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Switch to Forum Live View Jean Paul Sartre - "Atheist" ???
3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 10:39AM #1
teilhard
Posts: 52,220

From my readings of and about (the Late) Sartre, I have always understood him to have been a dedicated Atheist ...

One of the other Members recently wrote that, no, he was NOT an "Atheist" ...

Thoughts ... ??? 

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 11:40AM #2
costrel
Posts: 6,226

Dec 4, 2011 -- 10:39AM, teilhard wrote:

From my readings of and about (the Late) Sartre, I have always understood him to have been a dedicayted Atheist ...

One of the other Members recently wrote that, no, he was NOT an "Atheist" ...

Thoughts ... ??? 


As Sartre wrote in "Existentialism Is a Humanism":


"When we speak of forlornness, a term Heidegger was fond of, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish God with the least possible expense." Sartre provides an example of this kind of secular ethics among reformist French educators in the 1880s who concluded that "nothing will be changed if God does not exist," because even without God, "values exist all the same, inscribed in a heaven of ideas" -- that is, society and civilization would still have "the same norms of honesty, progress, and humanism" even if people viewed God as "an outdated hypothesis which will peacefully die off by itself."


Sartre contrasts these nineteenth century French secular ethics with 20th century Existentialism. He notes that rather than accepting God as an irrelevant hypothesis that will quietly pass away, "The existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possiblity of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him." Sartre concludes by stating, "Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can't start making excuses for himself." As a result, we are "condemned to be free" because each of us is therefore "responsible for everything he [or she] does." 


I have not studied Sartre's biography, but from his philosophical writings such as "Existentialism Is a Humanism," it seems quite clear to me that he was an atheist. Of course, as we can see demonstrated in Sartre's story in the same essay about the Jesuit he met while a prisoner, even those who believe in God ultimately must create themselves and be responsible for the things that they do and for their own being. So even though the Jesuit interperted the events of his life as if God was directing him to become a Jesuit, the Jesuit was "fully responsible for the interpretation" and like everyone else, also had to "choose [his] being." Sartre, therefore, in his own way, and in a way different from the nineteenth century French teachers of secular ethics, created a philosophy that implies that "nothing will be changed if God does not exist." The difference is that, for Sartre, at least one thing does change without God -- that there is no such thing as a determinism ("a heaven of ideas") that implies the existence of a stable set of values that does not change when a society becomes secular. 


From what I understand, Sartre's atheistic Existentialism is also relevant for theists because Sartre maintains that everyone, regardless of whether he or she believes in a deity, experiences forlornness and must invent his or her own being and be responsible for his or her own existence. 


(I have chosen to quote from Bernard Fretchman's translation of "Existentialism Is a Humanism." On online version of the same text, translated by Philip Mairet, can be read here.)

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 12:19PM #3
Eudaimonist
Posts: 2,036

I'm not an expert on Sartre, but I could have sworn that he was an atheist.


 


eudaimonia,


Mark

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 1:27PM #4
Jcarlinbn
Posts: 7,102

Superficially, that is Phil 101 Sartre is the least theistic of the Existentialists.  However the dualism that pervades his writing, and his implicit acceptance of God in saying humans must not depend on God but find their own way in the world suggests that he is still reacting to God rather than rejecting his existence.  Subtle of course, and this is not a forum for a philosopical discussion of Existentialism and Sartre.


Also as we see here all the time atheism is a poorly defined term.  If anyone wants to think of Sartre as their version of atheist, as bizarre as some of those are, arguments are of no value.    

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 1:55PM #5
teilhard
Posts: 52,220

***Yes ... I have noticed this also ...


Dec 4, 2011 -- 1:27PM, Jcarlinbn wrote:


Superficially, that is Phil 101 Sartre is the least theistic of the Existentialists.  However the dualism that pervades his writing, and his implicit acceptance of God in saying humans must not depend on God but find their own way in the world suggests that he is still reacting to God rather than rejecting his existence.  Subtle of course, and this is not a forum for a philosopical discussion of Existentialism and Sartre.


