Sunday, November 29, 2009

Revisiting the Conflict between Existentialism and Religion

I know it was a couple of weeks ago when we discussed the role of God in existentialism, but the idea continues to plague me. We continuously debated whether belief in God is “allowed” if one is an existentialist philosopher. We came to one possible conclusion, in which a belief in God could serve as a “meaning making activity” in our lives. Although this proposes the idea of God and existentialism functioning harmoniously, this still does not seem convincing. If one claims to be an existentialist, he asserts that he is born entirely free make meaning for himself or not. If he adopts a belief in God, he recognizes a higher being in control of his life. This directs him to live according to a certain “plan.” Thus, the person’s existentialist beliefs regress as he accepts God as the All-Powerful Creator. He negates the idea that he is the original source of his freedom. Therefore, I do not believe that a true existentialist can simultaneously believe in God.

Tillich discusses the concept of fear and anxiety in the context of courage. Like we discussed earlier, fear is the unpleasant aversion to an animate object, but anxiety is what underlies that fear. It is as if we are giving control to that object, and we are anxious because we anticipate the harm it might cause. It is the recognition that it could end us. Courage is the feeling in which we take control of our emotions even in knowing that something could kill us or cause the “nonbeing.” Tillich claims that religion is omnipresent, especially in the “threat of nonbeing.” I think that this ties into the “role- of- God- in- existentialism” argument. Religion to some people is the stringent belief in God, in others religion causes skepticism and apathy, in others it is meaningless and causes the denial of all gods. However, in the threat of nonbeing, we are always faced with religion. If one is devout, they understand that their death is God’s responsibility. This would then be sloughing off responsibility, as one allows another Being to control the afterlife. If religion for one causes him to deny or be skeptical of God, they remain unclear of the afterlife. That would make the idea of death even more unbearable. Would this belief, that religion must always be present, allow for this excerpt to be entirely existential? It seems that if it were existential in its purist form, then religion need not be always present.


  1. Jen, I have struggled with deciding whether God can exist if one is a truly an existentialist. I have not thought through all the philosophers, but do you think that if one is an atheist existentialist he fears death more than an existentialist that believes in God and an after life. I would presume that if one did not believe in God, the thought of death would be alot more terrifying. If you believe in the afterlife, then death does not mean the end of you're existence but a transformation into something else depending on your religion.

  2. The problem I have with a person believing in God not being able to truly be an existentialist, is that it almost contradicts the idea of Sartre's that we are more than a label, for lack of a better word--A gay man is more than just gay, a catagorization made by society. I feel like just because someone is a Christian or a believer in God, etc., they cannot be immediatly ruled out from being an existentialist. They may have some exisistential values or like some aspects of existentialism. Existentialism embodies many different ideas and aspects and just because a believer in God may not value every single aspect, they may be able to connect or live by a few. I mean, I guess you wouldn't be able to fully be an existentialist, but isn't that just a label as well? What's important is the meaning attached to it.


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