The Courage to Dialogue

camus

In 1948, Albert Camus, author of The Plague, The Stranger, The Fall, and The Rebel, among many other plays, essays, books, and journalism, was invited to speak at the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg. Camus was not a Christian, but he was not unacquainted with Christianity, and maintained a vigorous dialogue and correspondence with Christian thinkers and writers until his tragic death in 1960. In fact, he wrote his dissertation on a fellow North African—the theologian, preacher, and early Christian Church father, Augustine—and was always respectful of a tradition he did not follow. But he refused to attempt a reconciliation between his beliefs and Christian ideals merely to “be agreeable to all.” 

“On the contrary,” he said in his address, “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.”

Further, asking whether the Catholic Church had condemned Nazism during the Second World War, Camus maintained that while the Church finally issued an encyclical against it, “The condemnation was voiced and it was not understood!”

In response to the invitation to speak freely to those gathered at the monastery that day, he offered these ringing words:

“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 man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

In these confusing and fraught times it is not easy to know how to speak up courageously as a Christian for justice and mercy. But I cannot ignore Camus’ direct challenge and I intend to rise to it.

Perhaps what we will someday live into would be something akin to Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” and Thomas Merton’s exploration of a post-Christian humanism. But that is a discussion for another day.

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