Understanding the Existential Worldview

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Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Mon Oct 19, 2015 12:52 pm

I raise this point in response to a disagreement Mitch and I are having regarding the significance of Albert Camus and other existential writers, with respect to the meaning of life and the impact of existentialism.

I posit that existentialism, especially that of Camus and Kakfa, shows that the Existential worldview lacks a meaning of life. How do you justify that you are alive? For what purpose do you live? Is there something you were meant to achieve, and if so, what? While the questions come to us through a nihilist, Tolstoy, they are pertinent to existentialism. Existentialists, as I see them, do not answer those questions, but merely ask them more loudly.

It is my understanding that Mitch posits that existentialism, and especially that of Camus and Kierkegaard, demonstrates not only a meaning of life, but points one towards a Christian perspective. I will let Mitch further clarify that point for himself.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby mitchellmckain » Mon Oct 19, 2015 8:08 pm

Og3 wrote:I raise this point in response to a disagreement Mitch and I are having regarding the significance of Albert Camus and other existential writers, with respect to the meaning of life and the impact of existentialism.

I posit that existentialism, especially that of Camus and Kakfa, shows that the Existential worldview lacks a meaning of life. How do you justify that you are alive? For what purpose do you live? Is there something you were meant to achieve, and if so, what? While the questions come to us through a nihilist, Tolstoy, they are pertinent to existentialism. Existentialists, as I see them, do not answer those questions, but merely ask them more loudly.

If you want to dictate to other people what the meaning of their life is then I absolutely agree that you will find little of value in existentialism.

Og3 wrote:It is my understanding that Mitch posits that existentialism, and especially that of Camus and Kierkegaard, demonstrates not only a meaning of life, but points one towards a Christian perspective. I will let Mitch further clarify that point for himself.

The clarification is that I never said any such thing. Here is what I actually said:

Existentialism is all about finding meaning in life. The father of existentialism is Kierkegaard who is Christian. There is no incompatibility with Christianity. In fact existentialism was a stepping stone to Christianity for me.

Existentialism is indeed all about finding meaning in life. What is not about is dictating to people what the meaning of their life is. And, in fact, it will very strong criticize those who do this.

Existentialism was indeed a stepping stone to Christianity for me. But it certainly does not point one towards a Christian perspective. What it is helpful in doing is taking out out the trash. There is a LOT of trash in Christianity -- quickly demonstrated by any eager atheist: there is genocide, slavery and misogyny. There is legalism, selling indulgences, witch trials and crusades against others, even other Christians.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Mon Oct 19, 2015 10:34 pm

mitchellmckain wrote:
Og3 wrote:I raise this point in response to a disagreement Mitch and I are having regarding the significance of Albert Camus and other existential writers, with respect to the meaning of life and the impact of existentialism.

I posit that existentialism, especially that of Camus and Kakfa, shows that the Existential worldview lacks a meaning of life. How do you justify that you are alive? For what purpose do you live? Is there something you were meant to achieve, and if so, what? While the questions come to us through a nihilist, Tolstoy, they are pertinent to existentialism. Existentialists, as I see them, do not answer those questions, but merely ask them more loudly.
If you want to dictate to other people what the meaning of their life is then I absolutely agree that you will find little of value in existentialism.
On the contrary: Were I not a Christian, existentialism would be my philosophy of choice. Existential writers resonated with my own fears and concerns about justice and inequity and the ability to make others understand one's ideas.

I certainly do not wish to dictate someone else's meaning of life; I don't believe I said that. I do believe that if there is a meaning of life, it must be a universal objective meaning, and not merely a pleasant pastime. You're welcome to tell me that, for example, playing with kittens gives your life meaning; do not expect me to believe that we exist because kittens need to be played with.

Tolstoy posed the questions to himself: For what reason do you live (addressing, as it were, the man in the mirror)? Is there something you are intended to do, and if so, what? Solomon asked the same questions in Ecclesiastes; He listed each thing that he tried as a potential meaning for life. I do not think we can imagine a possible MOL that Solomon did not attempt, and yet he describes each one as "Striving after the wind."

Kafka raises very pointed questions about the Meaning of Life. His fragment on the Great Wall of China is very profound: One may dedicate ones life to a cause from the moment of birth, and yet that cause may be meaningless, and striving after the wind. Camus approaches the subject in a more oblique manner: Why did Mersault shoot the Arab five times? Well, because it was hot. That is, we cannot objectively understand or critique his subjective experience in the moment: He shot because it seemed like the thing to do, from his perspective, at that time. Don't ask what it has to do with whether he was in imminent danger, under provocation, or acting in self defense. "C'etait chaud." In a sense, it was fore-ordained; in another, it was a random happenstance.

