This article will investigate the depths of the human struggle to become un-human in order to be God. It considers the implications of subjectivism, existentialism, and humanism (as seen in current bioethical issues) as articulate expressions of the destiny of man. As such, we will see how our human condition is bleak and impoverished, but is endlessly conquering – even conquering ourselves – to our own abolition. Yet it is our destiny apart from God. It will be finally made clear that the Christian mode of being is one of refreshment, stability, and peace.
Introduction – Bioethical Issues as Beacons of Darkness
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blaire said that we can’t let morality get in the way of science when he once told a newspaper of Britain’s plans to clone human embryos: “Our conviction about what is natural or right should not inhibit the role of science in discovering the truth.”[i]
Before unraveling what is behind Blaire’s statement, let us consider a quick breakdown of some current bioethical topics to whet the appetite for what is really at stake in our scientifically advanced generation.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESR): Around 400,000 human embryos exist in the freezers of fertility clinics around the U.S.A. these are from leftover In Vitro-fertilization.[ii] Researchers want to harvest them (this kills the embryo) to help other people with damaged cells. [iii]
Cloning: Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) cloning allows us to create organs from the embryonic stem cells of the patient by creating an exact genetically matching embryo. Therapeutic cloning is still reproductive and still requires embryos to be destroyed.[iv]
Genetics Engihneering, Trait Selection, Designer Embryos & Gender Selection: We are doing primitive form of eugenics where you can pick the traits and gender with sperm separation technology to 85% reliability allowing parents to get the boy or girl baby they want. Companies like “Microsort” are actively doing this.
Population control, Eugenics, & Human Genome Mapping: Already the Sanger Institute, a leading United Kingdom disease research center which uses genotyping infrastructure, claims that “In the next two years, we will sequence more than 1000 human genomes. By 2012, we will make stem cells in more than 10,000 genes.”[v]
These bioengineering practices have never been as significant to the future health and progress of the human race as they are now.
Moreover, no one can deny that bioethics is a necessary field of research and thought. The issues surrounding the various scientific advances are quite complex and extraordinary. This article will not have space to address these bioethical issues. But they are presented here because each bioethical issue raises passionate appeal to either the human condition or human nature.
At the moment, there is tremendous concentration in research to develop immunities and cures for fatal diseases. While this seems to be the honorable thing to do, now and in the coming years there are great fathoms of ethics to consider before making public policy against such ‘ethical pro-activism.’ In fact, this area of thought is not new. Previous western philosophical movements have already unveiled certain secretive plans.
One incredibly strong force that has not, is not, and will not quit lies beneath all bioengineering research. The force of human destiny. It is the destiny of man to assert his existence (to be) and fully attain master control of nature and himself to live as long as possible. Man is a being which strives to perpetually recreate himself, take the place of God in this world, to conquer and have control of his own destiny. This is the powerful but subtle goal of the philosophy of humanism.
One can easily see that humanism is the common worldview of the non-religious western person. Additionally, we have many formal groupings that evidence our plague. Organizations like the Council of Secular Humanism (http://www.secularhumanism.org/) and the Alliance of Secular Humanist Societies have dozens of local groups all around America. In their statement of affirmations:
“We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems. We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation…We are thus opposed in principle to any efforts to censor or limit scientific research without an overriding reason to do so..”[vi]
These organizations embody and champion such humanistic expressions of Paul Kurtz, Peter Singer, Richard Carrier, Tom Flynn, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others.
However, this default orientation is the not the result of the underlying modern, existential, or postmodern systems of thought – although they have expressed it thoroughly. These systems, like bioethics, are pointers to justifications of deeper modes of being. Deep inside our entire reason for being is appeased with our own cure, ourselves conquering ourselves.
To reiterate, this article will investigate the depths of this struggle by considering subjectivism, existentialism, and humanism as more of the fruit rather than the root (i.e., the description rather than the prescription) in our history to become God. As such, we will see how our human condition is bleak, impoverished, but endlessly conquering to our own detriment.
Mankind has always longed for the power to create his destiny and control the one thing that no one has ever been able to control, death. To decide what he is, does, and when he dies is to be God. But this is man. The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) bluntly stated in his famous “Existentialism is Humanism” 1945 lecture that “man is the being who wants to be God.”[vii]
This was even written by certain Christian theologians. In the middle ages, Maximus the Confessor (580-662) wrote as follows:
“In the same way in which the soul and the body are united, God should become accessible for participation by the soul and, through the soul’s intermediary, by the body, in order that the soul might receive an unchangeable character, and the body, immortality; and finally that the whole man should become God, deified by the grace of God become man, becoming whole man, soul and body, by nature, and becoming whole God, soul and body, by grace.”[viii]
Obviously, this is heretical theology to the church. However, we must note our tendency to develop such a ‘Christian’ doctrine in light of our broken and inexhaustibly driven human nature.
That is our crux, we are made in his image but scarcely realizing it.
- Of him, but not for him.
- With godlike attributes, only longing for their enhancements.
- Deriving his being, but hoarding it.
- Free to master, yet enslaved by ourselves.
And left to ourselves we are:
- Warriors, yet weak.
- Conquerors, yet hungry.
- Achievers, yet scared.
- Lovers, yet cold.
- Givers, yet jealous.
- Dreamers, yet unsatisfied.
- Explorers, yet bored.
- Hopeful, yet unsustainable.
Our inescapable fragility and inability to conquer our wounded selves has always been our anguish. Now, on the horizons of what was once a perpetual future of the human race, we can glimpse the coming end.
