Archives For Albert Camus

Camus 2It’s widely held that Albert Camus was an outsider. He was and remains a non-conformist among non-conformists.

Alongside Camus’ cautious optimism about humanity is his willingness to break with collective intellectual and political trends. He was a fierce agnostic; critical of Christianity, yet still open to the feasibility of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ[i].

Although, to be fair, given Camus’ views on this and absolute truth, alone, it is debatable as to how far this could be stretched out and represented as him being open to seeing Christ as more than just a well-intentioned, but deluded revolutionary.

As far as Camus’ understanding of and lukewarm relationship with Christianity goes, Maya Angelou’s: ‘here then is my Christian lack, If I’m struck then I’ll strike back[ii]’ certainly finds legitimate traction.

Camus’ writings are sharp. His tone often influenced by the dire circumstances of his historical context and his targets those who claim one thing, yet project another.

Born in French Algeria, Camus later became a journalist, contributing to ‘Combat’; the left-wing media arm of the French Resistance, during Nazi occupation.

Camus, today, is pertinent because of is his open critique of the “Left”, and his ability to detach himself from any claim that could suggest he had sold out to the “Right”.

According to Olivier Todd, after writing ‘The Rebel’ Camus was hammered by critics and ostracised. This included being  labelled by Jean Paul Sartre as being ‘someone who had always been vain.’[iii]

Todd adds:

‘Camus went against the grain among members of the left-wing intelligentsia. Facing a mummified admiration of revolution per se, Camus was fairly revolutionary in response to much of the current thinking in contemporary Paris.’[iv]

Jean Bethke Elshtain also noted:

‘Camus was no naïf. He knew what it meant to fight fascism. He feared what fighting fascism unleashed, namely, counter-terror in the name of an abstract Communist utopia. He disapproved of any passion for unity that saw opposition as treason. For his efforts, Camus was virtually excommunicated from the French intellectual life by Sartre and his comrades’[v]

It’s easy enough to understand why Camus, now an estranged golden-child of the “Left”, caused such an upheaval.

In 1957, near the close of an interview where Camus gave support for the counter-revolutionary movement in communist held Hungary,  Camus stated that the ‘Left was schizophrenic and needed doctoring’:

‘We must hope for a common rallying. But first our Leftist intellectuals , who have swallowed so many insults and may well have to begin doing so again, would have to undertake a critique of the reasoning’s and ideologies to which they have hitherto subscribed, which have wreaked the havoc they have seen in our most recent history. That will be the hardest thing. We must admit that today conformity is on the Left.
To be sure, the Right is not brilliant. But the Left is in complete decadence, a prisoner of words, caught in its own vocabulary, capable merely of stereo-typed replies, constantly at a loss when faced with the truth, from which it nevertheless claimed to derive its laws.
The Left is schizophrenic and needs doctoring through pitiless self-criticism, exercise of the heart, close reasoning, and a little modesty. Until such an effort at re-examination is well under way, any rallying will be useless even harmful. None of the evils of totalitarianism (defined by the single party and the suppression of all opposition) claims to remedy is worse than totalitarianism itself.’[vi]

In sum, Camus fired a flare out from within the inner sanctum of Leftist elitism. Uncovering an oppressive movement that rides on the  coattails of a utopia built on totalitarianism, enforced by appeasement and maintained by the carrot of emancipation, which only ends up enslaving people behind a false promise to deliver absolute freedom.

For the thinking Christian, Camus’ work stands as a cautious ally in the burgeoning wilderness that is the partially sedated West.

Speaking to bewildered citizens paralysed by the tug of war between those politicians, theologians and philosophers who build fortresses on either side of the ideological divide; who overlook the corruption; who ignore, for fear of being labelled intolerant, the inevitable disorder of the repression and redefinition of some traditions; who seek to play into the self-interest of some NGO’s, their supporters or anyone that might preach bipartisanship and unbias, but choose to function as propaganda units of political ideologues and the parties that promote them.

For the commonwealth of Christ (the Church), this dark, but lucid writer inadvertently issues a warning. Be careful about where your allegiance resides because ‘no one can serve two masters…Where your treasure is, your heart will be there also.’ (Jesus, Mt.6:21-24)


Source:

[i] Evident in ‘The Rebel’ and partially highlighted within his statements made at a Dominican monastery in 1948 and included in the text ‘The Unbeliever and Christians’.

[ii] Angelou, M. 1981 Maya Angelou: Poems Bantam Books

[iii] Todd, O. 2013, Afterward in Camus, A. The Rebel (Penguin Modern Classics) Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Ed.

