Why Christian Existential Humanism?
There are some who take issue with the term "Christian Existential Humanism" (CEH), given that the terms "existentialism" and "humanism" are most closely associated with atheistic movements which have proven themselves in opposition to Christianity. Both existentialism and humanism have Christian origins, however, as well as support in the Bible. This proves that it is the atheism of "atheistic existentialism" and "atheistic humanism" that is opposed to Christianity, and nothing intrinsic to either existentialism or humanism itself.
The modern forefather of existentialism was a devout Christian named Søren Kierkegaard. His philosophy was a reaction against the worship of rationality which had overtaken both religion and philosophy. The core of his system of thought was the idea that God cannot be bound to any human system of judgment, whether it be logic, reason, mathematics, ethics or the law.
Although this was a radical thought at the time, it was not a new idea, having been discussed extensively in the book of Job, which condemned the arrogance of trying to make God subject to human judgments; and in the teachings of Christ, which established that Christ and his followers were not bound by the law.
As an extension of his core idea, Kierkegaard also highlighted the subjectivity of human existence as a realm in which one could rely on nothing outside of one's own experience. Again, this was a line of thought prefigured in the Bible, particularly in the book of Ecclesiastes, which can be seen as a proto-existentialist work of philosophy.
Christian existentialists, therefore, are those motivated first and foremost by obedience to God, and secondly by personal and subjective judgments, who accept no authority other than God, and their own consciences, who take absolute and undiminishable personal responsibility both for all their own actions and for the content of the world around them, yet who acknowledge their own limitations and take comfort in the sovereignity, the guidance and the mercy of God.
This can be contrasted with atheistic existentialists, who are motivated entirely by personal judgments, who accept no authority outside themselves, who shoulder responsibility for the world, yet without acknowledging their own limitations, and who take neither comfort nor guidance nor mercy from any source. It is for these reasons that atheistic existentialism is associated with solipsism and despair.
The term "humanism" was coined (after the fact) to refer to the general philosophy of the Italian Renaissance (which included many Christians among its leading thinkers). The concept can be generalized, however, in the following way: As a concern with and a celebration of those things which are uniquely human, as a recognition of the value of human life and human experience, and as an attempt to develop and support the full potential of the human race.
When viewed this way, the humanist ethos can be discerned in many different times and places, and can accurately describe most of the teachings of Jesus and his disciples, as well as certain passages from the Old Testament. A Christian humanist, therefore, is a person who is obedient to God, and worships God only, but who values human life and human accomplishments, and who lives in service to humanity and believes in human potential --a description that should be true for all Christians.
The problem with atheistic humanism comes not from its celebration of humanity, but from its denial of God, and from the destructive desire to make human beings the deities of their own experience. Whereas the Christian humanist recognizes the limitations of being human, and can respond to, or even celebrate those limitations (secure in the knowledge of the perfection of God), the atheist humanist denies any limitations to humanity, which can lead (ironically) to an intolerance for the flaws in human nature on the one hand and a vulnerability to human weaknesses on the other.
Given the centrality of existential and humanist concepts and concerns to Christian theology, I would go so far as to say that a true follower of Christ is by necessity both existentialist and humanist (although neither in precedence over discipleship). Thus, when I say "Christian Existential Humanist" what I really mean is "Christian."
©2005 Christopher Sunami. All Rights Reserved.