Kurt Vonnegut would simply tells us that the moment was structured that way.
Og3 wrote: It is my understanding that Mitch posits that existentialism, and especially that of Camus and Kierkegaard, demonstrates not only a meaning of life, but points one towards a Christian perspective. I will let Mitch further clarify that point for himself.
The clarification is that I never said any such thing. Here is what I actually said:

Existentialism is all about finding meaning in life. The father of existentialism is Kierkegaard who is Christian. There is no incompatibility with Christianity. In fact existentialism was a stepping stone to Christianity for me.
I apologize. I misread the "stepping stone" to imply that it pointed you in the right direction. clearly, I inferred incorrectly.
Existentialism is indeed all about finding meaning in life. What is not about is dictating to people what the meaning of their life is. And, in fact, it will very strong criticize those who do this.
I wonder if you are confusing The Meaning of Life -- that is, the answers to Tolstoy's questions -- with "a meaningful life." As I said before, I will accept that you find meaning in petting kittens; I will not accept that mankind exists because kittens need petting.
Existentialism was indeed a stepping stone to Christianity for me. But it certainly does not point one towards a Christian perspective. What it is helpful in doing is taking out out the trash. There is a LOT of trash in Christianity -- quickly demonstrated by any eager atheist: there is genocide, slavery and misogyny. There is legalism, selling indulgences, witch trials and crusades against others, even other Christians.
I am perhaps unclear as to how existentialism "takes out the trash."
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby mitchellmckain » Tue Oct 20, 2015 12:05 am

Og3 wrote:I certainly do not wish to dictate someone else's meaning of life; I don't believe I said that. I do believe that if there is a meaning of life, it must be a universal objective meaning, and not merely a pleasant pastime. You're welcome to tell me that, for example, playing with kittens gives your life meaning; do not expect me to believe that we exist because kittens need to be played with.

Tolstoy posed the questions to himself: For what reason do you live (addressing, as it were, the man in the mirror)? Is there something you are intended to do, and if so, what? Solomon asked the same questions in Ecclesiastes; He listed each thing that he tried as a potential meaning for life. I do not think we can imagine a possible MOL that Solomon did not attempt, and yet he describes each one as "Striving after the wind."

A tool is made for an end. A hammer has a particular function and if it doesn't fulfill that function then it has no value and should be melted down its metal used for something else. But a child is quite different. A child is an end in itself. To make a child for some end is wrong.

The maxim of existentialism is "existence precedes essence" and what it means is that we are not tools created for an end -- as if our essence was decided before we even existed. It is our existence which comes first and then we find our essence from our experience of life. Existentialism is basically saying that we are children not tools -- subjects not objects.

Og3 wrote:Kafka raises very pointed questions about the Meaning of Life. His fragment on the Great Wall of China is very profound: One may dedicate ones life to a cause from the moment of birth, and yet that cause may be meaningless, and striving after the wind.

In metamorphosis, Kafka confronts the human experience of self-alienation and thus the need to find ourselves -- to find the meaning of our existence. The point is that existentialism is very much about the human search for meaning.

Og3 wrote:Camus approaches the subject in a more oblique manner: Why did Mersault shoot the Arab five times? Well, because it was hot. That is, we cannot objectively understand or critique his subjective experience in the moment: He shot because it seemed like the thing to do, from his perspective, at that time. Don't ask what it has to do with whether he was in imminent danger, under provocation, or acting in self defense. "C'etait chaud." In a sense, it was fore-ordained; in another, it was a random happenstance.

Yes Camus confronts the fact that external events like a brain tumor can take away our choices and things happen which we have little control over and even less understanding. But still our life even at its worst, can be filled with meaning and value. That is what we see in Mersault at the end of his life.

Og3 wrote:I wonder if you are confusing The Meaning of Life -- that is, the answers to Tolstoy's questions -- with "a meaningful life." As I said before, I will accept that you find meaning in petting kittens; I will not accept that mankind exists because kittens need petting.

I think you are confusing The Meaning of Life with the question of why do we exist? These are not the same thing. Existentialism is certainly not about the question of why do we exist? To Tolstoy's question, existentialism answer is that finding our own purpose and meaning is part of what it means to be alive -- otherwise we might as well be literally dead as a doornail.

