Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mysticism, Existentialism, and Atheism

In my survey of the major world religions, I failed to mention that each religion has at least one strain of Mysticism to it, seeking direct connection to That Which Is (some call Deity or God):

  • Judaism has both the Hasidic movement and Kabbalah.
  • Christian mystics include San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa de Avila.
  • Islam has the Sufi movement.
  • Hinduism has many practices and methods.
  • Buddhism also has several methods, but perhaps the most popularly known in Western culture is the Ch'an / Son / Zen tradition, which incorporates Taoist influences into Buddhism.

Some of the articles trace existentialism back to Kierkegaard, and my sister has recommended him... but I've never been able to get into his writings.  For me, I connect with Antonio Machado, in his existential poetry influenced by the mystics, particularly his poem, Cantares.

Here's a summary of Existentialism that fits my understanding of it.

[I'm not going to discuss Nietzsche today.]

While existentialism  gained currency in the years following World War II, I also want to bring up the article I shared three months ago, about "Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals." Many people in STEM careers seem to believe that one who pursues STEM should only pursue STEM, should pursue STEM in their every waking moment, and that any other subject (arts, humanities, social sciences...) is irrelevant. As the article points out, mono-focus can be difficult for polymaths, even to the point of crisis. Tomorrow, I want to write about how this crisis can push polymaths out of STEM fields and hurt innovation.

So existentialism, then, can be a bridge between theism and atheism, because existentialism itself is neutral on the topic of God or gods. Sartre is a major writer, perhaps the first, in atheistic Existentialism.

There are many different kinds of atheists. I tried looking up taxonomies, and here are two posts that seem to cover it well: