Christian existentialism

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Christian existentialism is a theo-philosophical movement which takes an existentialist approach to Christian theology. The school of thought is often traced back to the work of the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). [1]

Existentialism Philosophical study that begins with the acting, feeling, living human individual

Existentialism is the philosophical study that begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. It is associated mainly with certain 19th and 20th-century European philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief in that beginning of philosophical thinking.

Denmark Constitutional monarchy in Europe

Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a Nordic country and the southernmost of the Scandinavian nations. Denmark lies southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and is bordered to the south by Germany. The Kingdom of Denmark also comprises two autonomous constituent countries in the North Atlantic Ocean: the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark proper consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 443 named islands, with the largest being Zealand, Funen and the North Jutlandic Island. The islands are characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts, low elevation and a temperate climate. Denmark has a total area of 42,924 km2 (16,573 sq mi), land area of 42,394 km2 (16,368 sq mi), and the total area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands is 2,210,579 km2 (853,509 sq mi), and a population of 5.8 million.

Søren Kierkegaard Danish philosopher and theologian, precursor of Existentialism

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was against literary critics who defined idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, and thought that Swedenborg, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel and Hans Christian Andersen were all "understood" far too quickly by "scholars".

Contents

The existential approach to Christian theology has a long and diverse history including Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal and Maritain.

Kierkegaardian themes

Soren Kierkegaard Kierkegaard.jpg
Søren Kierkegaard

Christian existentialism relies on Kierkegaard's understanding of Christianity. Kierkegaard argued that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, and that its greatest paradox is the transcendent union of God and humans in the person of Jesus Christ. He also posited having a personal relationship with God that supersedes all prescribed moralities, social structures and communal norms, [2] since he asserted that following social conventions is essentially a personal aesthetic choice made by individuals.[ citation needed ]

Christianity is an Abrahamic Universal religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the New Testament. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Universe Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

The Universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. While the spatial size of the entire Universe is unknown, it is possible to measure the size of the observable universe, which is currently estimated to be 93 billion light years in diameter. In various multiverse hypotheses, a universe is one of many causally disconnected constituent parts of a larger multiverse, which itself comprises all of space and time and its contents.

Paradox statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true

A paradox is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to an apparently-self-contradictory or logically unacceptable conclusion. A paradox involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time.

Kierkegaard proposed that each person must make independent choices, which then constitute his or her existence. Each person suffers from the anguish of indecision (whether knowingly or unknowingly) until he or she commits to a particular choice about the way to live. Kierkegaard also proposed three rubrics with which to understand the conditions that issue from distinct life choices: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.

Major premises

One of the major premises of Kierkegaardian Christian existentialism entails calling the masses back to a more genuine form of Christianity. This form is often identified with some notion of Early Christianity, which mostly existed during the first three centuries after Christ's crucifixion. Beginning with the Edict of Milan, which was issued by Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 313, Christianity enjoyed a level of popularity among Romans and later among other Europeans. And yet Kierkegaard asserted that by the 19th century, the ultimate meaning of New Testament Christianity (love, cf. agape, mercy and loving-kindness) had become perverted, and Christianity had deviated considerably from its original threefold message of grace, humility, and love.

Logical consequence is a fundamental concept in logic, which describes the relationship between statements that hold true when one statement logically follows from one or more statements. A valid logical argument is one in which the conclusion is entailed by the premises, because the conclusion is the consequence of the premises. The philosophical analysis of logical consequence involves the questions: In what sense does a conclusion follow from its premises? and What does it mean for a conclusion to be a consequence of premises? All of philosophical logic is meant to provide accounts of the nature of logical consequence and the nature of logical truth.

Early Christianity period of Christianity preceding the First Council of Nicaea in 325

Early Christianity covers the period from its origins until the First Council of Nicaea (325). This period is typically divided into the Apostolic Age and the Ante-Nicene Period.

Crucifixion of Jesus Jesus crucifixion is described in the four canonical gospels

The crucifixion of Jesus occurred in 1st-century Judea, most likely between AD 30 and 33. Jesus' crucifixion is described in the four canonical gospels, referred to in the New Testament epistles, attested to by other ancient sources, and is established as a historical event confirmed by non-Christian sources, although there is no consensus among historians on the exact details.

Another major premise of Kierkegaardian Christian existentialism involves Kierkegaard's conception of God and Love. For the most part, Kierkegaard equates God with Love. [3] Thus, when a person engages in the act of loving, he is in effect achieving an aspect of the divine. Kierkegaard also viewed the individual as a necessary synthesis of both finite and infinite elements. Therefore, when an individual does not come to a full realization of his infinite side, he is said to be in despair. For many contemporary Christian theologians, the notion of despair can be viewed as sin. However, to Kierkegaard, a man sinned when he was exposed to this idea of despair and chose a path other than one in accordance with God's will.

Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection and to the simplest pleasure. An example of this range of meanings is that the love of a mother differs from the love of a spouse, which differs from the love of food. Most commonly, love refers to a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment.

Divinity divine mythological character

In religion, divinity or Godhead is the state of things that are believed to come from a supernatural power or deity, such as God, the supreme being, creator deity, or spirits, and are therefore regarded as sacred and holy. Such things are regarded as divine due to their transcendental origins or because their attributes or qualities are superior or supreme relative to things of the Earth. Divine things are regarded as eternal and based in truth, while material things are regarded as ephemeral and based in illusion. Such things that may qualify as divine are apparitions, visions, prophecies, miracles, and in some views also the soul, or more general things like resurrection, immortality, grace, and salvation. Otherwise what is or is not divine may be loosely defined, as it is used by different belief systems.

An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; particularly of being a person separate from other people and possessing their own needs or goals, rights and responsibilities. The exact definition of an individual is important in the fields of biology, law, and philosophy.

A final major premise of Kierkegaardian Christian existentialism entails the systematic undoing of evil acts. Kierkegaard asserted that once an action had been completed, it should be evaluated in the face of God, for holding oneself up to divine scrutiny was the only way to judge one's actions. Because actions constitute the manner in which something is deemed good or bad, one must be constantly conscious of the potential consequences of his actions. Kierkegaard believed that the choice for goodness ultimately came down to each individual. Yet Kierkegaard also foresaw the potential limiting of choices for individuals who fell into despair. [4]

Evil profound immorality

Evil, in a general sense, is the opposite or absence of good. It can be an extremely broad concept, though in everyday usage is often used more narrowly to denote profound wickedness. It is generally seen as taking multiple possible forms, such as the form of personal moral evil commonly associated with the word, or impersonal natural evil, and in religious thought, the form of the demonic or supernatural/eternal.

Good and evil dichotomy in religion, ethics, and philosophy

In religion, ethics, philosophy, and psychology "good and evil" is a very common dichotomy. In cultures with Manichaean and Abrahamic religious influence, evil is usually perceived as the dualistic antagonistic opposite of good, in which good should prevail and evil should be defeated. In cultures with Buddhist spiritual influence, both good and evil are perceived as part of an antagonistic duality that itself must be overcome through achieving Śūnyatā meaning emptiness in the sense of recognition of good and evil being two opposing principles but not a reality, emptying the duality of them, and achieving a oneness.

<i>The Sickness Unto Death</i> book by Søren Kierkegaard

The Sickness Unto Death is a book written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. A work of Christian existentialism, the book is about Kierkegaard's concept of despair, which he equates with the Christian concept of sin, particularly original sin.

The Bible

Christian Existentialism often refers to what it calls the indirect style of Christ's teachings, which it considers to be a distinctive and important aspect of his ministry. Christ's point, it says, is often left unsaid in any particular parable or saying, to permit each individual to confront the truth on his own. [5] This is particularly evident in (but is certainly not limited to) his parables; for example in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 18:21-35). A good example of indirect communication in the Old Testament is the story of David and Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-14.

Parable succinct, didactic story which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles

A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse that illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters. A parable is a type of analogy.

Gospel of Matthew Books of the New Testament

The Gospel According to Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and one of the three synoptic gospels. It tells how the promised Messiah, Jesus, rejected by Israel, is killed, is raised from the dead, and finally sends the disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world. Most scholars believe it was composed between AD 80 and 90, with a range of possibility between AD 70 to 110. The anonymous author was probably a male Jew, standing on the margin between traditional and non-traditional Jewish values, and familiar with technical legal aspects of scripture being debated in his time. Writing in a polished Semitic "synagogue Greek", he drew on three main sources: the Gospel of Mark, the hypothetical collection of sayings known as the Q source, and material unique to his own community, called the M source or "Special Matthew".

David king of Israel and Judah

David is described in the Hebrew Bible as the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah after Saul and Ishbaal (Ish-bosheth).

An existential reading of the Bible demands that the reader recognize that he is an existing subject, studying the words that God communicates to him personally. This is in contrast to looking at a collection of "truths" which are outside and unrelated to the reader. [6] Such a reader is not obligated to follow the commandments as if an external agent is forcing them upon him, but as though they are inside him and guiding him internally. This is the task Kierkegaard takes up when he asks: "Who has the more difficult task: the teacher who lectures on earnest things a meteor's distance from everyday life, or the learner who should put it to use?" [7] Existentially speaking, the Bible doesn't become an authority in a person's life until he permits the Bible to be his personal authority.

Notable Christian existentialists

Christian existentialists include German Protestant theologians Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann, American existential psychologist Rollo May (who introduced much of Tillich's thought to a general American readership), British Anglican theologian John Macquarrie, American theologian Lincoln Swain, [8] American philosopher Clifford Williams, French Catholic philosophers Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Mounier, and Pierre Boutang, German philosopher Karl Jaspers, Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, and Russian philosophers Nikolai Berdyaev and Lev Shestov. Karl Barth added to Kierkegaard's ideas the notion that existential despair leads an individual to an awareness of God's infinite nature. Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky could be placed within the tradition of Christian existentialism.

