Saturday, May 21, 2005

Quote check: Satre and God

I almost hate to ask, because I suspect Jean Paul Satre gets more attention than he probably deserves anyway, but I've come across a rather surprising quote attributed to him, and would like to know if anybody can corroborate that he said or wrote it.

From Understanding the Times by David Noebel, 1991 second printing, hardback, ISBN 0936163100, on page 168, on a page with the title "Philosophers and Scientists Affirming the Supernaturalist Position", there are eight men quoted. The Satre snippet reads:

Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), a life-long atheist philosopher, said at the close of his hedonistic life: "I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a king whom only a Creator could put here; the idea of a creating hand refers to God."
(Oh, sorry. I should have made sure you were sitting down, right? Sartre said that?)

When you go to the end of the chapter for the notes, they say that this quote is from The Intellectuals Speak Out About God, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Dallas, Texas: Lewis and Stanley, 1984), page 136. (There also seems to have been a Regnery/Gateway publication of this title in 1984, ISBN 0895268272.)

The main thing I want to know is whether we can be sure this is an authentic Satre quote, and, if so, do we know under what circumstances it was delivered? Was it spoken or written, for instance? Was it for publication or not? Were there witnesses? How old was he? I wouldn't bother, except Sartre seems to be a darling of the no-religious-views-allowed crowd. If he changed his mind later I might like to be able to point that out the next time they wave one of the quotes from his younger days in my face. Thanks.

UPDATE: It's looking iffy. See comments.

UPDATE: May 24, 2005: It's looking like it was pruned beyond recognition. See Satre Quote: We get context.


Amanda Witt said...


Jonathan brought up your question on an e-mail list, and got this interesting but not definitive response:

"I had a conversation about this with a very good friend of mine, who is an existentialist philosophy grad student at Penn State. He said that the claim that Sarte made some sort of deathbed conversion is almost certainly unreliable. As I recall hearing from my friend, the only source of the story is from a secretary or assistant to Sarte who had strong theistic views. She was the only purported witness and there is no other corroborating evidence. So it's not something that could easily be verified. I'll do some further asking on this one..."

If we hear more, I'll pass it along.

Kathryn Judson said...

Dear Amanda and Jonathan,

Thanks for checking. There have been many people who acquired a sense of God late in life, and it would be nice to move Satre into that column - but, well, I'd hate to misrepresent anybody.

Don't waste too much time on this on my account. It struck me as odd, is all.

(Well, no - I confess I hoped to have a little fun with it... Shame on me...)