"A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts."1
As is noted under our webpage for existentialism, existentialism can be broken into atheistic and theistic forms. Therefore, just as atheistic existentialism dictates that we can never really know the truth, theistic existentialism insists that each person must take the "blind leap of faith" (Kierkegaard) to believe in God. Therefore, although both forms believe that no one can ever really know "transcendent" truth, theistic existentialists choose to cope in such a world by believing that there is a meaning, even if we can't understand it. To a theistic existentialist, as with an atheistic existentialist, we start with ourselves, not with God. Therefore, a theistic existentialist realizes the absurdity of life in the same way an atheistic existentialist does. Although s/he does not immediately perceive that God exists, s/he chooses to believe so based upon the very real need for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Thus, the question of whether or not God exists is not solved by reason, but rather by faith.
Theistic existentialism is most often linked to Soren Kierkegaard's (1813-1855) reaction against the deadness of the state church of Denmark in the 19th century. Other notable theistic existentialists are Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel, Reinhold Niebuhr, Rudolf Bultmann, and Karl Barth.
Belief about God
Does God exist?
Yes (It is important to note that Theistic Existentialism does not start with God. This has been noted as its most important variation of Theism.)
How do you describe God?
God is infinite, omniscient, sovereign, transcendent, personal, and good. However, because of the subjective nature of existentialism, where existence precedes essence, it can be said that the individual in some cases can determine their own belief in what their defined creator is like. Traditionally theistic existentialism has born its roots in both Christian Theism and Judaism.
Is there any kind of spirit world?
Yes. However, what this spirit world consists of is purely subjective. Theism is adhered to by many religious bodies (i.e. Christianity, Judaism, etc.). As such, the description of such a spiritual world depends highly on the personal subjectivity of the theistic adherent.
Belief about the world
Is there an overall plan or order behind nature?
God created the cosmos to operate within a cause and effect open system. It is similar to the normal patterns of cause and effect found in Deism, yet, with an open system. Thus, although there is a created order, which accounts for reason and logic, it is an open system whereby God can intersect our world
Belief about humanity
Are human beings different from the rest of nature?
Yes. Human beings are different because of their ability to define their existence.
Mankind is the only known animal, according to earth-bound existentialists, that defines itself through the act of living. In other words, first a man or woman exists, then the individual spends a lifetime changing his or her essence.
- Christopher Scott Wyatt
Where did we come from, & where are we going?
Humanity was created by God, in a cause and effect open system universe. Humans were created good, but are now fallen. As such we are responsible for our choices. Thus, due to the subjective nature of theistic existentialism, the question "where are we going?" can only be answered on a personal level. In a broad sense however, theistic existentialism can be said to believe that there is life after death, and that is where we are headed. In this view it is commonly believed that we will either go to heaven, or hell, depending on our actions in this life.
2.1 Beliefs about purpose
What is the overall purpose or meaning of humanity?
To know God, and live in peace with him, despite the absurdity of the world around us. Once again, the purpose will be defined subjectively by the adherent; hence, existentialism.
"Kierkegaard thought that the individual could choose to have a religious faith in the face of an absurd world."
- Roger Jones
"The meaning of life, that which makes life happy, is to find one's particular purpose, to will that one thing which constitutes purity of heart, and to become a person capable of carrying out that idea."
- Soren Kierkegaard
What is the main purpose or highest good for each individual?
The main purpose or highest good for each individual is to live in peace and relationship with God. Equally, however, it can once again be said that the practicality of such an assertion is purely subjective within the paradigm of theistic existentialism.
"Theistic existentialism recognizes the chaotic and ferocity in man, and presents it to God for forgiveness, healing, and strength."
- D. Anthony Storm
"There is a purpose to creation; there is a purpose to the human race, one we have not made up ourselves, or agreed to among ourselves; we have not decided that henceforward this, that, or the other shall serve as the purpose for our existence. No. The purpose itself revealed its face to us and we have gazed upon it."
- Martin Buber2
"Existentialism attempts to describe our desire to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. Unfortunately, life might be without inherent meaning (existential atheists) or it might be without a meaning we can understand (existential theists). Either way, the human desires for logic and immortality are futile. We are forced to define our own meanings, knowing they might be temporary."
- Christopher Scott Wyatt
Belief about ethics
How does one decide right & wrong?
Ethics are considered transcendent, and are based on God's character. Thus, right and wrong are determined by God. However, due to the subjective nature of transcendent truth, as depicted in theistic existentialism, it could also be said to be determined by the individual themselves.
Is it possible for humans to know truth?
What are legitimate sources of truth?
It has been stated that to a theistic existentialist "the whole truth is paradoxical--knowledge is subjectivity." Thus, to a theistic existentialist there are forms of "objective" truth (i.e. the things we observe, the realm of space and logic 4) and forms of subjective truth. To the theistic existentialist it is the personal which is the valuable; in other words the subjective truth is what is valuable. In theistic belief, a person encounters a person. Thus, to use Sire's words, theistic existentialism emphasizes the disjunction between the objective and subjective forms of truth.
"Men do not find God if they stay in the world. They do not find him if they leave the world. He who goes out with his whole being to meet his thou and carries to it all being that is in the world, finds him who cannot be sought."
- Martin Buber 5
"Christianity is not a doctrine but an existential communication expressing an existential contradiction."
- Soren Kierkegaard, The Postscript
HYBRIDS: Christian Theistic Existentialism, Jewish Theistic Existentialism, Atheistic Existentialism
1 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation.
2 The Way of Response: Martin Buber, Selections from His Writings, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1966.
3 James W. Sire, 1973, The Universe Next Door, Downers Grove: IVP, 1973, 1997
4 Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith NY: Charles Scribner, 1958. pp 29-30
5 I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith NY: Charles Scribner, 1958. p 79
Links for further study
Buber, Martin, I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith NY: Charles Scribner, 1958.
Buber, Martin, The Way of Response: Martin Buber, Selections from His Writings, ed.by Nahum N. Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1966.
Flew, Anthony An Introduction to Western Philosophy, German Democratic Republic: Thames and Hudson, 1989.
Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, eds. The Essential Kierkegaard, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Stanley Rosen, ed. The Examined Life: Readings from Western Philosophers from Plato to Kant, New York: Random House, 2000.