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October 2021
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Quick thought: a beginner of existentialism, why does it feel so religious

“What animates this tradition [of Existentialism] is its struggle with religion and the fact that the writing of even so-called “atheist” existentialists “feels religious to its readers”” – Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy – Existentialism (2004)

I have just started delving into a couple of books on Existentialism and am wondering why it’s not more popular. Maybe it is, it’s just not called that anymore. It’s a type of philosophy that focuses on how we create meaning out of a (generally accepted) meaningless cosmos.

It seems like something many of us need now that religion generally plays a smaller part in most people’s lives, if any. We seem to intuitively classify actions as moral and immoral, without concrete principles to anchor them to. You might think “do unto others” and the like might be what fills this gap, yet it’s devoid of underlying moral philosophy other than reverting back to the statement itself. Do others deserve the treatment you would accept yourself? How is that standardised? Your idea of what you think would be fair to be done to you would be highly influenced by what you want to do to another person in that moment. That is, if you think of the principle at all.

The point is that in religion, the deity is generally considered omnipresent and therefore anything you do is held to the standard set by it regardless of how you feel in the moment or how you feel about being treated yourself. I find this approach both easier to have as part of the background, though it is less engaged and personalised.

My point: Religions tend to do a good job of standardising morals in such a way that you don’t need to engage or think about them, which makes them easier to apply to behaviour. Existentialism asks that we actively participate and shape our moralities, which is more energy consuming but presumably is a more individualised and objectively reflective practice.

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