It is often said that existentialism and religion are two philosophies that cannot coexist. Existentialists believe in the inherent meaninglessness of life, while religious believers find comfort in faith and a higher power. However, some people argue that these two ideologies can coexist. This blog post will examine both sides of the argument and conclude whether religion and existentialism can coexist.
Why is Religion opposed to Existentialism?
Religion believes that human existence has a clear purpose. Christianity says that this purpose is to live according to God’s will. On the other hand, existentialism is a philosophy based on the premise that human existence has no meaning or purpose. Religion states that to have a meaningful life, one must abide by all the religious rules prescribed either by their holy book or deity. Therefore, these two concepts tend to move in different directions. However, there are some instances where existentialism can be joined with religions and form other hybrid philosophies or concepts.
Key similarities between existentialism and religions are related to having multitudes of ideas. For instance, Buddhism and Existentialism contain many ideas for the belief system [Source]. Also, religion emphasizes people finding meaning and purposes in their lives. This trait of existentialism liberates people from finding their meaning and purpose in the meaningless world. Religion gives a person freedom to choose a righteous life, and existentialism talks about free people who can define their purpose. These concepts believe that the world is a cold and cruel place, and people ought to live in avoidance of its demands.
A notable difference between religion and existentialism is the belief in a deity. In most religions, a deity is the central power being who has control over the believers. Existentialism treats the individual as an important figure in channeling his life path. Under religions, humans are subjects, but they are free to do whatever they want in existentialism.
And this is why existentialism is closely linked with nihilism. Existentialists argue that people will find meaning in their desired activities, and religions state that meaning and purpose are found in the core principles of a particular religion. Those who believe in a certain religion are more likely to have universal meaning in life. For instance, Christians aim to live a righteous life which will be a one-way ticket to heaven. But in existentialism, people might have diverse purposes and meaning in life, depending on one’s life choices and desires. In dealing with the cruel world, religions dictate that people must follow religious rules, and existentialism encourages individuals to create their paths.
What is Neo Existentialism?
According to Markus Gabriel, neo existentialism is “the view that there is no single phenomenon or reality corresponding to the ultimately very messy umbrella term ‘the mind'” [Source],
Neo existentialism is “an anti-naturalist view that states that human mindedness consists of an open-ended proliferation of mentalistic vocabularies” [Source].
Relationship between Religion and Existentialism
The relationship between religion and existentialism can be seen through existential theology, which argues that people cannot find genuine faith and spiritual meaning in organized religions, rituals, or so-called holy books. But such faith can be individual [Source]. Existentialism is coupled with religions, including Christian existentialism and Muslim existentialism. Also, both religion and existentialism have shared values of revealing how the world is cruel and people have to find meaning.
Christian Existentialism vs. Atheistic Existentialism
Merriam Webster dictionary defines Christian existentialism as “a form of existentialism stressing subjective aspects of the human person considered as a creature of God especially: such a theory emphasizing (1) the natural desire of God’s creatures to seek God (as in the philosophers and thinkers Augustine, Pascal, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Gabriel Marcel) or (2) the distance between humans as sinners and omnipotent God (as in Kierkegaard and the dialectical or crisis theology of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner)” [Source].
Atheistic existentialism refers “to excluding any transcendental, metaphysical, or religious beliefs from philosophical existentialist thought” [Source].
The difference between these two philosophies is that Christian existentialism recognizes the existence of God, but atheistic existentialism refutes this idea. Atheistic existentialism does not believe that people must live in accordance with whatever this deity says, while Christian existentialism argues that God dictates how we live. Atheistic existentialists go to the extent of describing those who believe in God as having ‘Bad Faith.’ They opposed the meaning of life and creation. Christian existentialists tend to support these ideologies since they believe in God. Atheistic existentialism is deeply rooted in atheism.
Do Existentialists believe in God?
Existentialists cannot be put under one bracket since they have different beliefs under the same philosophy of existentialism. For instance, the aforementioned concepts of Christian existentialism and Atheistic existentialism are very different because Christian existentialists believe in God while atheistic existentialists do not believe in deities. The founding principles of existentialism did not exist in gods. Philosophers argue that existentialism can be atheistic, theological (or theistic), or agnostic [Source].
Theistic and Atheistic Existentialism
Theistic existentialism was built on the belief in the existence of God and how He is the Source of our being. It has a Christian outlook that believes in the purpose and meaning of life, and those who believe in God are regarded as ‘true believers’ [Source].
Atheistic existentialism “rejects the notion of a god and his transcendent will that should dictate how we should live.” Atheistic existentialists do not believe the creation of life has meaning and describe those believing in gods as having bad faith. It has an atheist outlook.
What is Theistic Existentialism?
Theistic existentialism is a Christian-based philosophy that believes in the existence of God. It argues that God is real and has power over human life. Because of this, humans ought to live a life according to his demands, and he has the authority to dictate how we live our lives. A belief in God is a source of good faith, and one becomes a true believer who has been enlightened [Source].
Christianity vs. Existentialism
Christianity and existentialism state that people must find meaning and purpose in life. Christians find meaning by following Christian rules laid out in the bible, and existentialists find meaning in doing whatever one desires. The difference between these is that Christianity revolves around the existence of God, but existentialists are divided on the existence of deities. Christianity comprises Christian believers, but existentialism can be atheistic, theological (or theistic), or agnostic [Source].