Existentialism Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Jaspers write of many important issues concerning our existence and society in general, but the one that interests me the most is the belief in the ignorance and stupidity of the majority of the human race. We are so narrow-minded, so asleep, so afraid of exploring ourselves and what is beyond this all-encompassing story we have created and in which we live (and ironically hate). These four philosophers all seem to see the big picture. Some wish they never had, others feel born again and superior to the rest of mankind. Regardless, until the entire world understands, there is no hope for man’s survival. I will begin with Mr.
Nietzsche who speaks with a very vicious and pointed attitude. He is quite angry with people in general for being shallow, for falling asleep to the cultural drone humming in the back of all our heads. It is so easy to live day-to-day like dead bodies, doing what you are told, working constantly to avoid thinking too much. (That’s why I love work!). We fear what is inside.
We are afraid to exist as our souls and our minds. Society, science, and even academic philosophy avoid looking inward, or paradoxically, seeing the big picture. The entire world is putting us to sleep. They “attempt to understand this canvas and these colors, but not the image”(Nietzsche in Kaufman, 124). Only the true philosopher, the true understander of existence, can reveal that place where material can no longer corrupt you.
There are so many obstacles (we refer to them as culture and custom) in this world that obstruct our path to higher consciousness where we will realize the oneness of everything and achieve conscious love. As soon as we realize we are all bubbles floating on the same ocean, we become completely free from these obstacles and have nothing to fear, not even death. This is heaven on earth. Nietzsche recognized religion as perhaps the greatest obstacle of them all. It supposedly was created to help overcome all the other obstacles, but now further disorients us and almost leads us in the opposite direction. Interestingly, Nietzsche sees as the root of growing nihilism not societal or psychological corruption, but Christian interpretation.
I’m not quite sure I understand this, but the way I see it is Christianity (along with many religions) – the one institution created to salvage and give meaning to life – is, through its current and growing hypocrisy, taking meaning away from life. Jesus was a great teacher. His key message was that if we love one another and do not allow ourselves to get caught up in the mundane aspects of life, we can achieve a higher level of being and find true happiness. Christianity developed out of Jesus’ teaching as a sort of stepping-stone to help people understand Jesus and get to the place he was talking about. Christianity is like a set of guidelines to lead us to higher consciousness. But we have made a complete mockery of Christ and his teaching.
Christianity has lost sight of its original goal and become totally preoccupied with rules and regulations. We do not need religion; it is just here to help us. But instead of higher consciousness becoming the goal, religion is now the goal. As long as you follow the rules and regulations of the church, as long as you have faith, you are a good person. Wrong! You are a nihilist.
In The Antichrist Nietzsche brutally attacks the priests and theologians who advocate this fictitious world of God, the devil, sin, redemption, free will, etc, which “falsifies, devalues, and negates reality” because we cannot stand the sight of it (Nietzsche, 533). The church has pronounced holy precisely what the Jesus the evangel felt to be beneath and behind himself (Nietzsche, 536). The kingdom of heaven is not a place we go after we die. It is a state of the heart and we can be there right now, here on earth, if we follow Jesus’ true message. But what is Jesus’ true message? If nothing else it is to be yourself, love your neighbor, and avoid the crowd at all costs (nice segue, right?).
Soren Kierkergaard has a big problem with “the crowd” of which so many humans seem to be a part. This mass of people existing in the state of consciousness called waking sleep is the wheels of our civilization yet have no thought of where they are going. Kierkegaard is awake, and therefore superior to everyone around him. His time was one of technological pioneering, society blindly moving forward looking for ways to make like easier. Many boarded the bandwagon of change, following the technological revolution for no good reason.
Kierkegaard went out into the streets of Copenhagen and tried to trick people into seeing the truth by criticizing society when he had no right to, because he was a lunatic idler (in disguise, of course). His main problem with the crowd is that is a refuge for all who fear individuality and the decision-making that comes with it. He speaks repeatedly of how the journalist can write anything he wants (things he would never say speaking one-on-one with another person) and his words will touch thousands upon thousands of ears and be taken seriously, but because of the anonymity of both the author and the public reader, responsibility for things said can be totally avoided. The crowd is weakness. The crowd is untruth.
Nietzsche says the same thing: people are afraid to look inward. They seek refuge from their minds in work and constant activity. Jesus would have no association with the crowd. Truth, individuality, and higher consciousness radiated from him. Jesus could only be “what He is, the truth, which relates itself to the individual”(Kierkegaard in Kaufman, 96). That is why so many feared Him, and still do. That is why he was killed.
Kierkegaard continues to explain why so many turn their backs on higher consciousness with his concept of dread. Dread is a feeling that befalls us when we realize potential or possibility in ourselves, when we learn something new that forces us to make a choice or decision, or simply to think in a new way. People fear freedom. They fear choice because once one is confronted with opportunity he is expected to take advantage of it. If you learn something that brings you out of ignorance you can never go back to living in that ignorant manner with a clean conscience because now you know better than to live like that.
If you do not modify your existence based on what you have learned, you are looked down upon. Some people appreciate possibility (ie. of becoming less ignorant) because they are willing to change or they like the option to choose. Most people would much rather have never been told that the entire human race originated from a single population in Africa 200,000 years ago. They wallow in their ignorance and hate being pressured to change.
The Underground Man must be the most amazing example of dread one could imagine. He is the manifestation of dread. His entire mind exists inside the realm of dread, and dread in the worst way. He is faced with an incredible amount of potential and opportunity because of his heightened consciousness yet more than anyone is unable to make the “qualitative leap” simply because he is drowning in choices, in freedom as it would seem. Kierkegaard is also very concerned with what it means to become a Christian.
What is the individual’s relationship to Christianity? He questions why anyone would base their eternal happiness on something about which they cannot be certain (like historical Christian documentation), but then goes on to say that faith and passion are certainty, and they are what make you a true Christian. By the end of Kierkegaard’s selection I have decided that he greatly admires the true Christian, but looks down upon religious doctrine in that it is a crutch for those who are not truly passionate about God. He raises the very important contrast between objective truth and subjective truth. Which is truer? A thing certainly is not true simply because you believe it is true, but I do believe that subjective truth is the more important of the two. There is more merit in the man who prays with entire passion to and idol than there is in the man who prays to the true God but with a false spirit.
I have a great respect for passion, but infinite passion with no objective foundation does not work (like the example that blacks were born from the devil). Kierkegaard puts it best in saying “The truth is precisely the venture which chooses an objective uncertainty with the passion of the infinite”(Kierkegarrd in Kaufman, 117). So it is a combination of the intellect and emotion that makes us a “true” Christian. This ties in with Nietzsche’s ideas of Christianity in that many so-called Christians strictly rely on the objective, exoteric aspects of religion for comfort and totally lack the passion required to become a true Christian. Kierkegaard is right. We are Christians as a matter of course (Kierkegaard in Kaufman, 120). Nearly everyone I know calls himself or herself a Christian, but I have met only two or three of them who took the title seriously and were truly passionate and had great faith.
People are afraid, or maybe just unwilling, to take the risk. Passionately believing in something that is uncertain to you is dangerous. As civilization thrusts forward and reliance on reason and objective truths become more and more fundamental, our need for God to explain life continues to decrease. Hence, being a Christian with infinite passion in today’s world is both shameful and foolish. We have killed God, says Nietzsche. I like Dostoevsky very much because I understand the though process of the Underground Man.
Last year, in fact, I was sure I was on my way to becoming what …