Also ***as we see here all the time atheism is a poorly defined term.  If anyone wants to think of Sartre as their version of atheist, as bizarre as some of those are, arguments are of no value.    





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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 2:53PM #6
costrel
Posts: 6,226

Dec 4, 2011 -- 1:27PM, Jcarlinbn wrote:


Superficially, that is Phil 101 Sartre is the least theistic of the Existentialists.  However the dualism that pervades his writing, and his implicit acceptance of God in saying humans must not depend on God but find their own way in the world suggests that he is still reacting to God rather than rejecting his existence.  Subtle of course, and this is not a forum for a philosopical discussion of Existentialism and Sartre.


Also as we see here all the time atheism is a poorly defined term.  If anyone wants to think of Sartre as their version of atheist, as bizarre as some of those are, arguments are of no value.    



I would agree that Sartre was reacting not only to God (or at least to "a very specific view of God" -- see further below) but also to the determinism that he saw within Catholic Christianity. In his autobiography, Sartre wrote that he was a "weed on the compost of Catholicity" and that "my roots sucked up its juices and I changed them into sap" (qtd. in Stuart Z. Charme, "Sartre and the Link Between Patriarchal Atheism and Feminist Theology," printed in Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Paul Sartre, edited by Julien S. Murphy, Pennsylvania State UP, 1999, p. 302). Charme, while discussing Beauvoir's statements about the end of Sartre's life, observes that "it is clear that his atheism was directed toward a very specific view of God as a transcendent being who contemplates the world, causes it to exist, and is the foundation of all moral values" (p. 303). This is certainly the view of God that Sartre addresses in his lecture "Existentialism Is a Humanism." Charme also asserts that "Although Sartre never wavered in his atheism, neither did his fascination with religious symbolism and imagery, particularly when it was rooted in the concrete experience of those who had been victimized by religion" (p. 308). 


Charles Maurras once referred to himself as a "Catholic atheist." Perhaps in light of Sartre's weed statement it would not be inaccurate to classify Sartre as a "Catholic atheist" as well. And if Sartre's atheism was "directed toward a very specific view of God," then perhaps his atheism and its reaction and/or rejection of this very specific view of God has something in common with the reaction and rejection of God by the so-called "New Atheists" such as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett. After all, much of what Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion concerning evolution and creationism would be irrelevant for Catholics who already accept evolution. 

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 4:57PM #7
SeraphimR
Posts: 10,308

Dec 4, 2011 -- 12:19PM, Eudaimonist wrote:


I'm not an expert on Sartre, but I could have sworn that he was an atheist.


 


eudaimonia,


Mark




It is widely believed that Sartre converted to Messianic Judaism shortly before his death, based on interviews published by Benny Levy, his private secretary, which Sartre himself later confirmed.


See here.

People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse than it is so their mission will look more important.


P.J. O'Rourke
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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 6:10PM #8
Blü
Posts: 25,270

JCarlin


Atheism around here has been variously defined at times, but if you don't think gods exist, you're close enough to an atheist.


That's sufficient to clarify the real question about Sartre - he said he didn't think God exists, but despite that, should we conclude from the context in which he kept saying it that he never quite let go of the idea that God really did exist?

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 7:22PM #9
Jcarlinbn
Posts: 7,102

Dec 4, 2011 -- 6:10PM, Blü wrote:

JCarlin


Atheism around here has been variously defined at times, but if you don't think gods exist, you're close enough to an atheist.


That's sufficient to clarify the real question about Sartre - he said he didn't think God exists, but despite that, should we conclude from the context in which he kept saying it that he never quite let go of the idea that God really did exist?


I put Sartre in the same class as the theists that come here claiming "I was an atheist in college so I could drink and whore about without God seeing."  Sartre was more philosophical about it, but I don't see that he ever cut the apron string to God.  

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3 years ago  ::  Dec 04, 2011 - 9:21PM #10
Blü
Posts: 25,270

JCarlin


Yes.  Existentialism's much more of an attitude than a philosophy, and Sartre made it very fashionable for a time.  I wonder if the works of Camus will last.

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