Sunday Sermon: The Unbeliever and Christians

Here’s an excerpt from an essay by Albert Camus “The Unbeliever and Christians.” It was originally given as a speech to Dominican monks of Latour-Maubourg in 1948. Just imagine giving this speech to the Southern Baptist Convention. It would be…interesting. Here’s the speech (translation by the Mad Biologist; italics mine):

And now, what can Christians do for us? To begin with, give up the empty quarrels, the first of which is the quarrel about pessimism. I believe, for instance, that M. Gabriel Marcel would be well advised to leave alone certain forms of thought that fascinate him and lead him astray. M. Marcel cannot call himself a democrat and at the same time ask for a prohibition of Sartre’s play. This is a position that is tiresome for everyone. What M. Marcel wants is to defend absolute values, such as modesty and man’s divine truth, when the things that should be defended are the few provisional values that will allow M. Marcel to continue fighting someday, and comfortably, for those absolute values
By what right, moreover, could a Christian or a Marxist accuse me, for example, of pessimism? I was not the one to invent the misery of the human being or the terrifying formulas of divine malediction. I was not the one to shout Nemo bonus or the damnation of unbaptized children. I was not the one who said that man was incapable of saving himself by his own means and that in the depths of his degradation his only hope was in the grace of God. And as for the famous Marxist optimism! No one has carried distrust of man further, and ultimately the economic fatalities of this universe seem more terrible than divine whims.
Christians and Communists will tell me that their optimism is based on a longer range, that it is superior to all the rest, and that God or history, according to the individual, is the satisfying end-product of their dialectic, I can indulge in the same reasoning. If Christianity is pessimistic as to man, it is optimistic as to human destiny. Well, I can say that, pessimistic as to human destiny, I am optimistic as to man. And not in the name of a humanism that always seemed to me to fall short, but in the name of an ignorance that tries to negate nothing. This means that the words “pessimism” and “optimism” need to be clearly defined and that, until we can do so, we must pay attention to what unites us rather than to what separates us.
That, I believe, is all I had to say. We are faced with evil. And, as for me, I feel rather as Augustine did before becoming a Christian when he said: “I tried to find the source of evil and I got nowhere.” But it is also true that I, and a few others, know what must be done, if not to reduce evil, at least not to add to it. Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you do not help us, who else in the world can help us do this?
Between the forces of terror and the forces of dialogue, a great unequal battle has begun. I have nothing but reasonable illusions as to the outcome of that battle. But I believe it must be fought, and I know that certain men at least have resolved to do so. I merely fear they will occasionally feel somewhat alone, that they in fact alone, and that after an interval of two thousand years we may see the sacrifice of Socrates repeated several times. The program for the future is either a permanent dialogue or the solemn and significant putting to death of any who have experienced dialogue. After having contributed my reply, the question that I ask Christians is this: “Will Socrates still be alone and is there nothing in him and in your doctrine that urges you join us?”
It may be, I am well aware, that Christianity will answer negatively. Oh, not by your mouths, I am convinced. But it may be, and this is even more probable, that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago. In that case Christians will live and Christianity will die. In that case, the others will in fact pay for the sacrifice. In any case such a future is not within my province to decide, despite all the hope and anguish it awakens in me. I can speak only of what I know. And what I know–which sometimes creates a deep longing in me–is that if Christians made up their minds to it, millions of voices–millions, I say–throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and for men.

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2 Responses to Sunday Sermon: The Unbeliever and Christians

  1. Shalini says:

    Well said!

  2. Calling to ‘Christians’ assumes that there is a ‘Christianity’ and not, as I think is obvious, ‘Christianities’. What Camus is doing, is scapegoating.

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