Tag Archives: existentialism

We Are Not Droids — Schaeffer v. Kierkegaard

A couple weeks ago, my friend Bob Weathers mentioned that while at Fuller Seminary, he read something by Francis Schaeffer that criticized Soren Kierkegaard. I knew of and admired Schaeffer on account of his L’Abri community, but I hadn’t read his any of his books.

Now, while reading How Then Should We Live?  (written, like Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, in answer to the question Aristotle raised) I see Schaeffer’s problem with Kierkegaard.

He appears to blame Kierkegaard for the result of his ideas, for what the philosopher’s followers have wrought, which Schaeffer calls the “existential methodology” that places reason and non-reason (the objective and subjective, in Kierkegaard’s terms) as mutually exclusive processes.

Schaeffer blames this “existential methodology” for causing the flight of reasonable people from Christian ideals and ethics.  He maintains that existentialists, beginning with Kierkegaard, have convinced us that values belong to the realm of  “non-reason” or blind faith and therefore can never be universally or culturally applied. So, according to Shaeffer, on account of the existentialists, our culture as a whole considers values as relative only to the individuals who choose to follow them.

Certain existentialists may argue for the relativity of values, but according to my reading of and about him, Kierkegaard made no such argument. I have found not the least indication that he denies the value of reason, a faculty he consistently applies with a master’s touch. His rejection of reason is only of the insistence that it is all we have with which to discover truth.

Schaeffer appears to believe we must either rely exclusively upon reason or ban reason and rely only upon the “non-reason” of our instincts, desires, and wishful fantasies.

This morning I came across an article about scientists who contend that reason is only one of our tools, and perhaps not the one we most often apply, even while we consider ourselves reasonable, logical. Please click and read.

Surely reason is a factor in what Kierkegaard means by the subjective. Likewise, intuition, emotion, and perhaps divine inspiration, influence our reasoning.  After all, we are not droids.

This Schaeffer v. Kierkegaard conflict ought to matter to anyone concerned who has ever wondered if evangelists should aim to influence the objective or the subjective; the mind, the heart, or the whole individual. A worthy question, especially for those who take The Great Commission to heart.

Ken Kuhlken

Kierkegaard v. melancholy, post 10

What On Earth Is Existentialism?

As Sören Kierkegaard is often called the father of existentialism, I’ll begin discussing his thoughts by considering what that title means.

The term existential has gotten applied rather haphazardly. In my younger days, foreigners in Mexico for the cheap living and easy access to drugs were called existentialistas. The existentialist label has been applied to most every sort of person who opts against traditional values.  I suppose those labels refer to the existentialist insistence on individualism based upon individual choice.

To fit my definition of an existentialist, a person needs to earnestly confront the question: “What does it mean to be existing as a human being?” and the corollary questions: “What is right and wrong?” and “What constitutes a meaningful way of life?” Once he or she has sufficiently confronted these questions, the existentialist will feel called to make a decision; to choose between the plausible answers, and then begin to stand with integrity for the chosen answer.

An atheist, Christian, hippie, Buddhist, or believer in any set of values whether established or self-created, can legitimately be considered an existentialist, as long as her or his adherence to the belief system is grounded in choice rather than unconsidered acceptance.

Suppose I grew up in a Christian Science family, base my beliefs on the teaching of Mary Baker Eddy, and have never seriously questioned those teachings. Since I have declined to exercise my right to consider the options and choose between them, I am certainly no existentialist.

Or suppose, after a modest search for answers, I give up the search and consider myself agnostic. Then I am no existentialist, as I have abdicated my right to vigorously pursue answers then make a conscious and informed choice.

So an existentialist is someone who earnestly seeks to learn the meaning of life then chooses between alternative answers and determines to live in accord with the chosen answer and its implications.

An existentialist worth admiring would also accept responsibility for his or her actions and might live by the mottos: full speed ahead; no turning back; no compromise; no excuses. For an example, read No Compromise, the life story of Christian musician Keith Green.

Kierkegaard framed the decision we now call existentialist as the choice for or against Christ. A line is drawn. On the one side is self-concern. On the other side is love.