The existence of God is a topic that has got a wide range of discussions all over the world. It is known that the world has witnessed great atheists and non-atheists, and all these come out from the notion of the existence of God. Out of the great atheists comes Jean Paul Sartre, who very well considers God, the term as such, as contradictory from his very notions. The greatest existentialist of this era has completely rejected the existence of God. For him man has to be always free, and man should be condemned to be free. So, for him, if there exists a God, then he says that man won’t be free and he cannot possess an authentic life and he would be immersed in the so-called bad faith. This seminar is a study on the concepts of Sartre on his views on God, through delving into the existentialism, freedom of man, ontology, literary works and such so on of Sartre.
Brief Life-sketch of Sartre
Jean Paul Sartre is a name that is celebrated all over the world especially in the area of philosophy that too in the area of existentialism. When the term existentialism is heard the first name that comes into the mind of any philosopher is none other than Sartre. Sartre made thinking philosophy glamorous. His main area of interests was existentialism, absolute freedom of man and the following authenticity. He was born in Paris, in the year 1905. He was also a student of the famous philosophers Husserl and Heidegger. From birth he was suffering from a disease called strabismus, which is a disease of having wandering eye. He was also too short.
With all these body constructions he called himself as ugly. Besides a philosopher he is also one of the major artists and writers in France. His first written play is, The Flies and his other famous works include, No Exit, Nausea, Being and Nothingness, and so on, out of these works Nausea is his first major work, a novel, and Being and Nothingness, the first major philosophical work which even won the Nobel Prize which he rejected. Sartre was one of the few philosophers to develop a complete system of thought consistent with the ethical and philosophical dilemmas of his time.
Existentialism of Sartre
While entering into the Sartrean Existentialism, we can find the influence of the philosophers like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and so on in his philosophy. Before looking into the Sartrean Existentialism it is a must to look into what is actually existentialism and how did it emerge. Existentialism is actually a European philosophy that developed between the 19th and 20th Century. Till then it was the Essentialism that prevailed. Existentialism arose from mainly two questions and they are:
- What is my purpose?
- Why am I here?
The most common and fundamental doctrine to all the existentialists is that existence precedes essence. It can be better understood using an example given by Sartre himself. He asks us to imagine a book and he says that this book has been made by an artisan, who had a conception of it. In other words, you cannot make something without knowing what it is for. Here he says that essence precedes existence. Now looking into its essence, it is found that the essence is the sum of the formulae and the qualities which made its production and its definition possible.
If we take one step further you can see, why believing in God is not acceptable for Sartre. God is a supernatural artisan. When God creates man, he knows precisely what he is creating. Thus, the conception of man in the mind of God is comparable to the book in the mind of the artisan. So, if God really exists you are not free any more, someone has made you the way you are. Hence you are not responsible for anything. Thus, Sartre says, “Man exists first, encounters himself, arises in the world and defines himself later”. So man will be what he makes of himself.
Thus, therefore he concludes that there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man, simply is. In other words, Sartre quotes like this, “Man is what he is not and is not what he is.” ‘Man is what he is not,’ that is to say, man is a being without an essential nature, a being who operates through negation, who cannot be identified with his past, or indeed his present self, and so ‘who is not what he is.’
From all these views it is clear that Sartre’s existentialist theory of man departs from an examination of consciousness. Through Sartre, the theistic essentialism is replaced by atheistic existentialism. Sartre himself came to understand existence through reflection on his own daily experience of being called to respond, and having to respond, willy-nilly, to the world around him.
Ontological Arguments of Sartre
The ontological analysis once it has revealed the structure of man and the ultimate meaning of desire gives place to the empirical analysis of man’s activities in the pursuit of the objects of his desire. Desire is at bottom the lack of being, a movement towards completion. Human presence in the world is a form of being separated from the en-soi which is wholly and solely what it is and by the mere fact of this separation striving for a consciousness which is not a consciousness of separation from but of identity with, a consciousness which founds itself, is its own cause.
In Sartre’s ontology what differentiates human being from all other being is precisely nothing. Or more precisely, it is nothingness. To show this Sartre develops on the Absurdity. For existentialists absurdity is the search for answer in an answerless world. According to Sartre humans are creatures who need meaning but are abandoned in this universe full of meaninglessness. Sartre does not believe in teleology. Since there is no teleology, the world wasn’t created for a reason, and it doesn’t exist for a reason. And if there is no reason for any of this, then there are also no absolutes to abide by. There is no cosmic justice, no fairness, no order, no rules.
Sartre’s primary question is: What is it like to be a human being? And Sartre answers it that human reality consists of two modes of existence: of being and nothingness. The world of Jean Paul Sartre is split into two antithetical modes or ways of being, that is, Being for-itself(pour-soi) and Being in-itself(en-soi).6 The existence of an in-itself is opaque to itself, because it is filled with itself.
The two regions of being are entirely distinct and the ideal of justifying them is ‘an unrealizable totality which haunts the for-itself and constitutes its very being as a nothingness of being. Only through for-itself of consciousness, does the in-itself become a world to speak of. Appearance of a being cannot give the idea that we can know anything about that being, as it is. It is through consciousness that the world is endowed with temporality, spatiality and other qualities such as usefulness. Hence, he says, Man does not tend towards a nonexistent God, but aims at becoming God himself. This is his fundamental aspiration.” The entire book, Being and Nothingness, devotes no more pages to the being-in-itself; because there is no need to discuss much on it as, it is what it is, and it is in-itself.
