The Mormons and Existentialism

Most of my extended family belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You might know them as the annoying little white boys who show up to your home bearing a sickly sweet disposition and a bible, ready to save your soul. My family is Mormon…

Now before you jump to assumptions, let me clear some things up. I am not Mormon and neither are my mom or dad, the rest of my dad’s family is. But I know that Mormonism is a “living” religion; the president of the church supposedly talks to God every once in a while and hears His “revised” word (that’s how they flex with changing times). Mormons believe that if they do their duty on earth, they will be rewarded with a planet (yes you read that right, a planet…) to live out eternity with those they love. I think the fear of not receiving the reward by disappointing God is why they are some of the most externally kind and polite people I’ve ever met.

You’re probably thinking, Why on earth am I learning about Mormons and what does this have to do with existentialism? Well when we talk about existentialism, we refer to a lack of understanding of purpose and motivation to exist. Mormons, like many other religious groups, have a purpose. They believe they are on earth to serve God and that everything that they do in their life has meaning and culminates in a reward after death. My question is: How might I talk to my religious family about existentialism?

Let me draw up a metaphor; A researcher someday finds a cure to cancer (lets just say all cancers), and someone else, for some reason, doesn’t like or believe in that cure and continues to search for a new cure. She then gets frustrated and says The cure to cancer must not exist! She then goes to ask the cure creator, I need to find a cure for cancer, but I don’t believe in your cure. Please help me! Now the researcher does his best to convince her that the cure he found works, but is unsuccessful in winning her over. So he thinks talking to the woman is silly. Why would he talk about finding a cure, when he knows the one he has works?

Now replace cure with the meaning of life and the researcher with a Mormon. A Mormon who has found the meaning of life (to serve god), must find it ridiculous to talk to someone about an alternative or nonexistent meaning of life when they believe their religion is factual. Now of course as a not-super-religious-person, I think that much of the Mormon faith is ridiculous (no offense to anyone who believes in god defining purpose- everyone has their own beliefs), but I still want to understand the meaning of life.

In conclusion, I don’t know how to talk with a religious person about the meaning of life… If anyone knows, please tell me.

~Simone Paul

A Life of Social Construct & The Stranger

The overlying theme of existentialism is prominent and vivid throughout the novel The Stranger, yet it is also prominent in the lives of everyone in society. Although it’s a hard pill to swallow, especially for me, I realized that my life is made up entirely of systems of power and a series of social constructs which define my everyday life and every single relationship that I have ever had.

During the initial lecture on existentialism, I was in denial and I couldn’t accept that everything that truly mattered to me and added “meaning” to my life are all just constructs and illusions that are deeply rooted in my individual self and in everyone around me. I recognize that no matter how rich, successful, famous, or happy you are, EVERYONE goes through immense pain and suffering throughout their entire lives. I would like to think that I can find meaning in those things that make me happy in addition to things that have caused me pain and have caused me to suffer.

Learning about this theory/concept definitely made me see things from a new perspective, but I wouldn’t say that it necessarily diminished the meaning that I find from different aspects of my life or the things that are most important to me. Although love may be a construct of my imagination, as well as friendship, education, etc., I don’t know what or where I would be without them. I feel as though, as humans, we find comfort in these constructs and add structure to our lives.

Do you believe in existentialism or do you just hate your life?

I understand that this question might come across as a little bit harsh, however, after the class discussion on existentialism, I felt very unsettled and confused. Why would someone want that type of outlook on life? Everything about it struck me as depressing and unhappy.

I think that the belief of existentialism stems from a place of unhappiness, because if you are able to truly feel love or joy, then you feel like you have a good reason to keep living. And that is enough to call it the purpose of life.

I am not going to lie, some of the points that were shared during the class discussion made sense to me, and I think it is a unique perspective on life. But I personally think that existentialism is not a belief to live by and that if you ignore what it is saying, you will live a much happier and fuller life. While it is true that society puts expectations on us that we need to have a family and friends and love to be happy, and many of these things are glorified, that does not mean that they aren’t real things that make life worth living.

