"To be, or not to be—that is the question." —William Shakespeare in Hamlet
"To be, or not to be—not to be." —Arnold Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero
William Shakespeare's famous line relates to one of philosophy's most important themes: existence. What is existence? Do we exist? How can we know we exist? Does it even matter? One could argue (following Descartes's logic) that the mere fact of the discussion proves existence, but the retort (also in the tradition of Descartes) that only the self can be truly proved to exist would soon follow. We could throw out the whole question, but if I don't believe I exist I will assume what I do is without consequence; if I don't believe you exist, anything I do to you is without consequence. The question of existence is critical.
We live in visceral times. Experience and emotion are highly valued; reason and faith are derided. Existentialists claim that "being precedes essence," that there's no basic human nature, that everyone creates their own nature from scratch. This creation of one's own "essence" is accomplished through various "first-order" experiences designed to impart meaning and value to human lives which otherwise have none. This has led to entire generations looking for bigger and bigger experiences (usually more and more destructive) because they find that what they thought would give meaning to their lives is in itself meaningless.
Christian existentialists claim there is only one first-order (or self-validating) experience: faith in Christ. This faith, they say, is a blind leap—you can't know Christianity is true, you just have to accept that it is and hope for the best; if you know what you're getting into, it's not really faith. Reality and existence are thus re-centered on Christ, but individuals are still responsible for creating their own meaning by choosing to exist as Christians.
Traditional Christianity recognizes a universal human nature. God didn't create anarchy, and much as man embraces it, the world is still orderly because God still sustains and rules it. If everyone had to create their own nature, the results would be so chaotic the entire race would probably self-destruct. Individuals would be unable to agree on conventions or standards, everyone would do "what was right in his own eyes," and people would fall into total despair and violence.
Christians believe God made man in His own image, and though that image has been wounded and tarnished, it is still what makes us essentially human. This unity of nature ensures that all men will operate under some semblance of similarity, even if that also means (since the Fall) that everyone will sin. It isn't enough to tell people that we share a common nature because God began the human race in one man and one woman, however; we must show them that logically any pluralist approach to the problems of human existence are inherently flawed and can't stand up to plain reasoning.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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