In the 20th century there emerged an incredibly influential philosophical movement known as Existentialism. This movement is the driving force behind much of the political and moral disarray occurring today – though most people are unaware of these philosophical underpinnings. Existentialism grew out of the teachings of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre explains existentialism thus:
Atheistic existentialism, which I represent…states that if god does not exist, there is at least one being [man] in whom existence precedes essence… This means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence. Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Jean-Paul Sartre
And, Sartre would go on to declare, you can make of yourself whatever you want – the important thing is to do, to will, to make of yourself something, anything. You define; you decide; existence precedes essence. Existentialism! You popped on the scene and now you have to figure out who you are and what you are going to be.
Notice the way this philosophy drives our current cultural debates – even in our local government school system and the push to make the schools endorse transgenderedism: Are you born male? It matters not – you can choose to be female. Are you born female? It matters not – you can choose to be male. Choose. It’s all in the choosing. There is no god who defines us; no higher standard that bounds us. You exist – you were born this way. But that doesn’t define who you are. Your essence is something you choose – and all that matters is the choosing.
But let me suggest that this is the very thing symbolized by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sartre is the serpent of the 20th century. He has tempted us to be “like god” – to define good and evil for ourselves; to say what is and what is not good and noble and right; to live autonomously as a law unto ourselves. But in the end, this will lead to death – indeed it already has: the deaths of millions of children still in the womb.
You see, Sartre and Peter Singer (Utilitarian Philosopher at Princeton) are of a piece. “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself,” Sartre pronounces. Or as Singer would have it: “Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term “human” has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater capacities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and so on, than members of any other species; but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be.” For they must be able to choose; they must be able to make something of themselves.
So what are we to think of a human being who cannot articulate that choice? What are we to think of those who are suffering from dementia or cerebral palsy or madness – or perhaps even religious mumbo-jumbo? After all the Soviets determined that religious belief was a mental abnormality that needed to be cured; and Richard Dawkins has said much the same. So what are we to think of such human beings? They are expendable – for they lack the features that we (the elite like Peter Singer) have determined are meaningful for life.
But this is absolutely foreign to the Word of God. God defines us. We enter into the world pre-defined. Essence precedes existence. We have some form of essentialism not existentialism! God defines you – you are a human being, made in God’s image, invested with dignity and honor not because of what you have done but because of what you are. God has made you and crafted you and breathed into you the breath of life.
If you are male, God made you male and gives you a distinct calling to be a man. If you are female, God made you female and gives you a distinct calling to be a woman. You cannot redefine these things. The definition has already been established. So receive who you are; receive it as a gift from God and rejoice in it. God made you a man; made you a woman. Rejoice, give thanks, and sing! You bear the very image of God, an image that cannot be taken away.
You can’t redefine but you can rebel like Adam and Eve. But the result of rebellion is death, destruction, judgment. There is no third option.