The roots of existentialism have been traced back as far as St Augustine. [9] [10] [11] Some of the most striking passages in Pascal's Pensées , including the famous section on the Wager, deal with existentialist themes. [12] [13] [14] [15] Jacques Maritain, in Existence and the Existent: An Essay on Christian Existentialism, [16] finds the core of true existentialism in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

Radical Existential Christianity

It has been claimed that Radical Existential Christians’ faith is based in their sensible and immediate and direct experience of God indwelling in human terms. [17] It is suggested that individuals do not make or create their Christian existence; it does not come as a result of a decision one personally makes. The radical Protestants of the 17th century, for example Quakers may have been in some ways theo-philosophically aligned with radical existential Christianity.

See also

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<i>Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments</i> book attributed to Søren Kierkegaard

Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments is a major work thought to be by Søren Kierkegaard. The work is a poignant attack against Hegelianism, the philosophy of Hegel, especially Hegel's Science of Logic. The work is also famous for its dictum, Subjectivity is Truth. It was an attack on what Kierkegaard saw as Hegel's deterministic philosophy. Against Hegel's system, Kierkegaard is often interpreted as taking the side of metaphysical libertarianism or freewill, though it has been argued that an incompatibilist conception of free will is not essential to Kierkegaard's formulation of existentialism.

The philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard has been a major influence in the development of 20th-century philosophy, especially existentialism and postmodernism. Kierkegaard was a 19th-century Danish philosopher who has been labeled by many as the "Father of Existentialism", although there are some in the field who express doubt in labeling him an existentialist to begin with. His philosophy also influenced the development of existential psychology.

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Practice in Christianity is a work by 19th century theologian Søren Kierkegaard. It was published on September 27, 1850 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus, the author of The Sickness Unto Death. Kierkegaard considered it to be his "most perfect and truest book". In it, the theologian fully exposes his conception of the religious individual, the necessity of imitating Christ in order to be a true Christian and the possibility of offense when faced with the paradox of the incarnation. Practice is usually considered, along with For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourselves!, as an explicit critique of the established order of Christendom and the need for Christianity to be (re-)introduced into Christendom, since a good part of it consists in criticism of religious thinkers of his time.

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Thomas Henry Croxall was an English minister in Copenhagen, instrumental in translating the work of Søren Kierkegaard and introducing him to an English audience.

Leveling is a social process in which the uniqueness of the individual is rendered non-existent by assigning equal value to all aspects of human endeavors, thus missing all the intricacies and subtle complexities of human identity. Leveling is highly associated with existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Influence and reception of Søren Kierkegaard

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References

  1. M.J. Eliade & C.J. Adams (1987). Encyclopedia of Religion (v.5). Macmillan Publishing Company.
  2. Søren Kierkegaard (1846). Concluding Unscientific Postscript, authored pseudonymously as Johannes Climacus.
  3. Søren Kierkegaard (1849). The Sickness Unto Death Trans. Alastair Hannay (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 14.
  4. Søren Kierkegaard (1849). The Sickness Unto Death Trans. Alastair Hannay (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 24.
  5. Donald D. Palmer (1996). Kierkegaard For Beginners. London, England: Writers And Readers Limited. p. 25.
  6. Howard V. Hong (1983). "Historical Introduction" to Fear and Trembling. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, p. x.
  7. Søren Kierkegaard (1847). Works of Love. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York, N.Y. 1962. p. 62.
  8. Lincoln Swain (2005). Five Articles, Soma: A Review of Religion and Culture.
  9. Gordon R. Lewis (Winter 1965). "Augustine and Existentialism". Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 8,1, pp. 13–22.
  10. Michial Farmer (6 July 2010). "A Primer on Religious Existentialism, Pt. 4: Augustine". christianhumanist.org
  11. Craig J. N. de Paulo, ed. (2006). The Influence of Augustine on Heidegger: The Emergence of An Augustinian Phenomenology. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press.
  12. Desmond Clarke (2011). "Blaise Pascal", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
  13. Clifford Williams (July 3, 2005). "Pascal". cliffordwilliams.net
  14. Michial Farmer (20 July 2010). "A Primer on Religious Existentialism, Pt. 5: Blaise Pascal". christianhumanist.org
  15. Michial Farmer (27 July 2010). "A Primer on Religious Existentialism, Pt. 6: Apologetics". christianhumanist.org
  16. Jacques Maritain (1947). Existence and the Existent: An Essay on Christian Existentialism (Court traité de l'existence et de l'existent), translated by Lewis Galantiere and Gerald B. Phelan. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.
  17. Di Giovanni, Aldo (2014). The Existing Christ: an Existential Christology. Charlston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN   9781503134911.