Existentialist Reformtation

James Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Fri Dec 24 14:58:12 MST 1999

On Fri, 24 Dec 1999 13:48:09 -0000 "George Pennefather"
<poseidon at eircom.net> writes:
>It makes for an interesting exercise to compare existentialist
>philosophy with Reformation
>For Zwinglie certainty of belief did not guarantee that one was
>correct and  would be
>saved. Under predestination we can never know whether we are members
>of the elect. Only
>god knows those that are to be saved. Consequently no matter what the
>individual does he
>can never be sure that he is to be saved. In short no matter how
>certain and committed the
>individual is to her/his convictions there can be no guarantee that
>one's convictions are
>correct and that commitment to those convictions is meaningful or make
>sense. Convictions,
>then, can never guarantee success.

I know that was certainly also Calvin's view as well.

>This reformation theology introduces the element of uncertainty into
>the world. It
>introduces, if you like, anxiety into our lives. It, in many ways,
>marks the beginning of
>the age of anxiety --Freud and all that. Indeed reformation theology
>was an expression of
>the new kind of individualist anxiety establishing itself in Western
>culture --not
>unconnected with the development of capitalism.

That was certainly Max Weber's thesis in his *Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism*.  For Weber it was precisely this
anxiety that he believed drove Calvinists and other Protestants
into becoming accumulators of capital.  Although Calvin had taught
that there were no signs available to us in this life that could assure
us whether we are part of the Elect or not, believers would nevertheless
still strive to find such signs and in Weber's view the ones they
hit upon were those of material success achieved through hard work
and ascetic self-denial.  Thus Puritanism was seen by Weber as a
means for coping with this anxiety.

>Under this theology the individual is forever striving to realise
>his/her convictions
>while never being certain that these convictions are either realistic
>and capable of
>achievement. Wo/man then is forever striving to get beyond himself
>without ever having a
>guarantee of getting there. This is similar in ways to the
>existentialist outlook of
>Sartre: wo/man is perpetually engaged in projecting himself beyond
>himself and yet never
>fulfils himself, never acquires happiness and contentment, never

Sartre's family on his mother's side were Protestants including
his maternal grandfather Charles Schweitzer who had such a
profound influence upon him as a child.  And in any case the thinkers
who had the strongest influences upon Sartre such as Kierkegaard
and Nietzsche were in their different ways products of Protestant

>Only god knows when man is saved. But since, in a sense, we can never
>really know what the
>absolute is thinking because of our limitations it never amounts to
>more than Sartre's
>being-in-itself --it is just there and that is all we can say about
>it. But for Sartre as
>in Nausea, being-in-itself sticks its nose into our being from time to
>time which is
>experienced by us as nausea or anxiety or whatever you want to call
>it.The tree trunk in
>Nausea is just this being-in-itself. This manifestation of
>being-in-itself is a form of
>mysticism --a mystical experience-- and akin to Reformation mysticism.
>Indeed as France, as I understand it, never experienced the
>Reformation in the radical way
>that Germany or Switzerland experienced one might say that the
>emergence of existentialism
>in post-war France was France's belated and thereby surreal
>The above are some off the cuff quickies --food for thought for those
>who will continue to
>tap away despite the bourgeois festival called Christmas.

Given your anti-Christmas outburst earlier, I would say that you
are quite the Puritan yourself.  In colonial Massachusetts the
Puritans Christmas festivities were banned as pagan rites with
which real Christians would have nothing to do with (Christmas
did not become a recognized holiday in Massachusetts until
around 1830).  And in England, Christmas was banned under
Oliver Cromwell.   Scrooge's dismissal of Christmas as
humbug in DIckens' *A Christmas Carrol* probably was representative
of a survival of the old Puritan attitudes among the English mercantile

Jim F.

>Warm regards
>George Pennefather
>Be free to check out our Communist Think-Tank web site at

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