One hundred years ago today, November 7, 1913, Albert Camus was born in Algeria.
A philosopher, novelist, journalist, and member of the Resistance against the Nazis and their French collaborators, this atheist has become for me and for many Christians a voice that challenges me to live the Gospel in a world full of evil. He saw the world as absurd and the only honest response is revolt – but not an unthinking revolt that is only interested in a cause. It must be a revolt to affirm the human person.
In 1946, in an article, “Neither Victims Nor Executioners,” Camus identified the twentieth century as “the century of fear.” I think we can identify our twenty-first century also as a century of intense fear.
For him, fear “implies and rejects the same fact: a world where murder is legitimate and where human life is considered trifling.…” And so,
Before anything can be done, two questions must be put: “Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly want to kill and assault?” All who say No to both questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences which must modify their way of posing the problem.
His novel The Plague, set in Algeria, but written in France during the Second World War, portrays an Algerian city suffering a mysterious plague. where people faced these question. Camus explores how people respond to the plague. The plague is probably a symbol of the violence that plagues humanity, but it seems reasonable to suggest that Nazism was the foremost plague that Camus had in mind. He wrote much of the novel in the French Huguenot town of Le Chambon-sur–Lignon, which rescued Jews, under the leadership of Pastor André Trocmé.
In 1948, after the war, he was asked to speak at a Dominican monastery in France. That talk, published as “The Unbeliever and Christians.”
He called for dialogue but he also challenged us:
What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.
Those words have challenged me for many years, most clearly in the past in relation to war, to speak up for the victims of war and injustice, to be on their side. But Camus is realistic.
He told his Christian audience,
… 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 don’t help us, who else in the world can help us to do this?
But the challenge remains. As he concluded his remarks to the Dominicans:
…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 [human beings].
Will we take up the challenge of Camus, the, prophet? Will we take up the challenge he gives us to speak up against violence and all that degrades human life?
Will we pledge, like he did, that “I will never he one of those, whoever they may be, who compromise with murder, and ….I take the consequences of such a decision”?