Og3 wrote:
mitchellmckain wrote:Existentialism was indeed a stepping stone to Christianity for me. But it certainly does not point one towards a Christian perspective. What it is helpful in doing is taking out out the trash. There is a LOT of trash in Christianity -- quickly demonstrated by any eager atheist: there is genocide, slavery and misogyny. There is legalism, selling indulgences, witch trials and crusades against others, even other Christians.
I am perhaps unclear as to how existentialism "takes out the trash."


A Christianity which turns people into clockwork robots made for an end by a self-obsessed designer holds very little interest for me.
Existentialism is a stepping stone to Christianity for me because it helped me to look at what it offers in a different light -- one which isn't quite so contemptible.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Wed Oct 21, 2015 12:33 am

In one sense, I think that we are saying the same thing about Existentialism, with perhaps some different shading.

I do think that the idea of God as a self-obsessed designer who turns people into robots is a bit of a misconception. If anything, knowing God and living as a Christian has given me more freedom to be who I am as opposed to who others think I should be. It is the world that tells me I should react this way to that stimulus and another way to a different stimulus. God instead merely tells me the design he has in mind, and leaves me to discover the path to get there.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby mitchellmckain » Fri Oct 23, 2015 10:46 am

Og3 wrote:In one sense, I think that we are saying the same thing about Existentialism, with perhaps some different shading.

I conceded that existentialism does not do something you seem to think is important to do but which I think is wrong to do.

Og3 wrote:I do think that the idea of God as a self-obsessed designer who turns people into robots is a bit of a misconception. If anything, knowing God and living as a Christian has given me more freedom to be who I am as opposed to who others think I should be.

Indeed, it is human beings who put across this idea of God as a self-obsessed designer who intends people to be robots by making obedience more important than anything else. But those who do this are the religious ideologues and those who take their cue from them as a means to criticize. After all is it not those using religion as a tool of power and manipulation who most want to make religion all about obedience to them?

Og3 wrote:It is the world that tells me I should react this way to that stimulus and another way to a different stimulus.

"the world?" LOL Christianity is the largest, and certainly the most powerful religion in world. What then does this say about "the world?"

There certainly are all sorts of manipulators out there. There are the businesses which use advertising to create a market for what they offer (a majority of which who put on their Christian jackets when they go to church on Sunday). There are politicians who distract people from what is really important to make the race all about red herrings, trivialities, and downright lies (and again most at least wear a Christian disguise for that also).

Og3 wrote:God instead merely tells me the design he has in mind, and leaves me to discover the path to get there.

Design is the method for making dead tools. Life is not a product of design. Clockworks robots is the closest a watchmaker god can get to human beings. Life is a process of self-organization, so a God who creates life is clearly more interested in love and freedom than power and control -- choices rather than obedience -- faith rather than law.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby mitchellmckain » Sat Oct 24, 2015 1:07 am

A question which you might have asked is what impact has my existentialist background had on my theological positions. It should be noted for example that I have very little agreement with Paul Tillich who claims to be an existentialist Christian. I am not sure if I would even consider his position Christian or even theistic for that matter. Perhaps you can say that my existentialism stops before Nietzsche and perhaps even before some of Sartre.

Answer:
1. The number one clearest impact is my belief that the spirit of a human being is the creation of the choices he makes.
To a smaller degree you can also say it connects to these positions as well.
2. The belief in human free will and the critical role of choice in salvation.
3. The belief in a God who chooses/values love and freedom over power and control.

Elaboration/consequences of these:

1. You can see a clear connection between this belief and "existence before essence." It means I don't believe in any kind of pre-existence or spirit given to human beings at conception by God. This belief is also central rather than peripheral to my theology. It is the foundation of a consistent metaphysics of spiritual existence which explain much of what Christianity teaches about the eternal fate of human beings as coming from natural logical consequences rather than divine whim.

2. I reject all 5 points of TULIP Calvinism and absolute predestination. I am better described as an open theist than either Calvinist or Arminian.

