chaos and disorder inherent in trying to determine what are the laws and how they should be enforced, as well as because of the observation Plato made in The Republic, that those who love freedom the most are the most vulnerable to the charms of a charismatic tyrant. That’s the reason our system is a representative democracy rather than a pure or direct democracy. In theory, the elected officials stand between us and our worst mob impulses.

In a consensus democracy, officials are elected or laws enacted only when all people agree –thus eliminating the tyranny of the majority. However, it becomes impossibly difficult to reach consensus in groups of more than about 6 or 7 people, so this is unworkable for large-scale democracy.

In a winner takes all vote, such as the American presidential election, the majority makes the choice. However, even so, we have a system that requires (much) more than a majority for decisions that the Founding Fathers didn’t want taken lightly –such as amending the constitution.

In a proportional vote, such as the British Parliament or the American Democratic primaries, the minority is still represented in any given situation, by being given a percentage of representatives proportional to the size of the minority.

My own favorite system based on one proposed by a character in Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — I don’t know if it was original to him or not. In it, every ten people have the option to select a representative to represent them. Ten representatives can select a super representative, and so forth, up to the top of the system. However, nothing is done by vote. Each person is made a representative by the consensus of those he represents, and they may change their minds at any time. If a representative loses one of her constituents, she will need to find another immediately or lose her position. Thus, each representative fully represents all his constituents, not just the majority.  I don’t know that it’s ever been tried in real life, but it has its charms as an idea.