I think if I were not a Christian, I’d be an existentialist of some description. It’s not just the attraction of sitting and chilling in French cafés, sipping espressos and smoking Gitanes, putting the world to rights. It’s just that I see little alternative – it is the only logical, honest conclusion to draw.

I remember having to read Albert Camus’ L’Etranger for French A Level at school – and being pretty nonplussed by it – but not totally put off either. It is a truly fascinating book. Bizarrely enough, I only came back to it and took it more seriously after hearing the The Cure’s 1978 classic ‘Killing an Arab‘. Those who didn’t know it’s inspiration were scandalised – the title itself is pretty provocative. But that’s completely to miss the point. It is a spare, harsh but brilliant evocation of the book’s Algerian setting. And I’ve found the book disturbingly beguiling since.

So it was with considerable interest that I read Rob Moll’s brief testimony in last month’s Christianity Today, intriguingly entitled on Saved by an Atheist. Read the whole thing. But here are a few gems:

Christians gave Albert Camus good reasons not to believe. He gave me a reason to return to faith.

In discussing Camus’ novel, The Plague, and the scene where the protagonist Rieux discovers he is in as much difficulty as everyone else. He too has ‘the plague’.

It was this scene that struck me most forcefully. Camus was right, I knew, and I too, had plague. I was sick and in need of a Physician. Camus’ willingness to accept the truth that human beings are fallen allowed me to do the same. Camus held a mirror to my face – in a way that no pastor, preacher, or professor had – and I knew I needed salvation.

Then in discussing why people turn to atheism, there is this pointed observation:

Most of my wandering friends, like me, seem to have returned to Christ. But I’ve found that a surprising number who had fully accepted the faith have now left it. Each tended to have had some experience in which Christian leaders acted as hypocritical, power-hungry, judgemental, or arrogant elites. For some, the church’s inability to shepherd during a painful period led directly to rejecting God. “If God isn’t there when I need him”, they say, “I don’t need him.”.


So he ends with this crucial advice:

But before we begin dueling on blogs and arming ourselves with television talking points, let’s learn to see atheists not as deniers of God, but as wrestlers with him. And let’s remember that their deepest arguments against belief are the people they’re arguing with.

A fair point indeed.

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  1. Ian Paul

    I read L’Etranger at the same stage, in French–but to impress someone who was doing it for A-level! What I have found interesting in my study of Ricoeur, who was a student of French existentialism and Sartre in particular, is that he likewise found their diagnosis of the human condition persuasive, but not their solution. So human ‘fault’ is embedded in his philosophy, as expressed in Fallible Man, one of his earlier works, but he then moved on to phenomenology and hermeneutics for a better solution.

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