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Author Quotes: Albert Camus’s Atheist Perspective On Christianity, Part I


“Inasmuch as you have been so kind as to invite a man who does not share your convictions to come and answer the very general question that you are raising in these conversations, before telling you what I think unbelievers expect of Christians, I should like first to acknowledge your intellectual generosity by stating a few principles.

First, there is a lay pharisaism in which I shall strive not to indulge. To me a lay pharisee is the person who pretends to believe that Christianity is an easy thing and asks of the Christian, on the basis of an external view of Christianity, more than he asks of himself. I believe indeed that the Christian has many obligations but that it is not up to the man who rejects them himself to recall their existence to anyone who has already accepted them. . .

Secondly, I wish to declare also that, not feeling that I possess any absolute truth or any message, I shall never start from the supposition that Christian truth is illusory, but merely from the fact that I could not accept it. . .

Having said that, it will be easier or me to state my third and last principle. It is simple and obvious. I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think (insofar as I can judge of it) in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all. On the contrary, what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as is silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds. This is tantamount to saying that the world of today needs Christians who remain Christians. The other day at the Sorbonne, speaking to a Marxist lecturer, a Catholic priest said in public that he too was anticlerical. Well, I don’t like priests who are anticlerical any more than philosophies that are ashamed of themselves. Hence I shall not, as far as I am concerned, try to pass myself off as a Christian in your presence. I share with you the same revulsion from evil. But I do not share your hope, and I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die.”

– Albert Camus, from his 1948 essay, The Unbeliever and Christians
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Although he tended to shy away from the categorizations, Noble-prize winning author Albert Camus is known as an important figure of both Absurdist and existential schools of philosophy. He was also an atheist who knew how to speak respectfully to those with whom he had fundamental disagreements. Here we have him not only spelling out the ideals that led him to this perspective but also putting them into play. The above mentioned essay was originally the introductory statements of a lecture he gave at the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg.

I use social media and I live in America. Every day I see articles and endless comment threads spewing violently anti-dialogue hatred. As of recently I have also had the personal pleasure of entering into a couple of lengthy, social media based conversations with those of drastically opposing world-views. It brings me immense joy to be able still to find and honestly give the title of “friend” to those opposite who are interested in expressing themselves without contempt for their fellow human beings. We need more authentic dialoguers.

I approach the body materials of Camus’s The Unbeliever And Christians in Part II.

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