We have recently understood that the planet and sun have a shelf life, that Earth’s resources are in fact finite, and that our current consumption pace will destroy ourselves sooner that the 2nd law of thermodynamics will. If Jesus doesn’t return first, we can now see our end as a species. In this generation, we have never seen it so clearly.
Coincidentally, we see ways to improve our conditions now as we never have before – such as those bioethical issues mentioned above.
Poignantly, our technology provides us a place to be a God to ourselves.
Humanism’s destiny of man must be reckoned with or the Christian world will not understand the extent of the depravity of man and will find this destiny is ineffective in providing the saving alternative to man. The issue is ultimately daunting to today’s Christian. By knowing the forces that are behind the intricately crafted thoughts, cliché sayings, and the cultural isms of our time we can adequately understand the pitfalls and shortcomings so as to avoid the destructive nature of their consequences. For those interested in apologetics, it is even more crucial that we understand the destiny of man for without having a firm grasp of the current technological and cultural issues of our time we will misunderstand them and will succumb to the powerful forces that push them onto us. Os Guinness puts it this way,
“What often happens is that Christians wake up to some incident or issue and suddenly realize they need to analyze what’s going on. Then, having no tools of their own, they lean across and borrow the tools nearest them. They don’t realize that, in their haste, they are borrowing not an isolated tool but a whole philosophical toolbox laden with tools which have their own particular bias to every problem…The toolbox may be Freudian, Hindu or Marxist. Rarely, is it consistently or coherently Christian. When Christians use tools for analysis which have non-Christian assumptions embedded within them, these tools eventually act back on them like wearing someone else’s glasses or walking in someone else’s shoes. The tools shape the user.”[ix]
Thus, it is imperative that we ourselves do not reflect a destiny back to culture that culture is forcing on us. We must find our destiny that God has created us to fulfill and reject the human notions that lead us to the contrary. These will become more clear in this article. To this end, we hope to invite our current culture to drink from a different fountain for once, a fountain whose source is from “everlasting to everlasting” rather than a fountain of concocted man-made ingredients. As the psalmist refreshingly captures it this way, “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.”[x] Augustine so perfectly adds, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
Preliminary Considerations of Humanism, Becoming, & Conquering
How great is the temptation of every generation to manage the affairs of its decedents. How absurd it is that in an age of scientific achievement, technological brilliance, and star trek like capabilities, we decide to reject objectivism. Up until the dawn of the Enlightenment, despite our human condition, past generations yielded objectivism to the next generations. In our current age, rather than having received the inheritance of tradition, objectivism, and solid religion, we received a weaker inheritance. One filling our current world with dismay, trouble, and fear. We see this in our inherited international nuclear threats, Islamic faith ‘tolerance’, and wayward professors who poison millions of students daily behind the pulpit of ‘peace’ and ‘freedom.’ This is the inheritance of lost value by power collecting. How brilliantly subtle is the force pulling our unsustainable, dehumanizing, inherited human condition.
But our species is and always has been trying to re-make itself, not with our minor improvements of ourselves but with major transcendent ones. To enhance the quality of life with infrastructure and nation-building, to dignify the mentally ill, and to bring water, food, and clothing to the destitute are noble, moral, and appropriate goals of every human. However, our continuous state of affairs is to eventually become something we are not, that is, humans becoming un-human. While trying to be human gods we un-will our humanness to that which we seize power from. This power is definitely not of God but a perverted power of man which can easily be influenced by Satan. The absurdity is we use our self power to undo ourselves, making us unrecognizable creatures of immorality, lust, and greed. But this is our destiny in a world of ruled by humans.
Without getting into ethics, ethical philosophy, or even Christian theology, one can easily see dehumanizing affects of our technological modifications of ourselves and progressive re-creation of our super un-human-like selves.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) Bioethics group declares, “Genetic research, in particular the sequencing of the human genome, has opened the way for far-reaching medical research and biomedical applications. The number of genetic databanks is rising, with some containing more than a million records…contain samples from virtually entire national populations. In this rapidly developing field, many people fear that human genetic data will be used for purposes contrary to human rights and freedom.”[xi]
One website bluntly reports, “The current mapping of the human genome has produced many tools that will become quite useful in future eugenics work.”[xii] Additionally,
“Current experimentation includes hybrid biological/electronic devices, biological computer memories and research leading to the minimum molecular complexity for life. Creation of new life forms directly from biological raw (non-living) materials are quite possible in the near future.”[xiii]
Are we considering at all the greed for power over ourselves that is taking place when we actually begin to fulfill the destiny of man?
Similarly, are we contemplating that getting new teeth, leg, or heart is one thing. But getting a new face is not something totally different? Want a new organ? Sure. But want an enhanced new body feature? Why? Why do we need plastic surgery to modify to our looks?
We think that these improvements will change who we are and make us immune to criticism. We think we can alleviate suffering. We think it gives us the power of choice and the capability of redefining ourselves to be renewable beings. It’s being born again: regenerate by “divine” scientific grace.
Playing God in these areas is only the beginning. Becoming God is totally different.
Seizing our destiny as an individual and as humanity is not new. It’s just that now we have the knowledge and power to actually do it.
