Albert Camus and the Minister

When Albert Camus's The Fall was published in 1956, "numerous pious souls" thought the famous atheist, existentialist novelist, and philosopher was nearing conversion—so says French critic Alain Costes. Methodist pastor Howard Mumma was one of those pious souls and for good reason.

Mumma is no wishful thinker, no pious Christian admirer who imagines reasons to list Camus among the saints. Over several summers, as he served as guest minister at the American Church in Paris, Mumma was sought out by Camus. Sworn to secrecy at the time, Mumma now reconstructs the "irregular and occasional" dialogues that took place before Camus's tragic death in a car accident on January 4, 1960. These dialogues climaxed with Camus's request to be baptized privately.

To me and, I imagine, to many not quite so pious readers of Camus, the conversations this book describes come as a stunning revelation—but not one lacking credibility. Still, some readers will surely find this revelation a serious challenge to Camus's intellectual stature and will refuse to believe it.

There is, of course, little way for readers now to verify whether these dialogues took place, or to verify the accuracy of Mumma's memory then or now, 40 years later, when he is in his 90s. Still, the details of the setting for the dialogues and the reconstructed interchanges have the ring of truth.

The problem of pain

Camus had long dealt with religious issues: the meaning of life, the problem of evil, the feelings of guilt, the foundation for morality, the longing for eternal life.

Though, as Camus tells Mumma, "The silence of the universe has led me to conclude that the world is without meaning," he had already confessed in an essay written in 1950 that he ...

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October 23, 2000

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