The Problem With Camus

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life,” says Albert Camus (1913-1960). He was one of the earliest members of an artistic movement called “Absurdism.” Absurdism mainly centered on the idea that awareness of the certainty and finality of death makes life meaningless. In his journal Camus wrote: “There is only one case in which despair is true. It is that of a man sentenced to die….” The post-World War II mood of disillusionment and skepticism was expressed in peculiar terms by a number of artists, most of whom lived in France. Camus was a member of this group. Although they did not consider themselves as belonging to a formal movement, they shared a belief that human life was essentially without meaning, purpose, and absolute morality. They felt therefore that valid communication in any form, artistic or otherwise, was no longer possible. They felt the human community had sunk to a state of absurdity (the term was coined by Albert Camus). Camus was also an Existentialist. Absurdism is a literary movement. Existentialism is a philosophical movement. Existentialism rejects epistemology or the attempt to validate human knowledge as a basis for reality—a fundamental change in direction in Western philosophy. To Plato, ethical behavior was very closely tied to knowledge. Plato argued that if one knew the right thing to do, one would do it. Existentialism argued that that was not so. People made decisions based on need and function rather than knowledge. People were quite capable of making an evil decision if it suited their purposes. Human beings were not solely or even primarily people who made decisions from a basis of knowledge; they merely desired, manipulated, and, above all, chose and acted on their own selfish behalf. Thus, Camus regarded objects not primarily as “things” for cognition, a derivative characteristic, but as tools for processing the world. Camus’ characters are not detached observers of the world, but they are “in the world” participating in the chaotic events that we call everyday life. In short, Camus was more concerned with being rather than knowing.

There is a growing fear that Christian Theism has lost the edge, shots its last volley, fought its last skirmish, lost the advantage in the culture war that is raging.   Nathan O. Hatch, in his book Taking the Measure of the Evangelical Resurgence: 1942-1992 asks, “If there is such a huge resurgence of evangelicalism, why is there no more evidence in American society?”  Dr. Hatch offers two theories.  His first is what I call the “culture lag theory.”  He argues that elite culture (i.e., leadership in leading universities and corporations) has been captured by Modernism and Evangelicalism has to catch up.  How can Evangelicals catch up?

We need to stop retreating and take a stand on the seven great hills of our society: education, law, religion, domestic, art, literature, science.  We need to dominate these areas in our society: that is, we need to be the best teachers, best lawyers, best pastors, best homemakers, best artists, best writers, and best scientists in America.  We are starting to do this now!  We do these things with alacrity and courage.  We ask for no quarter and we give no quarter!  Every time we take a lazy short cut in our pedagogy, every time we fight among ourselves over petty issues (e.g., the case surrounding Susan Bauer’s untimely departure from the home school convention world), we weaken our effort and strengthen the forces of the enemy!  We have captured the elite culture of this nation—just like the Puritans—now we need to make hay while the sun is shining!

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