[iv] Ibid, Loc. 4134-4137

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 Democracy On Trial Basic Books

[vi] Camus, A. 1961 Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays;Hungary: Socialism of the Gallows’, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1960 First Vintage International Edition

Image: Albert Camus, Camus Society FB page.

A_Camus 2 generosityAlbert Camus asserted any action which acts decisively against injustice and oppression, is to be considered as being part of what he called the ‘generosity of rebellion.’[i]

This concept is largely summarised as being any action,

‘which unhesitatingly gives the strength of its love and refuses injustice without a moment’s delay. Its merit lies in making no calculations, distributing everything that it possesses to life and to living men and women. It is thus prodigal in its gift to the men and women to come.[ii]

While it is an overstatement, if used solely as a definition for home schooling, I don’t think its essence is entirely redundant.

To educate, is to act in such a way as to give an inheritance beyond financial gain. It is to pass on knowledge, faith and character. Reaching beyond the shrine of self and the shelf life of what money can buy in our commerce cathedrals – whether they be day-care, shopping malls or senior high school.

Consider the Widow’s offering.

‘Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, truly I say to you, this poor widow has put more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4)

For me, this and Camus’ concept of generosity affirms a hard won understanding acquired in fourteen years in retail, and eleven of those years in retail management:

’it’s not what you’ve got. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.’’

It’s not an absolute rule for all occasions, but it finds serious traction in the home school arena.

Stepping up as the primary educator has shown me that one of the chief purposes of home schooling is generosity.

This generosity begins with God. Where in Jesus Christ we find ourselves being educated inside our educating[iii]. We then discover that we ourselves are being reached for, even as we stumble to reach beyond ourselves.

‘For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs.’ (Romans 8:17, NLT)

Karl Barth reminds us that ‘in Christ, the humiliation God exists as the exaltation of humanityGod does not will to be God without us.’ (C.D IV/2:31 & C.D IV:1:7)

As heirs with Christ we are grounded with inheritance. We, therefore, find ourselves in a state of adoption[iv].

Here I see four certainties:

Provision

Position

Participation

Potential

All issued forth from God’s promise. All related to the generosity of ‘God’s sovereign choice’[v] and compassion. All depending not on human will or effort, but on mercy.

God not only wills relationship with us, He painstakingly made that relationship possible[vi].

Camus is right:

‘Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.’ (The Rebel, 1951)

Sources:

[i] Camus, A. 1951 the Rebel Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Ed.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Kierkegaard’s – ‘to teach is to learn’

[iv] Romans 8:15

[v] Romans 9:1

[vi] Romans 9:15-16

Image is mine. It is a picture of a recent sunset.

Elshtain quote D_O_TThe following analogy illustrates the point that ‘good nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it’[i]:

”An old man and his young son were driving a donkey before them to the next market to sell. ‘Why have you no more wit’, says one to the man upon the way, ‘thank you and your son trudge it on foot, and let the donkey go light?’
So the old man set his son upon the donkey and continued himself on foot. ‘Why, sir’, says another after this, to the boy, ‘you lazy rogue, must you ride, and let you old father go on foot?’
The old man upon this took down his son, and got up himself. ‘Do you see,’ says a third, ‘how lazy old knave rides himself, and the poor young fellow has much ado to creep after him?’
The father, upon hearing this, took up his son behind him. The next person they met asked the old man whether the donkey was his own or not. He said, ‘yes’. ‘There’s a little sign on it’, says another, ‘by loading him thus.’
‘Well,’ says the old man himself, ‘and what am I to do now? For I am laughed at, if either the donkey be empty, or if one of us rides, or both;’ and so he came to the conclusion to bind the donkey’s legs together with a cord, and they tried to carry him to market with a pole upon each of their shoulders.
This was sport to everybody that saw it, inasmuch that the old man in great wrath threw down the donkey into a river, and so went his way home again. The good man, in fine , was willing to please anybody, and lost his donkey in the process” (‘The complete John Ploughman’)

In some respects the father’s acquiescence is blind. His son also shows the same symptoms by his inability to challenge the father’s sedate tolerance which, because of a lack of assertiveness has led to absolute confusion.

Father and son were both paralyzed not just by fear, but also by indifference and indecision.  Something akin to moral failure or as penned by Carl Trueman, ‘moral abdication’.[iii]

They were unable to push back or challenge the wisdom behind what they were accepting, because they were too eager to appease the commentary of their detractors.

Accommodating the high opinions of those around, and not wanting to offend, negated the very purpose of their journey, harming not only themselves, but also the donkey.

In a comment related to this story, the blunt-talking, 19th Century Preacher, the Rev. Charles Spurgeon, stated:

‘Put your hand quickly to your hat, for that is courtesy; but don’t bow your head at every man or woman’s bidding, for that is slavery…A person is not free if they are afraid to think for themselves, for if our thoughts are in bonds we are not free.[ii]

This is somewhat echoed in the words from theologian, Marguerite Shuster:

 ‘Those who Jesus confronted most directly were as likely to want to kill him as to follow him. He seemed to not have the slightest inclination to make hearing and following him pleasant and easy…Truthfulness, in other words, is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’[iv]

For the free citizen, Shuster’s words mark the very essence of what it means to be a ‘good citizen’ instead of a ‘nice citizen’; the ability to say “yes” and “no” with a ton of responsible care and a stack of well-informed conviction.

Control the language means control of the argument, and therefore control of the people. All contradictions, double standards and hypocrisy are ignored, if the end justifies the means.

Spurgeon’s donkey in the ditch analogy also shows the danger of double mindedness. Accommodation and blind tolerance, in the forms of indifference and indecision, create the ground from which the late political scientist, and  feminist, Jean Bethke Elshtain unpacks her own concerns:

‘Western democracies are not doing a good job of nurturing democratic dispositions that encourage people to accept that they can’t always get what they want and that some of what they seek in politics cannot be found there’[v]

What Shuster, Elshtain and Spurgeon speak to is the giving of an ”absolute feel-nice yes” with a notable absence of any ability to say “no” and have it respected.

For example: equality, fairness and freedom cannot exist in a truly democratic society when the people give unquestioning loyalty to the state, or the fashionable ideology propagated by some circles in academia.

It is right to suggest that nihilism and its progeny: utilitarian hedonism or totalitarian fascism, should be identified and resisted by the public when it comes to having a decisive influence on socio-political policy. It is wrong to not allow these to be reasonably argued against in the free marketplace of ideas.

Equally bad is a politics of appeasement which caves in to demands for unrestrained freedom or extremist forms of social justice for easy political gain. Such politics, and those who advocate it show that they do not understand freedom. Genuine freedom[vi]  must have responsible restraints. For example: the ability to say no to ourselves is an act of freedom.

In essence, no self-control, no freedom. Know self-control, know freedom.

Freedom is negated if we are not free to say both “yes” or “no” responsibly.

‘Absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom. The revolution to achieve justice, through freedom, ends by aligning them against one another.[vii]

Absolute freedom is an illusion because of its innate contradictions. Such as absolute justice, which allows the mob-in-revolt to violently dictate and impose the rule of total law. Or allow a leader to take on emergency powers where, drunk with power, he or she, takes that ”one ring to rule them all.

The place where free citizens become subjects, and take on the lonely and confused, dire submission of Ralph and his faithful companion, who amidst the mad chaos and fire, stirred up by Jack, in Golding’s classic, Lord of the Flies, decide:

‘…under threat of the sky, to eagerly take a place in this demented, but partly secure society’. [viii]

Like the donkey in a ditch, democracy could easily be abandoned, left to lay dormant; placed there by indifference and indecision. Denied, despairing and desperate for rescue, whilst those who chose appeasement for applause, pledge allegiance on an altar of sinister ideologies, advancing by a list of lustful, lost and predatory activism.

In today’s “post-modern” society we see this in the accommodation of blurred distinctions.

Our society tends to value appearance and reputation, over against the truth and the substance of real character.

It is not surprise then that Christians are subsequently forced, or sadly, sometimes surrender to trends, bad theology, and failed ideas, which lay waste to the existence of a free and responsible representative democracy, governed by faith, reason, mercy and justice.

Perhaps that old reminder stands as true today as it did then:

‘When we don’t apply a moral criteria to politics, we mix good and evil, right and wrong. Therefore we make space for the triumph of absolute evil in the world’
(Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1971, Harvard address[xiv])

References:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H.  2007 The complete John Ploughman Christian Focus publications

[ii] Ibid. This echoes the biblical call to pray: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach… because a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways’ (James 1:8)

[iii] Trueman, C. 2004 The Wages of Spin Christian Focus Publications Kindle Ed. (Loc.89)

[iv] Shuster, M. 2008 Truth and truthfulness in Performance in preaching Childers & Schmidt, Baker Academic

[v] Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy on Trial, Perseus Books Group (p.62) See also, Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? critical reflections and hopeful possibilities (particularly chapter three) Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids Michigan U.S.A

[vi] Albert Camus, The Rebel 1951 Kindle Ed. (Penguin Classics, 2013)

[vii] Ibid, 1951

[viii] Golding, W. 1954 Lord of the Flies Bloomsbury House (p.167)

[ix] Solzhenitsyn, A. 1978 A world split apart Harvard sourced from Columbia.edu

* The phrase ‘freedom in limitation’ is Karl Barth’s, not mine.

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