3. I believe in an omnipotence which means God CAN take risks, make sacrifices of power and control, give privacy to others and otherwise not know things He chooses not to know. I think definitions of omnipotence and omniscience which tells us that God cannot do things are irrational and inconsistent. I would say that power over oneself is the most important part -- without which a conception of all-powerful would be quite superficial. The limitations of logical consistency are not limits upon God but upon what humans can meaningfully say about God.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Sat Oct 24, 2015 12:35 pm

Power over oneself and the ability of God to not know what He chooses not to know. Interesting perspective. I will note in passing that this nicely answers the old saw about God building a rock so large he cannot lift it, which is both an improper question (assuming contradictory premises) and a case of ambiguous definition; if the "Could not" means, "Chooses not to be reason of an agreement or a choice" then certainly there are any number of things that God could not do, without contradiction. Thus your position that God "can not" see certain aspects of human choice because He chooses not to is a perfectly logical position, and even agrees with other facts we know about God.

As a modified Arminian, I also reject absolute predestination and the five points of TULIP. In general, I see little to challenge on those aspects of your Christian theology. However...

In the question of "Existence before Essence," I do feel that you might be painting in strokes that are too broad. I would have considered Existentialism as a worldview had I not re-affirmed my Christian faith, and I do feel that there is a strong Christian teaching that is in direct antithesis to the Existential position, namely, the existence of the eternal soul. Because I believe in the existence of the soul, I cannot be an Existentialist.

I affirm free will. I do believe that the choices a man makes have eternal consequences, born out by his soul. But I believe that soul to come from without. You seem to be saying (unless i misunderstand) that the spirit of a human being results from his choices; I of course must ask how one would distinguish the Spirit from the Soul.

Are you saying "spirit" in the sense that I might refer to the "Spirit of St. Louis" or the "Spirit of the American Revolution" -- a vague set of feelings and emotionally-charged thoughts? Do you mean it as a kind of an intellectual journal, that is, the cumulative collection of a man's thoughts and memories? Or are you saying here that a man actually composes his own soul, creating a metaphysical being from the mutual interactions of God, his own choices, and the thoughts and memories which compose his intellect?
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby mitchellmckain » Sun Oct 25, 2015 6:09 pm

Og3 wrote:Power over oneself and the ability of God to not know what He chooses not to know. Interesting perspective. I will note in passing that this nicely answers the old saw about God building a rock so large he cannot lift it, which is both an improper question (assuming contradictory premises) and a case of ambiguous definition; if the "Could not" means, "Chooses not to be reason of an agreement or a choice" then certainly there are any number of things that God could not do, without contradiction. Thus your position that God "can not" see certain aspects of human choice because He chooses not to is a perfectly logical position, and even agrees with other facts we know about God.

It is an old saw which I discuss a lot, but the answer I give is that God CAN create a rock so heavy he cannot lift because God is capable of limiting Himself and sacrificing power as He chooses. I believe God has essentially done this in the creation of life and free will, as well as when He became a helpless human infant to grow up among us as a human being.

Og3 wrote:As a modified Arminian, I also reject absolute predestination and the five points of TULIP. In general, I see little to challenge on those aspects of your Christian theology.

Interesting. You are then much like the Christians I tend to fellowship with.
However...

Og3 wrote:In the question of "Existence before Essence," I do feel that you might be painting in strokes that are too broad. I would have considered Existentialism as a worldview had I not re-affirmed my Christian faith, and I do feel that there is a strong Christian teaching that is in direct antithesis to the Existential position, namely, the existence of the eternal soul. Because I believe in the existence of the soul, I cannot be an Existentialist.

There would only be a conflict if you believe in a pre-existent soul like the Mormons, which I do not.

Og3 wrote:I affirm free will. I do believe that the choices a man makes have eternal consequences, born out by his soul. But I believe that soul to come from without. You seem to be saying (unless i misunderstand) that the spirit of a human being results from his choices; I of course must ask how one would distinguish the Spirit from the Soul.

I do not generally use the word soul because it is not as clearly defined as spirit (see 1 Cor 15). I believe the spirit is eternal in the sense explained in 1 Cor 15 being outside of mathematical space-time laws and structure of the physical universe but I do not believe that either God or the human spirit is without time or timeless. The concept of absolute time is made obsolete by relativity and time just means a temporal ordering of a set of events. God and the human spirit can have its own ordering of conscious events apart from that of the physical universe.

For "soul" in the Bible we have the Hebrew word "napsow" and the Greek word "psyche". And these are use variously for life, mind and heart. If only there were some passage which described this as one particular thing as we have in 1 Cor 15 for the "spiritual body".

Og3 wrote:Or are you saying here that a man actually composes his own soul, creating a metaphysical being from the mutual interactions of God, his own choices, and the thoughts and memories which compose his intellect?

Yes I am saying that what a person truly is, their innermost self and essence is a creation of the choices they make. To elaborate let me tackle that most difficult conundrum we call free will.

