Mormon Existentialism Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 12:36pm
As I appear to be the only one on Facebook with this religious notation, I thought I should explain briefly what I mean by it. In very brief and simple terms, because I really don’t have the patience or skills to be a true intellectual or philosopher(1), the way I understand the philosophy of Existentialism from the writing of Sartre, Camus, etc., is that when the individual faces the ultimate reality, usually in the form of some horrific, dark catastrophe then, and only then, can the individual accept life for what it is and take responsibility for one’s own existence. That seems a little bleak to me so I much prefer the Christian Existentialism from the writings of Soren Kierkegaard which is pretty much the same about confronting the ultimate horror of reality, but then while still relying on individual responsibility, the solution is for the individual to take that “leap of Faith” into the arms of a God of Love, the Savior Jesus Christ.
Here's Kierkegaard from Fear and Trembling. The context is Abraham confronting the ultimate horror and absurdity in God's command to sacrifice his son, Isaac:
"Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith; for only in infinite resignation does my eternal validity become transparent to me, and only then can there be talk of grasping existence on the strength of faith." (2)
This seems to comport very well with Nephi’s lament in 2 Nephi 4:17-35.
If anyone wants to face ultimate horror, all they need do is face the evil in their own heart. And here I have to add my favorite quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn which has been with me since 1973 when I first read it in The Gulag Archipelago. In the context of his horrible suffering in Soviet prisons, Solzhenitsyn wondered how those good, young Russian boys could serve as guards and commit such atrocities. He wrote:
"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"(3)
But that is exactly what is required if we ever want to overcome evil. So, I continue my struggle to call on my Redeemer through the power of the Atonement to repent and have Him change my heart so that it is no longer bound by sin. That is what Nephi was doing in the Book of Mormon reference above. This conflict of good and evil and the power of the Atonement are very well set out in 2 Nephi 2.
I am firmly committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants I have made as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I think a testimony or Faith is a lot like Love in marriage. It is a feeling based on and partly a result of commitment and covenant just like Love in marriage is more than a flickering emotion, but a deep and ultimate power of the soul, true passion, that comes from commitment and covenant to each other in spite of the challenges and conflicts of daily life.
And as complex as life is, Faith, Love and all the rest, it all still comes down to basic principles as set out by the Lord himself in 3 Nephi. I could go on, but then you could just read the whole book yourself as well, which I strongly endorse and encourage.
To sum up, and to refer back to Kierkegaard, the basic principles are enough. Everything else that is necessary follows as a matter of course. Here he is, also from Fear and Trembling:
"In those old days it was different. For then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, not a skill thought to be acquired in either days or weeks. When the old campaigner approached the end, had fought the good fight, and kept his faith, his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten the fear and trembling that disciplined his youth and which, although the grown man mastered it, no man altogether outgrows - . . . ."(4)
Footnotes (which didn't carry over from my original text):
(1) Oh, and I shouldn’t have to point it out, but the “philosophies of men” I think the adversary is so much into promoting are those that involve the “arm of flesh,” i.e., money, religious fraud, war and violence.
(2) Kierkegaard, Soren, Fear and Trembling (Peguin Books, New York. 1985) at 75.
(3) Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, The Gulag Archipelalgo (Harper & Row, New York, 1973) at 168.
(4) Kierkegaard, Soren, Fear and Trembling (Peguin Books, New York. 1985) at 42