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.

No related content found.

2 thoughts on “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?”

  1. This is a very interesting site.

    You remark on Matthew 5:48 “Therefore be ye ‘perfect'” I have often been troubled by this passage. I think the problem is simply a common error in translation. The greek word used in the original text is “telios” which, in Greek means “Complete, fully matured, grown up” So the passage might more accurately be translated “Therefore be complete and fully matured as your Father in Heaven is complete.”

    I am just reading All Things Shining by Herbert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. They refer to Kierkegaard but do not go into a lot of detail. The book is a philosophical treatise against nihilism. I get the clear impression that they view Kierkegaard as a philosophical hero, but I was left wanting more from them on the ways they think Kierkegaard illuminates Luther, who, I think, together form the foundations of Christian existentialism.

  2. The “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.” The presupposition of this move is that “our relationship with God” is separate and distinct from “all our human affairs.” This error comes from focusing on the personifications of God (Jesus and the Parent) while forgetting what is essential to God: the Holy Spirit. If you seek a relationship of love with the Holy Spirit, what is the ultimate object of your love: holiness or spirit? Since the goodness of holiness is its usefulness for spirit, you love holiness for the sake of spirit. Thus, the ultimate object of your love is spirit. There is no genuine love of God (Holy Spirit) that is not first and foremost love of spirit in all its forms. Love of holy spirit is not separable form love of spirit generally. You simply cannot have one without the other. A lack of love for fallible human spirit entails a lack of love for Holy Spirit and vice versa. Thus, any religion that puts love of God above and apart from love of others has missed the point that as objects of love, God is one among equals. Genuine Holy Spirit loves all spirits equally as ends in themselves, but for all of their sakes, desires that each unholy spirit mature from unholiness into holiness. The only sense in which God is greater than a human is that God is a better (more capable and reliable) servant of spirit. As ends in themselves, God and humans are equals. This is why God loves us so much and suffers for our sake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *