Albert Camus, the Plague, and Belief in God

Albert Camus, the Plague, and Belief in God

Life in the midst of Covid seems like a good time to revisit Albert Camus’ The Plague, his fictional account of life in an Algerian city overrun by the bubonic plague in the 1940’s.  Sometimes read as an allegory of the German occupation of France (the German occupiers were called the peste brune, the brown plague), it’s not a very good political metaphor.  But it’s a great account of what it would mean to live a good life without believing in God. 

A common argument in favor of religion is that it gives meaning to life.  Without belief in God, there can be no meaning, and hence no firm basis for morality.  I don’t think it’s true.  God doesn’t give life meaning.  It is we who use the presumption of his existence to give life meaning.  Which at least suggests that creative humans might find other ways to give life meaning.

Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, is his most serious philosophical work about life in the absence of belief.*  But it is The Plague that tells us what that life without religious belief would look like at its best.

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