Tag Archives: existentialism

Religious Existentialism

28 Mar

I am not a fundamentalist of any stripe, but I believe in God. At various points in my life, I wanted to serve God in an official capacity, but my life changed. So how do you believe strongly in something without gripping rock-hard principles?

I was mentioning existentialism in an earlier post, but I found myself getting away from my point about conspiracy theories, and realized that it had to be its own post. I like existentialism but I don’t completely buy it, partly because it starts with the initial concept that God doesn’t exist. So I have breakdown the philosophy to its fundamental components. But instead of me boring you with that, let’s have Joss Whedon (my “icon of existentialism,” but what others call, “the patron saint of mediocrity”) explain it:

Jubal Early : Where’s your sister?
Dr. Simon Tam : I don’t know. Who do you work for?
Jubal Early : This is her room.
Dr. Simon Tam : Yes.
Jubal Early : It’s empty.
Dr. Simon Tam : I know.
Jubal Early : So is it still a room when it’s empty? Does the room, the thing, have purpose? Or do we – what’s the word?
Dr. Simon Tam : I really can’t help you.
Jubal Early : The plan’s to take your sister; get the reward, which is substantial – “imbue”, that’s the word.
Dr. Simon Tam : So you’re a bounty hunter.
Jubal Early : No, that ain’t it at all.
Dr. Simon Tam : Then what are you?
Jubal Early : I’m a bounty hunter.

Firefly, Objects in Space (2002)

I love that episode, especially the philosophical bounty hunter, and Joss will bore you to death with the commentary to that episode explaining it. But let’s hit the fundamental question–does life have purpose or do we imbue it with purpose? If you’re atheist, your answer is “we imbue it with purpose.” If you’re a theist, the answer is “God gives life purpose.” To quote the Westminster Catechism of Faith, “The chief end of man is to love God and enjoy him forever.” Considering that’s all I know about that seminal work of Protestantism, it made quite an impression on a 12-year-old in confirmation class. The focus was always on the word “enjoy.” It’s not an error in translation, it’s the key. God wants us to be happy.

In existentialism, the point… is there is no point to life, and it’s up to us to make it have meaning for ourselves. Or to quote another great TV show:

Kryten : Monsieur Jean-Paul Sartre, sir.
Rimmer : Who?
Kryten : He’s a philosopher, sir. He’s an existentialist.
Rimmer : Well, Sartre! We don’t like existentialists around here. And we certainly don’t like French philosophers poncing around in their black polo-necks filling everyone’s heads with their theories about the bleakness of existence and the absurdity of the cosmos! Clear?

Red Dwarf, Meltdown (1991)

So here’s where I keep things simple. If God exists and he wants us to enjoy Him, then he intercedes in our lives, because we often find ourselves down the wrong path. That’s a pretty big jump, but my own experience is one of divine intercession. Now Seth McFarlane would say, “We’re just coincidence whores,” seeing intercession in everything. He speaks as someone who missed one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. You could say that God destined him for greatness, but he interpreted that as, “Shit happens, get over it.”

Or to put it nicer, “Life is chaos, be kind.” That was Michelle McNamara’s mantra; she was the writer of true crime novels and married to comedian Patton Oswald. “Was” as in one night she went to bed and never woke up again.

The problem with believing in intercession is that you have to ask, “Why does God intercede in my life, but not to save my mom?” This was a hard one for a while, and since I don’t believe in predestination anymore (God having a plan for our lives), then I’m left with the answer Van Halen put on their video, Right Now: “Right now, God is killing moms and dogs… because he has to.”

God created a universe governed by certain rules. My mom had a curable disease that she chose not to be cured by; so she died. Could God have cured her? Of course, but he didn’t… because that would violate free will. In order to give the choice to love Him, He has to give us the choice to do the opposite. This is why I believe that the Jewish tradition is the closest to how I believe God exists. It’s a contractual arrangement, not a contract between equals, but not a master-servant relationship either. It’s the deal is very simple: “You will be my people and I will be your God.” If you break the terms of the agreement, then there will be consequences. In my belief, God is not a vengeful father, he’s a disappointed landlord.

