“What is existentialism?” said the most well-known existentialist of the 20th century. Jean-Paul Sartre died denying he was an existentialist, yet the entire world said that he was. So what is existentialism and why should I care?

‘Be you! Do whatever you want.’ Such reflects the attitude of existentialism. Existentialism falls under the realm of ontology, or the study of being. The focus is on the nature of the human condition. The implications of its teachings are far-reaching; no morality, absolute subjectivity, and extreme autonomy. If accepted on a wide scale, it would lead to a catastrophic melt down of society.

3 Key Themes

Living out Existentialism: Some argue that Existentialism is not a philosophy because it is not a formal system. Existentialism is a set of ideas that we use in our framework—in our daily lives, therefore, we live out existentialism. Karl Marx is known to critique philosophies of the past because, he believed, the point is not to know things, but to change things. Existentialism is active.

Anxiety and Authenticity: Anxiety for the existentialist is not how the average person would describe it. The main point is that humans are on their own; there is no ultimate authority and no one telling us how to live. To be ‘authentic’ to the existentialist means that humans would live according to their nature. This concept has taken over society. “Be free to live as you please.” “Don’t be defined.” “No one has the right to tell you different.” This is the heart of individualism.

Freedom: The American Forefathers fought for freedom against political tyranny. Existentialism fights for freedom of the individual to dictate their own future—against the wishes of any deity or authority. Within this freedom is also a responsibility. This doesn’t necessarily mean accepting the consequences for one’s actions, but the responsibility to make the decision. This freedom, for many existentialists, is the freedom to be autonomous. Is it any wonder that a woman who was extremely influential in the feminist movement in the twentieth century was an existentialist? Her name was Simone de Beauvoir, author of, The Second Sex, and was the lover of Jean-Paul Sartre.

2 Reasons Why You Should Care

Don’t be an Easy Target-Be Watchful: The Word of God calls us to be, “wise as serpents”, “watchful”, and seekers of that which is true, noble, right, and pure. We must strive to examine life and ideologies that we face everyday in commercials, advertisements, movies, music, and rhetoric. Knowing the foundations of the philosophies floating around can help us avoid being an easy target.

We Can Impact Future Generations: By knowing the pervasive ideologies that flow like the Niagara straight at our children, we can teach them the truth, Biblical reality, and thereby building up the Church of Christ for generations to come. It is imperative that we understand where culture is heading and to be mindful of its philosophies and ideologies because our children depend on us to guide them in the way they should go.

Col. 2:8 “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.

For Further Discussion:

The Father of Existentialism-Soren Kierkegaard

Jean-Paul Sartre Documentary