Fundamentalism: An Existentialist Critique

July 18, 2008 at 1:07 am 9 comments

EpilogueI have now completed my series on existentialist ideas as they pertain to fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. It was an exceptionally brief tour of a complex and rich philosophical tradition, but I hope I have helped impart a somewhat clearer picture of what the existentialists were trying to say: life is sad, sometimes, and frightening, and often difficult, and there is no philosopher’s or theologian’s balm that will anesthetize the pains of life. We are thrown into a world not of our making, not designed to meet our needs, and we find ourselves alone, with no one in charge, and utterly responsible for what we do. We find we grow, and grow old, and that life is thereby a series of losses – friends, parents, youth, pets, potential, eventually life itself. These things are all a part of being human.

But in that very anxiety before loss and our own deaths, in the duty to self-create, in our loneliness and vulnerability, lies our salvation – for in forsaking the illusions we wish we could believe about life, we find we are truly able to see life, for the first time. And what we see is breathtaking: the stunning preciousness of life, and the indescribable beauty of the world and of those around us. All we have to do is face our fears, make our peace with the uncertainty and “groundlessness” of our lives, give up on the fantasy that someone, somewhere will recognize our own specialness enough to swoop in and save us from life’s pain. Then, and only then, can we really begin to live.

Posts in this series:

– Richard

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From Fundy to Orthodox to Apostate Thoughts on my de-conversion, one year later

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 18, 2008 at 2:46 am

    An excellent series. You’ve given me much to think on as I deal with the loss of Christianity as my moral foundation.

    Thank you.

  • 2. John Morales  |  July 18, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Richard, I am impressed, and I too congratulate you.

    This series is really good, thought-provoking stuff.
    I lconsider the prose shows a nice balance between passive voice and personal opinion. It makes for an easy yet informative read.

    May I suggest you postpend Home, End, Prev, Next links on posts in this series? I think It would make it more convenient for newcomers.

    PS I envy your non-confrontational attitude; I can do that, but it’s an effort to me 😉

  • 3. A Piece of idea  |  July 18, 2008 at 8:07 am

    I love this post! have a nice day! thanks a lot!

  • 4. Green Oasis » Existentialism  |  July 18, 2008 at 11:52 am

    […] has an excellent summary of existentialism and how it contrasts with religious fundamentalism. The world is a different place when you try to […]

  • 5. LeoPardus  |  July 18, 2008 at 12:11 pm


    Great series. Thought provoking, informative, well written. Congratulations. I say again, you have a fine facility with the written word.

  • 6. Mary Kay Thompson  |  July 27, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Last night we have a neighborhood nosh and sat up late yakking and drinking strawberry margaritas with our VERY religious hosts, Tim and Lindsay. We all love them. They’re young, energetic, filled with the spirit and bent on serving God and “giving honor to Jesus.”

    See, that’s where I have a little problem. “Giving honor to Jesus.” According to Tim and Linds, you can be a really great person – generous, loving, kind, involved in your community, peaceful and if you don’t profess a belief that Jesus is God – that you believe – there’s no ticket to paradise. If, however, you are scum – beat your wife, kids and dog, are greedy, selfish, crude, racist, and sexist pig, but on your death bed, 10 seconds before the lights to out, you say – “I believe that Jesus is God,” all is forgiven – all is good – you get the ticket to ride.

    What am I missing? Lindsay say we are NOT judged by our acts. In fact ACTS are zip in God’s eyes. What is important she said, over and over, is that we have a “personal relationship” with God.

    I tried that. It was always a one-way conversation.

    I believe in the possibility of a supreme being – the possiblity of several for that matter. I also believe if they’re out there they really don’t give much of a tinker’s damn who we are or what we do. We don’t have to pass tests and complete complicated rituals to get his (their) attention.

    Am I completely in outer space here? I’m a good person. I do things for others because it’s the right thing to do – not because I’m counting up Heaven points. So what is right? Works or Faith or ???

  • 7. Richard  |  July 27, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Mary Kay-
    I think if you look around this site for a bit, you will find that almost all of us here have had the exact same thoughts and feelings that you have.

    You dont say what background youre coming from — i.e., from a Christian one, I presume? — but this entire site is written by and for people who do come from a deep Christian background but, one way or another, at one time or another, left that faith precisely for the sorts of reasons you suggested: fundamentalist Christian ethics and “soteriology” (the “study” of salvation teachings) are pretty monstrous. Its an ethical/moral critique of Christian (conservative Christian) teachings, and I agree with you entirely. So, no, youre not in outer space. Youre dead on.

    The truth is that there are plenty of schools of thought within Christianity that do not teach what Tim and Lindsay did. Many more liberal Christians believe “works” matter a great deal, and in fact, thats what God cares about.

    Even in Judaism, CHristianity’s parent religion, there has never been any teaching that assent to doctrine is requirement for salvation, *nor* that works were. There was very little teaching about heaven at all, in fact, and good works were done for their own sake.

    Us “de-cons” tend to be atheists and agnostics, and we generally care a great deal about moral, ethical behavior, and we agree with you that such things are intrinsic goods. We find it liberating to be freed of the sort of — lets not mince words here — horrible doctrines about heaven and hell, right and wrong behavior, that we used to preach as former fundys.

    So, if this is your first time here, welcome, and we invite you to look around. I think you will find many of your sentiments echoed here.

  • 8. Obi  |  July 27, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Christianity is really the only religion that I can think of at the moment that places such an extreme emphasis on the fact that they believe that only faith and not action is needed to achieve heaven. Actually, many evangelicals are proud of that fact, and parrot it out loud and parade it about as a “distinguishing feature” of their religion that separates it from others. However, as Mark Kay stated, I feel that it’s probably one of the worst religious doctrines out there. To think that a “just” God doesn’t give a damn about your actions (good or bad) as long as you’re in with his son doesn’t make sense at all.

    Since the majority of world religions seem to be action-based, I think it’s a good bet to continue doing good for the hell of it, hoho.

  • 9. Grant Dexter  |  July 28, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Existentialism relies on the blind acceptance that there is nothing to reality apart from that which is matter and energy. That which is presented without evidence can also be rejected without evidence.

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