Some comments on Jean-Paul Sartre’s stance on God (or lack of). Sartre never meets the problem of God’s existence. Nowhere does he discuss the traditional arguments from religious epistemology. Interestingly, Sartre does not arrive at atheism after undergoing a philosophical expedition, in the rationalist fashion of the thinker who presumes every position he holds must be the solution to a philosophical problem.
“It is rather a postulate or in the words of Merleau Ponty, an ‘état d’âme’ or as Sartre himself says, an ‘accident,’ the result of the circumstances of his education and the spiritual indigence of the environment in which he lived.” — Magin Borrajo
The fundamental reason why Sartre claims that God does not exist is the very concept of God is a self-contradiction. In his phenomenological description of ontology, there are two modes of being: pour-soi (being-for-itself) and en-soi (being-in-itself). God, in the philosophy of Being and Nothingness, entails both modes of being: pour-soi and en-soi, a ‘being-in-itself-for-itself.’ Yes, quite a mouthful! As an ‘in-itself,’ God is the concept of the perfect being, a complete existing entity that is whole in himself and independent. God is also a ‘for-itself’ that He must be absolutely free and not subservient to anything, not reason or ethics. This synthesis is logically contradictory and Sartre ingeniously concludes that such a being must be impossible, having ruled it out of court even before either party can plead their case.
The extreme philosophy of Sartrean existentialism also contributes to his atheism; were God to exist, then that would entail an automatic limitation of man’s freedom, or transform it to a fiction, reduced to a self-delusion. Since the belief of God has been prevalent all over the world and in the past, Sartre cannot simply wave his hand and wish God away. He asserts further that that mankind invents God in order to posit a meaning in the world. Man is forever defining himself, his place in the world, in order to account for a pervasive cosmic meaninglessness. Thus, Man invents a big-brother figure concept that takes care of the unknown mysteries – including the origin of the universe and the assurance that everything is under control, that there’s somebody taking care of the major problems and issues.
In the end of his book Being and Nothingness, Sartre concludes on a pessimistic note that man is a “useless passion,” since he desires to achieve for himself the impossible “being-for-itself-in-itself” synthesis. Man is essentially a desire to be God. In addition, the beauty of it is he fails gloriously, each and every time, at a one hundred percent failure rate.
What follows are relevant excerpts from my exhaustive exposition on Sartre’s phenomenological method: Being-in-itself has a character of an “incomplete inactivity,” lacking all and any relationship to itself. In Sartre’s evocative language, being-in-itself is “opaque” and “coincides exactly with itself.” It is self-contained, on the account that being is in itself. If reality is characterized as such, then atheism follows, since nothing causes being-in-itself, a brute fact of existence. A brute fact is simply IS, without a sufficient reason for its existence or a cause, or any other distorting anthropomorphic terms we project ourselves in order to interpret experience.
“… matter can provide the foundation of existence of pour-soi through consciousness since reasons and justifications themselves are acts of consciousness.”
The attempt to move from the notion of necessity to the existence of necessity is mistaken for the source of being.
First of all, the very notion of a necessary being entails a contradiction: having the total awareness of perfection and being the very essence of that perfection at the same time.
Second of all, it is impossible to move from the logical to the ontological (ontological argument of God). This alludes to Leibniz’s effort to reason that the idea of a necessary being entails its existence (a necessary being, in its possibility and description as necessary, must absolutely exist). Sartre objected to the idea of a necessary being by restricting the level of understanding to the level of knowledge. In other words, the very possibility as an ideal is not the possibility of being or existence. Ontological or real possibility exists only to the extent being maintains the possibilities in existence. Possibility follows existence, not vice versa! However it is important to acknowledge that Sartre’s atheism is specifically addressed to a particular theism (that we can have a clear and distinct concept about the a priori possibility of God. Conceiving the impossibility of God is similar to having a clear concept of the nature of God. This is somewhat similar to the conception that a circle-triangle is impossible because we have a clear idea of a triangle and a circle.)