A subtle difference, but an important one. God wants us to be happy; the commandments are there to help us be happy, not as arbitrary rules (although no one can explain the red heifer). When we break those rules, we feel guilty (some call it “sin”), so we need to atone for our sin, but since we can’t sacrifice a goat anymore, we need to do acts of lovingkindness. And that’s the purpose of life: Love God, Love Your Fellow Man, Be Happy. Sounds easy, but in the end, the hardest thing to do.

Am I too up my own butt for this one? What massive philosophical step did I jump over? Let me know in the comments below! After that, why not pick up one of my books! It’s full of characters who have difficulty relating to the absurdity of the cosmos. Or if you’re not ready to read between the lines of a fun story, try a shorter story for free. You’ll be glad you did.

The Truth is Out There

24 Mar

I’ve called myself a fatalist–when faced with the intellectual challenge I frequently freeze, accepting the contradiction, but not changing my world view. But what if you fight, believing there are forces threatening your world?

Nowadays, we call these conspiracy theorists, and I reject them… not because I don’t believe there are powerful people with their own agendas trying to screw people over, but because I don’t believe that there is any level of coordination to achieve a certain goal. All you have to do is look at any large organization–let’s take the Libertarian party. We say we’re the Party of Principle, but there’s once you get past the basic principles, we’re very much divided. There’s the minarchists like me, who want a “night watchman state,” or “less government runs best.” There are fiscal conservatives, who just want us to pay our debts and run our government more efficiently. There are disaffected Republicans who just don’t like the social conservatives. There are those who just like to smoke pot. And there are those who are combinations of many of those same beliefs. If a third party can’t even get like minded people together to achieve a common goal, what chance does the Illuminati have?!

I frequently turn to the modern sage, Joss Whedon, for many of my quotes. He’s been controversial lately, but frequently, he likes to pontificate on his own beliefs in existentialism. If you don’t know Jean-Paul Sartre, let me have Joss explain it through some of his characters:

Gunn : What if I told you it doesn’t help? What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it’s all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive and they will never let it get better down here? What would you do?

Anne Steele : I’d get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here. Wanna give me a hand?

Angel, Not Fade Away (2004)

Anne is the existentialist (and a minor recurring character). My interpretation of the philosophy is that if there is no God, and we are simply the end result of a series of happy accidents, then it is up to us to create the meaning for our own life. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t change the world, it changes us, and that’s sufficient.

But that’s my interpretation, but what if you interpreted like this? There is no God, but there are powerful people who are determined to keep the world as it is, which keeps the world from getting better. We could prevent hunger, but warlords are trying to control their vengeful minorities. We could solve homelessness, but rich people want bigger homes. Those elite are keeping the common people down to keep their lives better.

Is there truth in that? Absolutely! Take the recent GameStop short-sell stock manipulation. Wall Street came down HARD on amateurs who beat the hedge fund managers at their own game, and got their congressmen to change the rules that Wall Street itself created. But why did they do that? Was it some conspiracy? No, they just made money doing it, and they got screwed out of their money, so they got upset. They didn’t shut down Robinhood or prevent small-scale day traders. They just stopped this one thing. It doesn’t stop another smart cookie to find another loophole that hedge fund managers have been doing for decades… and they will.

Imagine that the Illuminati existed in this scenario. Not only would they plug the loophole, there wouldn’t have been a loophole to begin with! They would have found the leaders of this Internet uprising, and either silence or recruit them. They would have an Internet “hit squad” to seek out these potential threats and silence them before they became big… but they don’t, do they? Just like government, we all do two things well, “nothing and overreact.” The elites are just people in the end; selfish, flawed people, who might be brilliant in a particular area, but just as weak as the rest of us in everything else. And one thing humans do NOT do is play nice with others.

In other words, conspiracy theories are trying to make sense of nonsensical world. The sad truth is that there is no Illuminati and we are all manipulated by the whims of chance and greed… and isn’t that scarier than any conspiracy you’ve ever heard?

But “that’s like, your opinion, man.” What’s yours? Tell me in the comments below! And if you’re moved to read about the Libertarian future (without being preachy), pick up one of my books! Okay, my settings are not actually Libertarian, but my philosophy colors them. However, if you’re not ready to pay good money for my crap, download some of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did.

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