Syntopical Discussion: Man’s ultimate destiny as becoming a being of his choice in existential humanism or who God’s creation
To help us understand this oiling of the human super machine driving of the cliff edge, let us turn to those whose thoughts on the issue are second to none. We would then be looking back about 75 years to some of the last centuries most brilliant secular thinkers, who finally articulated humanism’s ideas on the destiny of man with perfect clarity in the existential movement. This movement in philosophy is also known as ‘continental philosophy.’ Thinkers such as Ortega, Jaspers, Heideggar, Satre, Camus and others (Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche – existentialist forerunners of the 19th century) spelled out our human condition without restraint. Let us consider 3 select views from Spain, Germany, and France.
In this article, we will not attempt to treat Heideggar’s views, for we have enough to cover as it is. “In general terms, existentialism can be divided between philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre (as well as Ortega and Jaspers), who defined existentialism as a humanism, and those, such as Heidegger, who saw the organization of philosophy around the analysis of human determinacy as a metaphysical corruption of philosophy.”[xiv] Thus, we will stick to an understanding that existentialism is a type of humanism that clarifies the human condition by way of appealing to concepts freedom, dread, anxiety, absurdity, etc, whereby one can choose to reinvent, redefine, recreate himself and humanity. Let us begin.
Ortega: Man’s destiny is to “make itself” since “man has no nature.”
The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega (1883-1955) thought that humans are not like things whose potentiality is already actualized in reality. Human life is a project to prove existence. Man starts as a ‘not yet’ but aspires to be. Conquering non-existence to earn life. “But man must not only make himself: the weightiest thing he has to do is to determine what he is going to be.”[xv] For Ortega, man seeks and finds concepts that God tried to formulate.
Ortega goes as far to say that “Man has no nature.” Man is capable of being anything because he has no nature and is limitless except for the one limit of the past which narrow man’s future so there is only one pre-established course. To be free means that man is forced by his nature to not have “constitutive identity.” To be unstable and undetermined. All this will accumulate in being and man will make himself through these series of experiments. Finally, he states that “Man is the entity that makes itself, an entity which traditional ontology only stumbled upon precisely as its course was drawing to a close.” Man must develop a second program. The first (objectivism, traditional ontology, theism, etc.) had “inadequacy”. “One aims at avoiding in the new project the drawbacks of the old.”[xvi]
So we see in Ortega a very certain humanistic idea of becoming a being by a new project of de-traditionalizing human identity.
Jaspers: Man’s destiny is to “gain mastery over all Being without yet Being anything himself.”
Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), the German psychologist who converted to a humanist philosopher, knew that science itself will fail the ‘Being question’ for man. For Jaspers,
“True humanity is thus a condition of free self-possession and transcendent authenticity. The argument runs through all his early works that human beings are distinguished by the fact that they have authentic attributes of existence and transcendence—that is, by their ability to raise questions about themselves and their freedoms which cannot be posed in material or scientific terms, and by their resultant capacity for decisive reversal, self-transformation and transcendence.”[xvii]
Here Jaspers spells out that man has a transcendent connection to the divine, but nowadays “Man is less certain of himself than ever.”[xviii] His philosophy employs a 2 fold presupposition 1) man is autonomous and 2) man is a datum of transcendence. While he states that decisional obedience to the Transcendence (Deity as an impersonal force) leads to man’s own ‘Being’, he further presses that man in his wealth of knowledge “could gain mastery over all Being without yet Being anything himself.”[xix]
Moreover, he thought that reflective existential philosophy would help man have and become the being he can be. At this point in history Jaspers says that “man is reduced to a condition of perplexity by confusing the knowledge that he can prove with the convictions by which he lives.”[xx] He says that “to fail to be human would mean to slip into nothingness. What man is and can become is a fundamental question for man…Man always becomes man by devoting himself to this other (Transcendence).”[xxi] In that, Jasper’s contends that our aboutness towards becoming ‘something’ makes us human.
For Jaspers, by philosophizing about Existenz (similar to Kierkegaard and Socrates), Man can arrive at free self-being, decisional truth, and a becoming reality. Truth is “founded in the Existenz that we become.” He boldly states that “What matters is that our life is guided by something unconditional which can only spring from the decision. Decision makes Existenz real, forms life, and changes it in inner action…which keeps us soaring upward.” In other words, truth and reality must be based on our decisions or our existence is not one of becoming and being.
Interestingly, he admits that “if he makes himself the immediate object of his efforts he is on his last and perilous path.” (pg 168) In doing so man will lose the Transcendence and while grasping himself will not understand himself. Man will become clear as the “greatest potentiality and the greatest danger in the world.”[xxii] I think he nailed it here.
But, Jaspers further contrasts his somewhat Eastern views of transcendence with the cult religion (Christianity). Although, Jaspers grounds Man in his original Being (the Deity), Jaspers doesn’t really follow through on giving an approach to connect to the Transcendence while engaging in existential thinking towards being and becoming. So by following the general direction which he points, man still is left to himself to decide how to maintain openness to some higher power but push the limits of his own becoming forward to wherever it takes him. This is a scary path and a bad religion.
Furthermore, it is interesting that Jaspers understood man’s origins from and dependence to such a God this well, but still leads towards such an open ended future of Man as becoming ‘Being’. This is because there is more subjectivism and humanism in Jaspers than there is spiritualism. He states, “for us the Deity, if it exists, is only as it appears to us in the world, as it speaks to us in the language of man and the world.” (pg 169) Clearly we see that Jaspers maintains such openness that he won’t state in certain terms that the Deity even exists. But more importantly, Jaspers, in the end of his writings, espouses such a strong commitment to the openness of Being itself, that there is rarely talk of Deity or even ‘Transcendence’, just ‘Being’ and ‘Encompassing’.