The purpose of life is whatever you make it out to be. Society puts pressure on us to make certain things our “happiness”, but that doesn’t mean that there is no general purpose to life; it just varies with each person. I think that there is so much emphasis on finding a purpose to life that no one actually realizes that there truly is no purpose to life. We are just here, and all we can do is make it the best life that we can. So however each individual chooses to do so, is their own personal purpose to life. Whatever puts a smile on their face and fills their hearts with joy is what they can say is their reason for getting out of bed each day and enjoying the life they were given.

Is it Valid to Label Meursault with Antisocial Personality Disorder?

At the start of part two of The Stranger Meursalt states, “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything… he asked me if he could say that that day I held back my natural feelings. I said, ‘No, because it’s not true’ (65).” Once I got to this point of the story it really got me thinking, Is Meursault a psychopath? Or is he just living life correctly? I was sure that he exhibited similar characteristics, but here I will take time to analyze his behavior and determine whether he is a psychopath or not. 

Psychopaths have what is called antisocial personality disorder. According to the encyclopedia Britannica, “Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for the feelings of others and often accompanied by violation of the rights of others through negligence or overt action.” I feel that upon first glance it is easy for readers to make this connection. Meursault throughout the story shows a lack of empathy for others, especially when considering how he acted at his mothers funeral. He does not seem to care about much other than physical disturbances and he did not even feel remorse for killing the Arab. This is jarring, considering that most people would feel quite the opposite in all of these situations. 

However, after thinking more about it, antisocial personality disorder is not only a matter of lacking empathy, there is far more too it. For example, people with the disorder have issues maintaining social norms, causing them to have difficulties with employment. Although Meursault does not care much for social norms, he seems to be perfectly fine at work. He does not show any instances of challenging his boss or the people around him, he is simply indifferent. Additionally, people with the disorder tend to use charming mechanisms to manipulate or treat others badly with harsh indifference. Meanwhile Meursault is indeed indifferent in many of his relationships, he does not try to manipulate people close to him or treat them poorly. Finally, I wanted to highlight that most people with antisocial personality disorder lie in an excessive amount. However, it is evident that Meursault is quite the opposite. There has never really been an instance in which he has lied after being asked a question. This is especially seen when he was questioned by his lawyer. When the lawyer asked whether he held back his natural feelings, Meursault answered honestly, no. This is only one case of Meursault answering with pure honesty despite consideration of how the truth will impact others’ outlook on him.

Therefore, upon initial glance of Meursault’s character in the story, it is easy to label him as a psychopath. However, his lack of empathy is the only strong psychopath characteristic he exhibits. Other than that, he does not exhibit the other symptoms enough to label him with the disorder and instead is simply indifferent. I would like to conclude that Meursault does not have antisocial personality disorder, he just has a different view on life and how to live it. He is an existentialist.

Joy from Struggle

Sisyphus’s punishment in hell is to push up a rock to the top of a hill for the rest of time. However, no matter what the rock will fall back down. Despite this, Camus explains Sisyphus is not being tortured. He argues that the rock becomes Sisyphus’s way to happiness. The struggle itself is giving Sisyphus meaning. The struggle in the myth showcases the reliance in the human condition. Camus explains that human struggle is the only way that people can find meaning and independence in life. Humans need to face the absurdness of the situation head-on in order to overcome it.

Does that mean for human beings to be truly happy they need to discover what their “rock” is and overcome it?

Part of me thinks this task sounds incredibly daunting but also overly simplistic. Who only has one “rock” in their life? Life is a serious of “rocks” that we are faced with and how are supposed to decide what is this “rock”? I do agree that our struggles do give our lives meaning. I do not know if you can call what Sisyphus has true happiness more so contentment in his situation. I do like the idea of though our struggles there are moments of joy and only though struggle are we able to recognize this joy. It is a concept that proves humans are truly resilient.