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Camus - Early Brushes With God

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  • Mary Jo
    Growing up in the working class Camus family and friends held priests in even lower regard than teachers. They had little contact with them except for burials
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2004
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      Growing up in the working class Camus' family and friends held
      priests in even lower regard than teachers. They had little contact
      with them except for burials when his grandmother often pronounced
      that the deceased had "farted his last." His family never mentioned
      heaven, hell or purgatory. He was baptized, confirmed, and took
      catechism in order to receive communion before entering high school.
      His grandmother insisted. He got slapped for talking in his catechism
      class which left more of an impression upon him than his lessons. Of
      course, his grandmother was just as severe. When he came home from
      school as a young boy, bleeding from a pinched finger, she whipped
      him for `disturbing the household.'

      The poor of Belcourt didn't practice their faith and were generally
      suspicious of the priests whom they saw as dividing their flock,
      pitting them against one another, and favoring the wealthy. The
      fallen Spanish catholics considered priests bad luck. They would burn
      a priest in effigy for Mardi Gras, and in 1924 the anticlerical
      leftists plastered posters of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake
      by cardinals and monks. The Spanish who did go to church would hear
      sermons against the French who never came to mass and had too few
      children. `But the young people in Algeria were more concerned with
      the earth, the sand, the sun, and the sea.' In high school he refused
      to study catechism, only Latin: he'd already heard all the warnings
      against masturbation - blindness, deafness or insanity. One of the
      more outstanding teachers threatened lazy students: "If you don't do
      a goddamn thing in my class, I'll throw you into a Jesuit factory,
      and make you into good little Jesuitties!"

      When Albert had his first serious bout with tuberculosis, he became
      suddenly aware of his own mortality. He decided that illness was "a
      remedy against death, because it prepares us for death, creating an
      apprenticeship whose first step is self-pity. Illness supports man in
      the great attempt to shirk the fact that he will surely die." Later
      when he returned to school he wrote essays influenced by
      Nietzsche. "Greek tragedy was born from the need to escape a life
      that was too painful. The Greeks did not try to make life more
      agreeable, they annihilated it with tragedy and dreams. The only
      purpose of tragedy, like comedy, was to bring forgetfulness." Camus
      discovered he preferred writing and literature to philosophy, and his
      teachers concurred. He was already writing for the literary
      magazine 'Sud' by the time he was 18. The depressed narrator of his
      autobiographical story states, "I haven't got anything any more, I
      don't believe in anything, and it's impossible to live like this,
      having killed morality inside me. I have no more purpose, no more
      reason to live, and I will die." In a stray note which was a
      precursor of later works he wrote: "Should one accept life as it is?
      That would be stupid, but how to do otherwise? Should one accept the
      human condition? On the contrary, I think revolt is part of human
      nature … Whether one accepts or revolts, one is to confront life ...
      Let's not kid ourselves, pain always exists, and there's no shilly-
      shallying that it is probably the essential part of life ... When a
      young man is on the threshold of life, before doing anything, he is
      usually soiled by grim lassitude and deep disgust at meanness and
      vanity, even while he is trying to avoid them ... He knows that
      metaphysical lewdness is mere vanity."

      In 1934 when Camus' friend first asked him to join the French
      Communist Party he initialy warned against `credo'. He claimed, "I
      have a deep-seated attitude against religion, and for me, communism
      is nothing if not a religion." He tells his friend that only if one
      considers god unjust and capricious can he ever hope to change the
      hopeless human condition. In his graduate thesis, which dealt with
      reconciling Greek thought and Christianity, he claims sympathy for
      Christianity without god, because it encourages social action. He
      prefers the Greek philosophical view of the world over Christian
      ideals which emphasize individual sin and collective guilt. He was
      attracted to communism as a religion without god. Camus found himself
      an atheist without a personal moral code. It appeared that communism
      might solve this for him. Aside from obvious sexual delights, perhaps
      his marriage to Simone was altruistic as well. One of Albert's friend
      thought he was making a mistake, since he had heard him say marriage
      was an `unnatural' institution and a wedding ring a `sad symbol'
      meant to imprison people. He thought Camus was playing at being an
      angel or a St. Bernard dog in trying to save her from drugs.

      "To the question of how to live without God, who does not exist,
      Camus had three answers: live, act, and write." - Albert Camus: A
      Life, Olivier Todd

      Mary Jo
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