It seems then, that Jaspers goal is to push man towards Man’s ultimate destiny by starting with his derived god-like nature and leading to his existential becoming “unlimited ranges of Being.” He invites his readers “to grasp the whole spaciousness of Being without losing oneself in the void of the mere universal…”[xxiii]
What does this ‘whole spaciousness of Being’ lead Man to? We see here a very clear expression of the man’s inevitable losing oneself while becoming “unlimited being.” Man becoming a god.
Sartre: Man’s destiny is “to be God”
The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) bluntly stated in his famous “Existentialism is Humanism” 1945 lecture that “man is the being who wants to be God.”[xxiv]
The following is considered Sartre at his best. No straw man is presented here as this is his most recognized lecture summarizing his beliefs and philosophy of existentialism. The quotes indicated in the following paragraphs are from this lecture, thus specific citations aren’t necessary.
Sartre 1st responds to Christian attacks on the existentialist’s loss of values. He states that existentialism has been attacked as an ideology of quietism in despair. Gloomy and harsh people are the ones that attack it as gloomy.[xxv] Sartre contends that it’s the optimism of existentialism and the possibility of choice that confronts such people.
Sartre’s existential destiny of man
Sartre’s describes existentialism as an optimistic view that makes life possible where truth and action are subjective. In the existentialist view, existence precedes essence and one begins from the subjective: as opposed to the classical view. In the classical view, man is the realization of the concept god has in his mind and human nature is the universal that we all instantiate. That is, God has a concept of man in his mind then designs then creates; it starts in his understanding then in the will. This classical view holds that essence precedes – is prior to chronologically and more importantly, higher in worth – existence.
Whereas, Sartre’s atheistic existentialism presupposes that God does not exist. That with no God and with man existing prior to any conception of himself, man is not predefined and therefore not predetermined. Man first exists, then encounters himself, then defines himself. Man is that which he wills to be and makes of himself. This is existence preceding essence, in that there is not a human essence that he must adhere to, rather, he is a subjective being that propels himself toward the future of his own choosing. Sartre urges, “Man will only attain true existence when he is what he purposes to be.” Man possesses himself in that he possesses ultimate freedom and the ultimate responsibility that comes with such a radical freedom.
In every other system man is an object and is predetermined. So the existentialist is in fact optimistic, gives dignity to man, encouraging man to action since there is no hope except in action; this is “what permits him to have life;” it is the “ethic of action and self-commitment.” He vividly clarifies that “The destiny of man is within himself.”
For Sartre, in subjectivism there is first the freedom of the subject, and second, man is a being which can’t get past his subjectivity. But, man chooses himself means that man creates himself as he wills to be and chooses to for all men. The future of all is based in my will & created image for myself and for all men. He states,
“Existence precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for all and for the entire epoch in which we find ourselves. Our responsibility is much greater than we had supposed, for it concerns mankind as a whole…I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.”[xxvi]
This sounds to me like 1 person to control them all – great responsibility for all men – which makes sense in light of Sartre’s Marxism.
Sartre’s qualification & defense of subjectivism.
Sartre thinks that we give value to something when we choose it. He advocates taking action and not living inaction. There is no determinism if there are no objective values. We don’t need God for the objective values. “For if indeed existence precedes essence one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. Man is condemned to be free.” That is man is condemned (fated in a sense) to invent man as he wants. Man was thrown into this world not by his own choice but carries radical freedom to choose himself and is entirely alone in his responsibility to decide what to be.
He quotes Dostoevsky, “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted.” This is the starting point for existentialism. This is radical freedom. For Sartre, concerning man’s choices, there are no excuses, no prepared road maps, and no help anywhere. In an ethical dilemma that he presents, the Christian morality doesn’t even help or address what to do. There is no a priori answer or ethical guideline. Additionally, impulse and instinct cannot be relied upon to help in answering the dilemma. Also, a professor or priest aren’t helpful because their answer is known to the questioner before the person goes to ask them and thus invalidates the advice because he is only going to them already knowing what they would say. Sartre’s advice: “You are free, therefore choose – that is to say, invent.”[xxvii]
People who make excuses in life are their own jury, pronouncing themselves as unfulfilled with deceptive dreams and abortive hopes. Man is the sum of his actions. People hate the optimism of the existentialist because he allows someone weak and base to be someone special. Many people think that a coward and a hero are born that way and are resigned to think that nothing can be done. But the existentialist would say that we make ourselves to be cowards and heroes. We can make ourselves heroes even when society thinks we are born that way. We can redefine ourselves in spite of them. For Sartre, this is a more appealing life than what Christianity offers.
People condemn the existentialist for his subjectivity, to which the existentialist Sartre replies that “we seek to base our teaching upon the truth, and not upon a collection of fine theories (like objectivism), full of hope but lacking real foundations.” The base foundation of the existentialists truth is Descartes “I think, therefore I am.” Somehow Sartre thinks that this Cartesian cogito is objective absolute common sense truth that starts with one self awareness. All other subjective truths comes from this truth.
But, he further explains that there is “inter-subjectivity” where there is a need for others to confirm our subjective truth. “It is in this world that man has to decide what he is and what others are.” Although there is no universal human nature as an essence (a universal), there is a universal human condition. This is both subjective and objective.[xxviii]
Sartre is truly a subjectivist and is not a postmodern relativist, as he believes that we can understand other cultures and realize that we all go through the struggles of life similarly. In every culture, we perpetually make ourselves. He says, “What is at the very heart and center of existentialism is the absolute character of free commitment, by which every man realizes himself in realizing a type of humanity – a commitment always understandable, to no matter whom in no matter what epoch.”
