The Christian Atheist

5 Lessons from Jean-Paul Sartre: The Machinery of the Looking-glass, part 4

April 19, 2021

Atheistic existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre seems an unlikely character to play a prominent role in my turn from atheism to Christ, but his influence on my thinking is profound. In many ways Sartre reflects Kant's conclusions that faith is a basic component of human experience, and that reason builds upon faith as foundation. It was Sartre who convinced me that my atheism was as much a faith-position as my theism had been. In Sartrean language, both theism and atheism are metaphysical and not ontological positions. That is, they are the result of our manner of explaining the facts of our ontological reality. As such, metaphysical explanation can be accepted or rejected, believed, or not. Ontological theory, though, Sartre thinks of as incorrigible, as imposed upon us by the nature of our conscious experience of the world. We live it; we are our experience. For instance, we exist our freedom ontologically, but we can metaphysically explain it away as determinism, or affirm it, through belief. This distinction between metaphysics and ontology looms large in the machinery of the looking-glass, as does the fact that Sartre makes it clear that a notion of God is inherent in human existence.

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