Skip to content

Existentialism and the Modern Man

There is one good religious projection in particular that has been spraying for the past one hundred years in one form or another and has cropped up occasionally with tremendous popularity, though few recognize it as a religious phenomenon. It has been a spiritual artesian stream flowing underground that has occasionally burst through the surface to create a refreshing well.

In intellectual circles, it is known as “existentialism,” that popular mode of thought from the late 1940s that was wildly received in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre in France, and, in the 1950s, received on a far wider scale in America through the novels of Albert Camus. In religious circles, it has gone by different names, but it is related to the philosophy of existentialism, so I simply call it “spiritual existentialism.” The current of spiritual existentialism hasn't gotten much attention, though its two most famous “sprays”–Zen Buddhism (which has attracted followers as diverse as Jack Kerouac and the Beatniks, to athletes and executives looking for “an edge”) and the Little Way of St. Therese (her book, The Story of a Soul, has sold millions of copies and has been translated into thirty-eight languages since its first publication in 1898)–have attracted numerous followers in the twentieth century.

The various manifestations of existentialism--Therese, Kerouac, Sarte, Camus, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance--have been received enthusiastically over the past one hundred years or so. There is something about existentialism that attracts the modern man precisely because he is a modern man.