At the center of existentialism is man’s free choice to realize himself and humanity in all times and in all cultures.
Sartre responds to attacks on subjectivism
Attack 1: “It does not matter what you do”…so any choice is morally acceptable even evil choices.
Sartre’s response to 1: Man always chooses even by not choosing. But moral choices are comparable to a work of art. Art is creative and innovative like morality, in which “We cannot decide a priori what should be done.” Man invents the law for himself. “Man makes himself; he is not found ready made; he makes himself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality.”
Attack 2: “You cannot judge others for there is no reason for preferring one purpose to another”
Sartre’s response to 2: we do not believe in progress…but freedom. Freedom is the foundation and goal of all values in willing with others. Sartre believes though that we cannot will the freedom of others just will that others have freedom. Those who hide from the freedom or those who believe that their existence is necessary and determined, Sartre calls “cowards” and “scum.” Also, those who are self-deceived are in error. So he can make moral judgments on others because certain people “hide from themselves the wholly volunteer nature of their existence and its complete freedom.”
Attack 3: “Everything being merely voluntary in this choice of yours, you give away with one hand what you pretend to gain with the other.” Meaning that, you choose your own values so they are not serious.
Sartre’s response to 3: God is not the author of values, they come from us inventing them. “If I have excluded God the Father, there must be somebody to invent values…there is no sense in life a priori. Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.”
The humanism that Sartre despises is one that has man as the goal, which “upholds man as the end-in-itself and as the supreme value.” That humanism essentially declares that man is magnificent, which is absurd to Sartre because it judges men so he dismisses it. It tries to ascribe value to men according to their deeds. Man is defining himself so he can never be the goal. “An existentialist would never take man as the end, since man is still to be determined.” This is the ‘cult of humanity’ humanism, so Sartre rejects it.
Sartre’s Existential Humanism
In regards to existential humanism, Sartre is truly a man of the cloth. Sartre describes his view of humanism with man as the legislator of his destiny. “Man is all the time outside of himself: it is in projecting and losing himself beyond himself that he makes man to exist.” In that man is the center of his self-surpassing transcendence and the center of his subjective universe. Existential humanism is that there is no other legislator than man so he must decide for himself; that man seeking liberation can realize himself as truly human.
Sartre just draws the conclusion from the atheistic perspective, which is not a despairing or pessimistic view, but optimistic and one of action. Existentialism is not necessarily an atheist system for “even if God existed that would make no difference from its point of view.” For Sartre, theism or atheism doesn’t matter. “Man needs to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God.” It is the Christians who are self-deceived and confuse their own despair with the existentialist so as to describe the existentialist as someone without hope.
So that is Sartre at his best. Again, no straw man is presented here. Instead of attempting to rebuttal Sartre’s views myself. I will implore one far better mind.
The Christian response: C.S. Lewis: Man destiny is to destroy itself
C.S. Lewis’ book The Abolition of Man takes on all of these existential and becoming themes and delivers a crushing blow in one of the best books in the last 100 years. The National Review ranked the book #7 in its 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century list. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute ranked the book as the #2 best book of the 20th century. Not bad at all as the book is actually a transcript of 3 lectures.[xxix]
The following is my attempt to summarize Lewis’ adamant message to show the peculiarities of the danger of subjectivism, liberalism, existentialism, and humanism. The quotes indicated in the following paragraphs are from this lecture, thus specific citations aren’t necessary. To those who espouse such dangerous views, Lewis refers to as “Men Without Chests.” That is, they used to be men, but have given themselves over to power and have lost what makes them real humans, thus they are “without chests.” These are those who are actually setting out to destroy the real nature and future of mankind.
Rebuttal to existential humanistic subjectivism
For Lewis, if a society follows subjectivism it will destroy itself. But, the subjectivists write as if they have a purpose to write. They take a position that is practical and that some state of affairs they desire is good and ought to obtain. They are trying to convince someone to take their side. They are trying to rid society of objectivism, “in order that ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge.” They try to ground real or base values in something other than what is objective. The subjectivists good is altruism. But why ought one be altruistic?
The subjectivists attempt to ground values (e.g. heroic acts like self-sacrifice for the good of the other) in altruism. They know that the preservation of man is man’s goal, so altruism is reasonable. But for Lewis, what is rational doesn’t lead to “do this.” He states, “From propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn.” This is similar to the notion in philosophy that distinguishes an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ That is, you cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ Additionally, being altruistic is not more rational then another being altruistic to preserve society by laying down his life rather than mine.
Another, subjectivists attempt at grounding values is Instinct. They say we have an instinctive urge to preserve our species. Humanism’s goal is the preservation and advance of man But for Lewis, all justice and morality is swept away when it conflicts with the preservation of mankind or man as an individual. Before sex was taboo outside of marriage because of the consequences. After contraceptives sex is ok as long as it doesn’t conflict with the preservation of man. The subjectivists say that instinct must be obeyed. Happiness and satisfaction will be the result of such obedience. But altruistic death brings no satisfaction – because you’re dead. Plus, instinct has to be obeyed so there is no ought or satisfaction. The subjectivists say that we ought to obey instinct – not that we have to obey it; which instinct then ought we to obey? Which instinct do we control to free the other?