Sartre defined freedom as the starting point of hi ethics, and made all principles of human morality without exception emanate from the beacon of freedom.9 Sartre not only looked upon the world’s lack of meaning but the terrifying abundance of freedom. Sartre says that humans are painfully, shockingly free. Freedom, indeed, for Sartre was human in its essence and not natural, or natural only to the extent everything human is natural. He says that if there are no guidelines for our actions, then each of us is forced to design our own moral code, to invent a morality to live by.
Sartre took it clearly that humans are condemned to be free. For Sartre, in Being and Nothingness and other fictional works that exemplified the ontological thesis of Being and Nothingness, to be human is to be free, though freedom was also never considered as that which was bestowed on the for-itself as some divine grace from above by our benevolent Gods in heaven. God was never permitted any role in the Sartrean scheme of things. The very being of human reality, thus, consisted in making choices in concrete situations, that is, all choices are choices-in-the-world.
Sartre wants humans to live authentically, free from the bad faith. He says that humans might think that there is some authority they could look for answers. But all of the authorities they think of are fake according to Sartre. The authority on which the people try to rely are the parents, church, government and such so. These are considered as high authorities of information just because they are considered to be true as from the very small ages. But the real fact is that all are just people like us, people who don’t have any answers, people who had to figure out for themselves how to live authentically. Sartre considers all these authorities as absurd. Sartre is of the opinion that any meaning in his/her life has is given to it by him/her itself.
Bad faith is nothing but the refusal to accept the absurd. This condition of going in search for the authorities for truth or so is what he considers as bad faith, and to explain this bad faith he comes with an anecdote. The anecdote goes like this: a man of 20/25 years of age is called for the military service, and work for the betterment or the protection of his nation. But he comes into a confused state and the confusion is that he has his lonely aged mother at home. Now, it becomes a difficult choice for him to make whether to choose military or to be with his old aged lonely mother at home. If he chooses to leave for the military service, he would be the part of a great service. But if he chooses to stay with his mother it will be a great help for her who is old. So, his choices no matter what it was, was the only two choices, provided that he made it authentically, because it was determined by the values he chose to accept. To avoid bad faith, everyone must choose himself by himself, this is moral advice, but negative.
Sartre’s trilogy of novels Roads to Freedom is regarded as a classical work of the twentieth century. Since in his novel What is Literature? is an appeal to freedom, since it presupposes as reader a free man, there would be a sort of contradiction involved in using the novel to advocate enslavement. ‘The writer, a free man addressing free men, has only one subject, freedom.’ He has given more and vast importance to freedom and that is why he is often called a philosopher of freedom. Although Sartre was indeed a philosopher of freedom, his conception of freedom is often misunderstood. “Man is free, and freedom is not a property of his being; it is his very being.” So it is clear from the words of Sartre that God cannot exist for attaining freedom. For enjoying an authentic life with free will and so, man has to be free from his birth on and he should have no authority to control over him, that is, God cannot exist.
Death of God
God means the perfect person, and this is for Sartre a contradiction of terms. Perfect things or ideas, like justice or truth are possible; and imperfect persons, like Zeus or Apollo, are possible. But the perfect person is impossible. Zeus is possible but not real. God is unique among Gods: not only unreal but impossible. “Man is nothing more than his own creation, this is the first principle of existentialism. This principle is also called subjectivity.”
One of the main things that Sartre says is that freedom is the reality of man; as soon as man is thrown into this world he is condemned to freedom, thus God cannot have a control over man. Since there is no God to design man, man has no blueprint, no essence. His essence or nature comes not from God as creator but from his own free choice. God creates what all men are, but individual fashions his own unique individuality, through free choices. Unfortunately, Sartre contends that this disproves God, for if there were a God, man would be reduced to a mere artifact of God, and thus would not be free. The similar descriptions are also seen in the above-mentioned existentialism.
Atheistic Views of Sartre
Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position. He consequently argues that human freedom and dignity requires atheism. Sartre’s legitimate concern with human freedom and his insight into how it makes persons fundamentally different from mere things lead him to atheism because:
- He confuses freedom with independence, and because
- The only God he can conceive of is one who would take away human freedom rather than creating and maintaining it, a sort of cosmic fascist. Furthermore,
- Sartre makes the adolescent mistake of equating freedom with rebellion.
In any case, ontological analysis opens up new vistas to atheism and explains an attitude which might appear surprising at first sight. That atheism is an essential given of Sartre’s thought, cannot be doubted.17 He proclaims, “Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position. Existentialism is not atheist in the sense that it would exhaust itself in demonstration of the non-existence of God. It declares, rather, that even if God existed, that would make no difference from its point of view.”
Philosophically, Sartre’s argument for atheism was not very satisfying, even for him. he gave a short argument against God’s existence in Being and Nothingness. but he confessed to Simone de Beauvoir that this argument was not the basis of his own atheism; rather, this atheism was something more direct an intuition of the absence of God. The young Sartre was an enthusiastic reader of Nietzsche, and in a 1943 essay entitled ‘A New Mystic’, Sartre wrote that ‘God is dead’. But, he clarified: We should not understand by that, that He does not exist, nor even that now no longer exists. He is dead: he used to speak to us and he has fallen silent, we now touch only his corpse.
The whole seminar was an attempt to delve into the concept of God’s Existence, according to Sartre. The various concepts like bad faith, freedom of man, absurdity and all those of Sartre comes to the conclusion that there cannot exist a God, and if so, ever such God exist then Sartre says that it becomes a contradiction. His famous work, Being and Nothingness clearly depicts his views on the concept of God in very simple terms. The philosopher, who is so fond of freedom, brings in it, this concept of God so as to make his stand clear.