Camus’ absurdism lacks imagination

Camus’ absurdism lacks imagination.

Camus insists that he is an absurdist, not an existentialist.  OK, but it is important to figure out what he means.  Camus thinks a Christian can be an absurdist.  I don’t.  I do think that absurdism is the leading alternative not only to Christianity, but religion. 

Religion is said to be based on faith, as it is.  Camus’ absurdism is based on a particular heroic ideal, a man who faces the truth head on, as if it were that simple.  All quotations are from Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays unless otherwise noted.

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Did Camus want to be baptized?

Did Camus want to be baptized?

First a discussion of the religious beliefs of Jean-Baptiste Clamence in Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall.  Then a discussion of Camus’ request to be baptized according to Howard Mumma in Albert Camus and the Minister.  There is a connection.  It has to do with faith.

The Fall, Camus’ last novel, is set in Hell.  Well, not exactly.  It’s set in Amsterdam, where the canals are laid out in concentric circles.  That and the foggy atmosphere are both intended to remind us of Dante’s circles of Hell.  Mexico City, a bar in the inner-most circle of hell is where Jean-Baptiste Clamence holds forth.  He is the novel’s only speaking character, and we must not take him literally.  He would have us think he is in a type of Hell, but he may be playing games with the reader, and himself.

I won’t summarize the book.  The only thing you need to know is that Clamence was a wealthy and successful Parisian lawyer and all-around good guy (lawyer and good guy are not automatically antonyms).  After a series of minor mishaps, culminating in the not so minor mishap of ignoring a drowning woman’s cry, he exiles himself to one of the seedier bars in Amsterdam, where he tells his tale to any who will listen.  His goal, it seems, is to justify his drinking and whoring by constantly pointing out how bad he is.  An odd strategy, designed it seems to preempt judgment. 

About Christ’s guilt

Clamence tells us that not only is he guilty, but even Jesus Christ was guilty, merely by being born in a certain time and place.  Consider the massacre of the innocents, in which Herod orders all male children in Bethlehem under two to be killed in order to avoid a prophecy about the “King of the Jews,” who he believed threatened his throne (Matthew 2:16-18).  Wasn’t that the sadness one sometimes sees in Jesus?

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Did Albert Camus believe in God?

Did Albert Camus believe in God?

Of all the existentialists, Camus came closest to believing in God, becoming closer in his later works.  Camus would object to two parts of this statement.  He objected to being labeled an existentialist, preferring the term absurdist.  And he would say he was not close to God.  He admired (and once said “loved”) Jesus Christ.

Since Camus did not believe in an afterlife, what I mean by “close to God” and what most Christians believe is quite different.  Yet, even with all these qualifications the statement stands.  Certainly, he has been many Christians’ favorite atheist, primarily because he was comfortable with religious language and imagery.  For Camus, “it is possible to be Christian and absurd.” (Sisyphus, p 112)  All one has to do is disbelieve in an afterlife. 

Most Christians, perhaps all, would reject this possibility, but in a time of militant atheism like our own, there is a vast difference between Camus and someone like Richard Dawkins.  Camus had sympathy and respect for Christianity, above all for Christ.  I think that is the best way of putting it. 

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