The subjectivists say that we ought to obey instinct that preserves the species. But what rule gives precedence to obey the instinct that preserves society over another instinct. That judgment is itself not instinctive. “The judge cannot be one of the parties judged.” So then why preserve oneself? Why preserve the species instead of enjoying pleasure?
They will decide with their reasons what kind of motives and values they want. They are really motivated by the ‘I want’ and their own pleasure and impulse. They stand outside value judgments and cannot ground a preference of one impulse to another. When it comes down to it, they choose by the strength of the impulse to the point which the words ‘corruption’ and ‘degenerated’ will not even have meaning to them.
For Lewis, one instinct or impulse is not deeper than another. There is no way to know that from instinct. Plus, this is merely a descriptor which are not ‘oughts’ or conclusions for practical choices. It is instinctive that parents sacrifice for their babies. Then comes rational planning which is by choice and reflection which is less obligatory than instinct. Care for our future lineage (in that sense is preservation of species) is human but this is not justified in instinct.
The result is that the subjectivists attempt at grounding values of altruism in reason and instinct – which both fail. If values are rational or grounded in rationality than they are so obvious that they don’t demand proof. They are self-evident objective truths. Lewis urges, “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.” Certain ‘oughts’ are just as self evident. An ‘is’ can’t produce an ‘ought’ – but that doesn’t mean re-derive the ‘ought’ out of man’s self-preservation or master his own destiny because he has the freedom to. The derivation of any transcendent human ‘ought’ simple by necessity or it allows for easy confusion of the source and consequential ethical action.
Furthermore, Lewis grasps the subjectivism of the existentialism at its roots: they start with objectivism and use it in order to attack it. If they really started with objectivism they wouldn’t get anywhere. He throws out justice to reach his goals of preserving his own species. Tao (Lewis’ term for objectivism) is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. No other new system of value can exist. Lewis states it graphically,
“The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.”
Additionally he writes, “Outside of the Tao there is no grounds for criticizing either the Tao or anything else.” Also, “If you (the subjectivist) persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized.” They say (this quote is Lewis referring to their thoughts) “Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such. Having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny.” To this Lewis rightly says, “This is the rejection of the concept of value altogether.” Thus, man is delivered from value keepers and other destiny controlling powers. There is nothing hidden anymore. The existentialists have revealed all unsaid notions of human salvation of humans. For by baptizing ourselves in our purified subjectivism, the subjectivists claim that man can finally attain ‘progress.’
Lewis adamantly expresses that it is painfully obvious that man’s real conquest is ultimately to control all of itself and everything not itself. Man’s power is increasing in specific localized collections. This is power possessed and exercised by some men over other men with nature as the instrument.
On that note, he expresses that each generation limits the power of the next generation and that new generation rebels against the former. The new is weaker than the former – because the former can say that “though we have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.” Man wants to rule man in every way, particularly the descendent generations. Lewis warns, “But the man moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all prosterity in what shape they please.” Here, Lewis prophecies the consequences of our god-human tendencies, progressive generational curses, and radical all consuming imperial nature. We fit into the concoctions of the previous generation and lack understanding how to break free because we have the same evil tendencies.
As the existentialist articulated best, the power to choose the destiny of himself will result in power to choose the destiny of anyone else. In that, he cautions, “They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce…For we are assuming the last stage of Man’s struggle with Nature. Human nature has been conquered – and, of course, has conquered…” Man will finally conquer himself by re-making the species whatever he wants.
These natural processes and tools which created them, will in turn conquer recreated man. It’s not that their men will be bad men, they will not be men at all. They became conditioning animals to condition others. They are not even now men without chests as they eventually become ‘not man’ to redefine man – to make us all into their image. But we don’t want this image that they will make for us. Their reasons and motives for duty to preserve the species won’t cut it. Lewis nails it here: “Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. There subjects aren’t men at all: they are artifacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”
Thus, the re-making of man, the destiny of man, is the destruction of man. Man’s conquest at its final moment will turn to become his abolition.
Lewis concludes that the reality is that Nature rules the ‘Conditioners’ and all humanity. Nature wins. “Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.” Additionally, “If the eugenics are sufficient enough there will be no second revolt, but all snug beneath the conditioners, and the conditioners beneath her (Nature), till the moon falls or the sun grows cold.” We reduce our world, each other, animals, phenomena to mere nature in order to conquer it. The language we use dehumanizes people. Man’s conquest of himself is the Conditioners making raw human material out of souls.
As we conquer nature, Lewis stresses, we bring that aspect of Nature into a bigger set – redefining it so nature actually increases all around us. This is the price we pay – we give it power. He says, “We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us forever.” It’s the magician giving his soul to get power. They give up their souls to get power give up our souls. Our humanism tries to have it both ways, “to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time retain it.” It is all going to a world of post-humanity.
The ancients taught how to conform the soul to reality, through knowledge, self discipline, and virtue. Magic & Science teaches how to conform reality to the wish of the soul through techniques and experience. To this Lewis notes, “Analytical understanding…kill what it sees and only sees by killing.” The one step that is fatal in all of the steps toward this is reducing the Tao to explain it away. This will explain away even explanation itself. He finalizes,
“You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”
C.S. Lewis has taken on the powerful force of humanism, subjectivism, and existentialism. He understands the moral intensity of such a philosophy to the common man. He has expressed a striking refutation to it. But let’s prone deeper, what would be the end result of these views? What does they look like hashed out in say bioethics?
