I was first exposed to the concept of existentialism when I was studying the subject of Philosophy and how philosphical thoughts can influence cultural changes through times during my Master of Arts (Intercultural Studies) in 2015.
“Existentialism” was first used by Soren Kierkegaard, (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher, who was also a social critic and author. He is widely regarded as the founder of the existentialism movement. Many European thinkers in the 19th to 20th century were profoundly influenced by Kierkegaard’s belief and philosophical thinking. Existentialism begins with the human subject and ends with it, emphasizing the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of his own will (freewill of man).
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. His psychological work explored the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices. Existentialism deals with the external circumstances facing each man who has to make life choices. The human subject faces internal dialogues of his feelings and emotions consistently.
God is out of this picture, deemed as abstract or non-existent physically. This is unlike the previous doctrinal thinking which features God as the unknown higher power in control of the universe including human beings.This in a way turns the thinking from God-centred philosophical thought to man-centred thought process. This is a critical change affecting the culture.
Take for example, the verses “We wait in hope for the Lord ; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord , even as we put our hope in you.” Psalm 33:20-22 NIV. As we negotiate life and make choices, how are we reconcile with “me” and “God”. In the god-centred paradigm, we totally rely on God whom love us, then the “me” is minimised. However, in the man-centred paradigm, the “me” altar is above “God” altar. As a result, God becomes part of my life and not I become part of God’s plan. This is a big leap in human philosophical revolution. Some see this as a leap to eternal damnation and some see this as exhilarating. For finally, they can grow out of God and become totally independent.
This to me is also a life-changing thought as I have been very much leading an “existential” life in the 21st century, putting myself above all things in all my life. Even after I became a believer in God, I struggle on how to place God in my decision making. And I struggle to trust in God whom does not exist physically around me. I am constantly trying to achieve more and set more goals and this endless life pursuits drives me away from reliance on God and inclines reliance on my own abilities. As my resume looks more and more accomplished, my ego grows and I trust myself more than God, whom to me exists to a certain extent in the Bible and the theological sphere, a “paper” God.
As what most things will turn out, I come a full circle when I realise that the “me” philosophical thinking leads to egoism and self-fishness. A kind of “ego-holicism”. The addiction to self results from existentialism. It is like me looking into the mirror and saying to myself “Oh, how lovely and successful you are, nobody deserves more blessings than you!” This revolting idea although extreme, appeals to me that one day I might become addicted to self. Only in failures, I am driven to seek God for help. However, this drive towards “self” ultimately is not fulfilling as the greed for more leaves me wanting to do and accomplish even more. The unrelenting pressure and demand lead to a feeling of emptiness beyond measure.
Hence, when I saw and heard about the daily death of “self” and renewal by the Spirit in Paul’s book of Romans (Ro 7:24): “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” and “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.(Co 3:5)” is a rhema moment that brings me back to the first state of being obedience to God and dying to self. The natural self needs to die daily in order for me to learn to live beyond self – to live out my calling which in my natural state I would not be able to accomplish. The living for myself needs to be put off in order that I can live for others as well. This is a difficult calling for me, but a worthy one which challenges me daily.