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To What Extent Christian Existentialism Is Possible, Term Paper Example

Pages: 3

Words: 921

Term Paper

Existentialism emphasizes the individual’s search for meaning. In this way, it is neither a systematic philosophy, nor one enamored with the intellect. Historically, existentialism is more often synonymous with Christian philosophy, transcendence, and humanism, than atheism and despair[1]. “Christian” existentialism encompasses the noble concept of man’s personal relationship with God, as Marcel emphasized the importance of Christians living the faith of their religion in daily life. The mainline thrust of “Christian” existentialism is not away from the claims of God’s eternal law upon human life.

For untold generations, Christians had held united to the immutability of the law of God as the basis of truth and morality. Thus, right and wrong tended to be clearly defined and the parameters of acceptable behavior were taught early in life. In the 19th century, however, there was a marked shift away from belief in the immutability of God’s law, to reliance upon social mores. Nevertheless, even at this level of behavior, there was a tendency for Christianity to remain reasonably well intact and for morality similar to the enunciated in the World of God to be retained.

For Marcel, he emphasizes personal meaning, and his relationship with God, in a way that makes Christianity not a social event confined to Sunday, but a way of life that find meaning in Christ-like living . However, from the point of view of the established Christian system, the “existential” scheme, if taken to an extreme, comes close to an attempt to main ‘faith’ (that is, loving and obedient trust in God) apart from its intellectual and rational foundation in “The Faith” (that is, the Church’s historic witness to the facts about Christ, and the doctrine formulated to expound and safeguard the meaning of these facts)[2].

Existentialism was supposed to confront the categories of understanding with existence and show them to be wanting. As Marcel argued, “If we could even understand the world that given to us how could we make dogmatic claims about the existence, or not, of God” [3]. God, in Marcel’s words, was a mystery, to be approached, through faith, not knowledge[4].

But the Christian existentialists were not content simply to leave a space open for a belief in God. If God could not be proved, they argued, and then a powerful moral argument for His existence could be delivered from experiences of the world[5]. If attention was turned to the positive experiences in life, a more optimistic and moral philosophy could be built, one that would point towards God[6].

It would have been not possible to ignore the Christian existentialists, but Sartre showed great hostility towards them[7]; his presentation of Christian politics and choice of examples (the man whose failure in life led him to the priesthood, or the mad woman who thought she was talking to God) shown that for him Christianity was always on the side of bad faith and resignation[8]. The acknowledgement of Christian existentialism was grudging at best; Sartre suggested that existentialism was simple to define, but “what complicates the matter is that there are two kinds of existentialists: one the one hand, the Christians; and, on the other, the atheistic existentialists[9].

The compatibility of Marcel’s vision of the human person with Christianity was to have a quite profound significance for his own life. For Marcel, the experience of God takes the form of a participation in “BEING”, even though it is not possible to know or to say in what way humans participate[10]. The presence of God is found in a spiritual dimension of human existence, an ontological point where the divine and the human meet[11]. This mysterious presence of the divine cannot be objectified; it takes the form of a blind intuition. Marcel explicitly bases his Christian view of the person in terms of his own experience – and its implications for human relationships, ethics and the transcendent – on the view that essence precedes existence[12].

Many writers like Marcel who style themselves as Christian existentialists, finding natural allies in the “demythologizing” exegetes of the New Testament, appear to go much further than this, and to advance upon what the traditional theologian regards as most dangerous ground. For example, arguing from the admitted fact that some heard the message of the empty tomb, yet did not receive faith, it has been affirmed that the supposed fact of the empty tomb is not important for faith, or even, to push the matter to the extreme, that the empty tomb is not a fact. So it has been taught that Christ died on the Cross and moldered in the tomb, while the disciples, reflecting upon His morally victorious life, received an “existential” experience that He had triumphed over death, and constructed the legend of the empty tomb in order vividly to symbolize this conviction of faith, and to communicate it to others. This is a salient example of a general treatment. So the Christ of historical fact more or less withers away, while a “Christ of faith” [13], known chiefly or solely in the heart, remains.

Bibliography

Marcel, Gabriel. Creative Fidelity. Fordham University Press, 2002: 162-167

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Humanism. Routledge, 1996: 65-76.

End Notes

[1]     Marcel, Gabriel. Creative Fidelity, (FORDHAM UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2002), p. 167

[2]     Marcel, Creative Fidelity, p. 171

[3]     Marcel, Creative Fidelity, p. 171

[4]     Marcel, Creative Fidelity, p. 171

[5]     Marcel, Creative Fidelity, p. 171

[6]     Marcel, Creative Fidelity, p. 172

[7]     Sartre, Jean-Paul, Existentialism and Humanism (Routledge, 1996), p. 65

[8]     Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, pp. 66.

[9]     Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, p. 66

[10]    Marcel, Creative Fidelity, 169.

[11]    Marcel, Creative Fidelity, 169.

[12]    Marcel, Creative Fidelity, 169.

[13]     Marcel, Creative Fidelity, p. 171

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