Implications of Humanism
The atheist and the theist would both agree that Nietzsche’s nihilism was right. That when objective moral values are diminished or withdrawn from society, God is dead and it is the end of Christianity. If there is no God, are our moral values objective? No.
But Objective moral values do exist (this is the second premise for the moral argument for the existence of God). Even western post-modern college students, although more relativistic than their professors, will admit to this very quickly when pushed. Many have thought that most philosophy professors are relativists, but in fact the opposite is true. Surveys have shown that philosophy departments around the country are filled with mostly objectivists Ph.D.’s.
Shallowly, the moral subjectivism that people loudly profess is inconsistent with certain aspects of their lifestyle, where objectivism must be utilized. Moreover, the humanism that is of our fallen nature is not expressed at all in our communities or day to day experiences like moral subjectivism is. Additionally, many sociologists or Christian thinkers express that we are living in a post-modern culture. However, I would contend that postmodernism may just be a convenient overarching term as it seems our culture is still eating up and digesting expressions of humanism, subjectivism, and existentialism.
So we our left with our honest thinkers like Ortega, Jaspers, Sartre, who express what would come out of every fallen human honestly describing our condition and cure. Taking these views to their absurdity, recent thinkers such as Peter Singer, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and others, accept and express the result wherever it takes them.
Peter Singer thinks that we can kill newborns up to 30 days. He is brutally consistent in his subjectivist approach and conclusions. Singer’s utilitarianism says that we need to kill the valueless to give strength to the broader value population. For him, there is no difference between newborn and fetus. Personhood is capacity of pleasure and pain because we are self-conscious beings – animals have this too. His contention is all about having an immediate right to pleasure or pain. This is the impulse that Lewis foresaw.
Singer wants to get rid of God but will have nothing to appeal to for grounding his moral claims and right to life claims. Additionally, you can’t use utilitarianism to get to utilitarianism as a view on ethics. It just doesn’t work.
Moreover, Steven Pinker thinks that the substance view of human nature and identity through change is stupid, useless, and needs to be replaced. It ought to be based on consent and personal autonomy. He argues that because scientific materialism is correct, personal freedom and autonomy can do the work of bioethics.
But this is not a neutral worldview when Pinker gets on us for having a metaphysical commitment. How does he ground his metaphysical basis? He doesn’t.
Richard Dawkins says that “We are machines for propagating DNA….It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”[xxx] The subjectivist Dawkins even offers 10 commandments for moral living.
Although claiming objective morality is out of the limits of rationality, he offers us 10 objective moral truths to hold to. Not a wise alternative if he is trying to be consistent.
So, humanism, subjectivism, and existentialism are the revealed articulate expressions of our inheritance to filter through – handed down from past generations to our current one. We received man as being without boundaries, with knowledge that is violently dangerous, and power without morality. Our inheritance is set up for more slavery to our dreams of manifest destiny and now imperialists of the future man; all haunting us now – even without our recognition.
In that, these culturally pervasive intellectual barricades, combined with scientific advances, deliver a platter of never ending self-deceptive freedom – enabling an addiction of imperialist gluttony. We as Christians partake as well by either misunderstanding, ignorance, or participation. But as Guinness warned, we can even use these very underlying philosophical systems of rubbish to resist.
Much more can be said on the failures of subjectivism, existentialism, and humanism. This is by no means a full treatment of such topics. However, the intent was to show that the depths of the human struggle to become God is in us today. Even when we truly have made moral progress in most if not all cultures, our human condition will not quit. However civilized we think we are now has no bearing on the extent and intensity of our core depravity. Our technology is advanced beyond our moral maturity, but we can never expect to be creatures of pure moral responsibility. When we consider our history, our constant failures to exhibit premier moral behavior concerning the value of human nature become obvious.
While we have seemingly noble technological advances in bio-engineering, they all point to the engineering of life that the human condition has long thirsted for. But now ours is the generation that contains power to modify the next without boundary.
We will always become that which we carnally want to be, however, such becoming is not morally pure. Why? Because our intentions to conquer, colonize, and exploit for our own greatness, is embedded in the fabric of the substance that we have chosen to become.
It is not that we can ‘choose our destiny without exception to accommodate ourselves,’ but we cannot choose a destiny that frees us from that exact slavery.
Without the immunity, the human condition remains inept to glorify anything other than itself. This has and will always been our anguish.
Where is the cure? Could it be that objectivism is not the cure but also points to the original purest state of what we were? Is it possible to drink of a fountain of life that restores the body and soul to its initial state of true freedom?
If such a remedy exists, and such a state of existence was and is still possible, our goal must be to recover the path. Mankind’s most diligent thinking, white-knuckled answers, and self-prescribed placebos have only re-engineered our own slavery.
Recommendations & Inspiration to the Only Cure – the Christian cure
Such a remedy does exist! This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is efficient and effective to cure all our fallenness. It restores us to become more of a person with pure intentions, motives, and thoughts. Where we have squandered our history in trying to create and procreate a world without disease, decay, and death, Jesus redeems all that was lost back to himself. The power of such a gospel and the beauty of this Jesus is that he is the ultimate embodiment of freedom and destiny – for only he has the ‘genetic’ makeup (so to speak) of a being whose destiny is an expression of his freedom. Whereas our ‘genetic’ makeup has become one of slavery to a system of death and destruction – proven imperfect freedom only reigns.