A free will action is a difficult concept to nail down logically. What is the cause of a free will action? If it is product of what we are then how can it be free, but it if is not then how can it be our will. My solution is to appeal to concepts of causality outside time-ordered kind we have in science, to say that the cause of a free will choice is what we become as result of it. When we make choices we usually have reasons. Does this mean there is no free will? No, because we choose the reasons right along with our actions. What we frankly do is decide what kind of person we are by the choice we make, we become the kind of person who does such things.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Sun Oct 25, 2015 11:36 pm

I agree that the Mormon concept of pre-existence is incorrect, and I hold Mormons to be incorrect about nearly everything; and regarding those things in which they are correct, imho, they are correct purely by accident, and not as a result of a reasoned theological position. Interestingly, a splinter group from the LDS, once known as the RLDS, and now the "Community of Christ," has become orthodox in all of their doctrines, except that they accept the works of Joseph smith as divine revelations. But I digress.

It is my belief that the soul is formed at conception. I base this on the Genesis 2 account of man's creation, that God breathed into him (inspired him) and he became a living soul. some have argued from this that the body and the spirit, combined, compose a soul; I generally use it as being synonymous with Spirit, except when it would make a difference.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Sun Oct 25, 2015 11:37 pm

Regarding free will, then, you are stepping outside of linear time in order to avoid the bootstrap paradox, and still allow the effect to influence the cause?
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby mitchellmckain » Mon Oct 26, 2015 1:14 am

Og3 wrote:It is my belief that the soul is formed at conception.

I believe that all living things have a spirit, but they are not thereby equal. A tree has a spirit but it is completely tree-like. A cell has a spirit but it is cell-like. Thus a zygote, which is a cell also has a spirit which is cell-like.

You see life is a phenomenon of self-organization and that means all living things make choices in the process of growth, learning and adaptation. I believe those choices create a spiritual existence.

Does a different DNA code make such a difference between what is human and what is not? It does to racists and eugenicists, but it does not to me. A cancer cell has human DNA and it is alive, but it is just a cell, so cutting them out and killing them is no more murder than scratching your head.

Og3 wrote:I base this on the Genesis 2 account of man's creation, that God breathed into him (inspired him) and he became a living soul.

You seem to see this as something magical, but I do not. The word "inspiration" is indeed derived from "divine breath" and that is why I think this is exactly what it is talking about -- inspiration not necromancy. God talked to Adam and thereby communicated to him the very ideas and way of thinking that makes us human.

You see, I think what makes us human isn't genetics and biology but the presence of a non-biological form of life which we call the mind. The mind is still physical - a self-organizing phenomena of this same world of mathematical space-time laws -- but a memetic organism rather than a genetic organism.

Og3 wrote:some have argued from this that the body and the spirit, combined, compose a soul; I generally use it as being synonymous with Spirit, except when it would make a difference.

What we learn from 1 Cor 15 is that we have a physical body and a spiritual body, and the physical body comes first. But while the physical body returns to dust, the spiritual body is imperishable. I would not say that the spiritual body cannot die, because there are many Bible verses which tell us that it certainly can, but that only means it continues to exist as a dead spirit. What Jesus offers is eternal life through the resurrection of the imperishable spirit, because life is so much more than just continued existence.

Og3 wrote:Regarding free will, then, you are stepping outside of linear time in order to avoid the bootstrap paradox, and still allow the effect to influence the cause?

Science pretty much operates on a time-ordered idea of causality. But it also yanks away so many naive presumption about time and causality that it is difficult to justify a claim that this is the only kind of causality there is. Some fringe scientists trying to hold on to physical determinism in quantum physics have gone beyond that limitation.

When you have a worldview that believes in spiritual things outside of the mathematical space-time structure of science, then it is not difficult at all to visualize how an interaction between the physical and spiritual may have that kind non-standard causality.

The point is that it can at least give a consistent description of free will. A free will choice is free because it is not determined by any pre-existing condition, but it is also the will of something responsible for the choice because the person he becomes is indeed the cause of what he chose.

From the science perspective which restricts itself to time-ordered causality it will only see that its system of causality is not causally closed -- that some things are not caused by anything within its system of causes. And this was the discovery of quantum physics despite the considerable incredulity by the scientists themselves.
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Re: Understanding the Existential Worldview

Postby Og3 » Sat Oct 31, 2015 1:27 pm

I do not see that we are far apart, but there are some differences. I will return to this when time permits.
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