Essence and Existence

I ran across an interesting line from a post by Bob Godwin the other day that seems to highlight one of the major differences, if not the difference between a person of faith and one without faith. Like so many things, it boils down to a fundamental difference in viewpoints. (Political distractions have been edited out.)

Every man is faced with two, and only two, choices that will determine everything else: essence or existence. For the religious man, essence is prior to existence and determines existence. God knew you before you were berthed and begaialed and keeps a running count of every hair on your head.

For the [man without faith], existence determines essence [, if he even acknowledges essence]. You are an accident. You have no a priori transcendent essence, but your essence is determined by accidental factors such as [genetics and environment].

This reminds me of my favorite quote by Albert Einstein:

There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.

There is no in-between on this one. It is either all or none. If you believe one miracle has occurred, then eventually all criteria for distinguishing the miraculous from the non-miraculous will be found unsatisfactory and must be discarded.

Either nothing is a miracle and my existence is an accident. No need for stories, myth, religion to explain or give meaning to my life beyond what I make of it, or at least of what my community makes of it. Faith and trust are turned inward into myself and laid upon my abilities and my experiences. If my trust is extended outward, it only goes to the those nearest me. Any sense of gratitude arises from a debt owed to a benefactor, or just by being lucky. Nothing is gift.

Or everything is a miracle and my existence is purposeful. An Other purposed my life and ultimately imbues it with essence and meaning. There must exist a Creator of the miraculous. All members of my community and beyond are also miracles, and thus have purpose and meaning. Faith and trust are turned outward unto the Other. Gratitude arises from a debt to the Creator for existence. All is gift.

Either explicitly or implicitly, each person chooses essence or existence. Their choice sets their outlook on life. It governs their behavior, values, and morality, and colors their joys and sorrows. And gratitude, a key to joy, is either swallow and temporary, or deep and lasting.

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