Ours can be like his though, where we choose to embrace the original manifestation of his image, the pseudo-clones that we are. When he made us, he fashioned us with his fingerprints. The concept that like beings create like things, is not only true, it is us. Except that we grasped ourselves to tight from the very beginning. Thus, choosing our own destiny in the garden – and still choosing it – not the one he designed for us.
Whereas, Christianity offers human dignity by means of one simple human nature derived from the God who created us. We are the image of God with inherent dignity, value, and worth. Additionally, our human nature is one to be cherished but transformed. If we cannot be transformed into his image, our result will be the struggle to become God, rather than to be like him.
Christians need to show ourselves revealing God’s destiny for humans by actually fulfilling ours. We must not accept a status quo life of consumerism and pleasure seeking. Our hearts were made too dependent on his. Why walk down the same path that human history puts us on and be reduced to narcissistic beasts. Is it possible to reorient ourselves to choosing our own predestined destiny? We must find our destiny that God has created us to fulfill and reject all other human notions.
Scripture teaches that we are predestined and called to conform to the image of him.
Romans 8:29 & 30 says,
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Ephesians 1:4, 5, & 11 teach,
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
It is clear, not just in these verses but throughout Scripture (Jn 15:16, Jer. 1:5, Ps. 139, etc), that God has a purpose for our lives. This purpose is based in his goodness and pleasure. By accepting ourselves as we are made to be, as we were created to be, as we were pre-destined to be, only then can we appreciate fullness of this life in the here and now.
When we let go of our destiny, we can grasp his (Mt 10:39, Mt 16:25). Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) This will bring God the most glory and will satisfy ourselves forever and with perfect peace. It is our optimum mode of being, it is our truest advancement, and it is our only pure form of progress.
Our offspring can still be born with what are now thought of as deficiencies; but in God’s eyes – and hopefully ours as well – we will understand the words destiny and imperfection.
[i] “Don’t turn Against Science, Blair Warns Protesters,” London Daily Telegraph, November 18, 2000. This was provided by Scott Klusendorf in his Advanced Pro-Life Apologetics notes. See www.prolifetraining.com / & www.caseforlife.com.
[iii] Most of the time, the parents of the leftover embryos do not know that there are any leftover embryos. Clinics will keep the embryos for 5 years and then will throw them out. (One embryo was once adopted after being frozen for several years and that embryo is now a 13 year old boy.) So for the parents that do know, the clinic will try to push the parents to make a decision to release the embryo for stem cell research or release the embryo for adoption. But, this kills the embryo when we take the cells and implant them in another person with bad cells.
[iv] This aids in the replacement and anti-rejection of organs should they become deficient. All cloning is reproductive in the sense that the embryo is reproduced. The problem is that embryos don’t come from stem cells, they have them and have to be killed to get the stem cells.
[v] http://www.sanger.ac.uk/about/what/future.html; “Our research in Human Genetics will harness the power of our improving sequencing and genotyping infrastructure in order to gain a better understanding of the diversity of the human species and how this diversity influences our health and disease.”
[vi] http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=declaration#science & http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=affirmations
[vii] Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism is Humanism,” (Lecture, Club Maintenant, St. Paris, France, October 29, 1945).
[ix] Os Guinness, source unknown.
[x] Psalm 36:9
[xi] “To address these concerns, the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data was adopted unanimously and by acclamation at UNESCO’s 32nd General Conference on 16 October 2003. This Declaration and the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights are the only international points of reference in the field of bioethics.” http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/ethics-of-science-and-technology/bioethics/human-genetic-data/
[xv] Jose Ortega, Man Has No Nature, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York, NY: Meridian Publishing Company/Plume Penguin Books, 2004), 155.
[xvi] Ibid, page 152-157.
[xviii] Ibid, pg 168.
[xix] Ibid, pg 168.
[xx] Karl Jaspers, On My Philosophy, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York, NY: Meridian Publishing Company/Plume Penguin Books, 2004), 171.
[xxi] Ibid, pg 168.
[xxii] Ibid, pg 158-185.
[xxiii] Ibid, pg 231-232.
[xxiv] Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism is Humanism,” (Lecture, Club Maintenant, St. Paris, France, October 29, 1945).
[xxv] Existential themes such as anguish, abandonment, and despair are defined by Sartre with notions of purpose, optimism, and action. When we consider the responsibility we can’t escape from, we are in anguish. Man is in anguish with responsibility like military leaders are when they send soldiers to war to die. Abandonment is the fact that man alone bears all responsibility for his life and that we ourselves define and decide our being. Despair is the limit of ourselves and actions to our wills; to act without hope & as Descartes said, “Conquer yourself rather than the world.” Despair does not mean quietism but acting on commitment, this does not need hope. He is against quietism. There really is no reality but action.
[xxvi] Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism is Humanism,” (Lecture, Club Maintenant, St. Paris, France, October 29, 1945).
[xxvii] Moreover, Sartre’s followers may not take up his work and carry it because they are free to decide what man is to be. A man is and only exists as he does, not how he hopes. At the end of a man’s life is not what he wished or hoped to be, it is what he actually made of himself that counts. A man is only what he realizes himself to be in reality by his actions.
[xxviii] The Dutch philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), often called the Father of Modern Existentialism, said out right that “Truth is subjectivity.”
[xxix] C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man,” (Lecture, Kings College, University of Durham, Durham, Britain, February 24-26, 1943).
[xxx] Richard Dawkins, The Ultraviolent Garden, Lecture 4 of 7, Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (1992)