Albert Camus was a French philosopher whose literary output included essays and novels. Recently, I read his book, La Chute (The Fall), adding to my list of The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, and The Plague.
The Fall is unusual in that it is a monologue of a man to an interlocutor whom the narrator addresses as mon cher compatriote or cher ami or mon cher or cher monsieur. Throughout, the author speaks, and he alone.
In The Fall the narrator, himself a lawyer, poses as judge-penitent, that is, he expresses his own sins and hypocrisy so that he may go about the business of judging others. God has no part in this dynamic. A central event in the novel is his realizing, while walking home at night, that a woman he had passed jumped into the Seine from a bridge. He did nothing to help rescue her. His guilt about the failure was not heartfelt. He plays the hypocrite. His primary goal is to act as judge of others while putting on good appearances himself. God has no place in the narrator’s life including the Lord’s role in the forgiveness of sins.
In this work, Camus expresses ideas of his absurdist perspective, that are outlined in his essay, An Absurd Reasoning and The Myth of Sisyphus. Absurdism is a philosophy that perceives a disconnect between the human desire for meaning and the lack of meaning in the universe. This divide between the yearning for meaning and meaninglessness is an absurdity that Camus regards as the primary human problem. All other questions and enigmas are of little importance compared to the absurdity of the world. He wonders if suicide is the only answer to absurdity, but concludes it is not.
Camus resolves the problem he poses with a call to a radical personal freedom whereby an individual creates a worthwhile life of meaning by his own efforts. Is this possible? Did Camus succeed? He will not make a leap to a belief in God or some other transcendent reality that would infuse the world with significance. Though he is sympathetic to Christianity and has great respect for Jesus Christ, he is unable to steer himself in the direction of faith. He does not believe in the resurrection or the afterlife.
Camus writes of the evil in the world (see The Plague) and the silence of God. And, he rejects rational arguments for a coherent universe. We humans face chaos, not order, the irrational, not the rational. His philosophy begins and ends with disbelief God and absurdity.
Like everyone else who seeks meaning in life where a leap to faith or disbelief is required, Camus makes a leap to the conviction that the universe is not a coherent place for human beings. He also assumes God is silent when, in fact, for those who have made the leap of faith to belief, God has spoken clearly as recorded in the pages of the Scriptures and elsewhere.
Rational arguments for the existence of God are compelling for many philosophers and theologians throughout the history of the Church. Camus would not agree. I don’t know that he ever addressed these arguments, for I have not read all that he has written. While rational arguments (see the five proofs for the existence of God in Thomas Aquinas) have their place in a discussion of God, his reality transcends such proofs, for He is also hidden, not non-existent, and incomprehensible. Revelation must be added to reason as a source for human knowledge of God. There are things we know about God that can only be ascertain by God’s self-revelation.
God is a compelling symbol, nay, more than a symbol, a living reality for the Church and its members. Belief in God ends the absurdity, for the world is then infused with meaning for human beings who seek meaning. Indeed, belief in God does not put an end to the many difficult questions, including those about evil, though evil without God is more of a problem than evil with God. Imagine a world in which the only force against evil is humanity itself. We are not an adequate shield against sin, the devil, and the world. We must contend with evil even within our own ranks. The enemy is within the camp. It is good that the Lord is our fortress and, in the end, will win the victory.
The problem with absurdity lies more with human beings than with the universe. We can correct meaninglessness and nihilism with belief in the Lord. We are called to make the leap of faith that fills our lives with meaning, hope, and joy. We witness to this rich spiritual life as disciples of Christ so that others may renounce absurdity and find a home in the Lord.
Michael G. Tavella
January 29, 2022′