Worldview Analysis: Atheistic Existentialism

Do you believe in destiny? Perhaps you are unsure as to what destiny even is. How can you give a proper answer about something when you don’t even really know what that something is? Definitions are everything. The key, then, is to first be able to define destiny. Only then can you hope to answer the question.

Destiny goes hand-in-hand with another word: destination. A destination is somewhere you are going. You can deduce, then, that your destiny is your ultimate end, your ultimate destination, and everything along the way. Some use the word “fate” instead of destiny. The word fate generally carries more negative connotations with it, however.

Is this enough to answer the question? Well yes, yes it is, but only on a surface level. Most everyone believes that he or she is going somewhere. We’ve only touched upon the basic definition of destiny. A fuller definition of destiny has its nuances. To some, destiny is unchangeable, determined and set by a being transcendent of the individual, whether it is society or a deity.

To others, destiny can be almost infinitely changeable, entirely dependent on one’s choices. Certainly there are things that cannot be escaped. A man born into poverty did not choose to be born into poverty, but with his choices, and with a bit of luck and a bit of help, he can escape that poverty. Destiny is not something that is set before you but something you must fashion for yourself.

This idea finds its home in Atheistic Existentialism, one of two branches of the philosophical framework of Existentialism. The other is Theistic Existentialism. This post’s focus is on Atheistic Existentialism. The reason for this is simple: it is very prominent in today’s culture, at least as far as the United States is concerned, though it is likely a prominent feature of European culture as well.

Atheistic Existentialism was born out of attempts to respond to Nihilism. Nihilism, the ugly but honest child of Naturalism, saw the nonexistence of God purported by Naturalism as a logical lead to the nonexistence of meaning and morality. In short: no God, no meaning, no morality, and no hope. Atheistic Existentialism is an attempt to respond to Nihilism. It does not seek an escape by running away, but by confronting Nihilism head on.

In Atheistic Existentialism, human beings make themselves who they are. Not only do they fashion themselves, but they also fashion their destiny. This is an act of rebellion against the Natural universe, a universe that demands, unknowingly, that there is no meaning, no value, and no purpose. The existentialist is well aware that there is no ultimate meaning in the universe, but rebels against it nonetheless by creating meaning. One rebels against a universe without values by consciously creating values.

Without going into the details, because there isn’t enough room for that here, Atheistic Existentialism is supported by several seemingly cogent arguments. Indeed, it seems that if there was only material and Naturalism was correct, Atheistic Existentialism might be the best answer—except that it ultimately does not escape Nihilism.

Such things, perhaps, seem lofty. Surely Atheistic Existentialism is something that is only encountered in the graduate world or when you talk to that one atheist friend of yours who believes in creating his or her own values. But if you think that this is a concept that is seen mostly in the graduate world, you are wrong. Our modern cultural stories here in the U.S. are often inundated with the concepts found in Atheistic Existentialism.

The fact of the matter is, and it is perhaps startling if you did not realize it before, you can find these concepts taught by two well-known, highly popular organizations—Dreamworks and Disney. Sometime in the growing distant but still recent past, both of these organizations came out with movies. Dreamworks came out with their movie Megamind in 2010, and Disney came out with Brave in 2012. The idea of forging one’s own destiny can be seen quite clearly in both.

Both Megamind, the anti-hero protagonist of Dreamworks’ film, and Merida, the protagonist of the Disney film, close the movie with statements about making one’s own destiny. Merida uses the word “fate” in place of destiny, but the concept is the same. And this isn’t some paranoid conspiracy based on little nuances of the film here and there. One of Megamind’s ending lines is quite direct: “It seems that destiny is not something chosen for you, but something you choose for yourself.” Atheistic Existentialism…

Can you change your fate, as Merida claims? Is destiny something you make for yourself? Is that a biblical notion? For theologians, this enters into a somewhat controversial realm. On the one hand, human beings have a responsibility with their God-given free actions to choose to live lives of obedience or disobedience (for example, Genesis 3 and Joshua 24:14-15). On the other hand, God is sovereign. What He wills to happen will come to be, and there is nothing human beings can do about it (see, for example, Proverbs 21:30). But does He determine everything that will be?

Man has a responsibility to repent. If he does not, he will perish, as Jesus says at the beginning of Luke 13. Man has, then, one of but two destinies, destinies set before him by the LORD. He can choose to live a life of obedience, and his destiny will be eternal life (John 3:16). Or he can choose to live a life of sin, and his destiny will be eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41-46). Israel chose disobedience, and so her destiny was one of destruction (see the Old Testament prophets and II Kings).

Atheistic Existentialism offers an answer to Nihilism. But so does the Judeo-Christian worldview. The reality of Jesus the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection is not only a testament to the good will of God but also a loud proclamation that there is such a thing as morality and meaning. Furthermore, the concepts of Atheistic Existentialism run contrary to biblical principles. God makes men. Men make their choices, and God sets them upon their paths. Do you believe in destiny? You should. For the Christian, one’s destiny is a very hopeful thing, something set down by a good, loving, just, and holy God.

This post was written by Joshua Wagner. Joshua is 26 years old and happily married to his wife, Heather. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College. He is passionate about the Church, art and literature, theology, philosophy, and writing.

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