Albert Camus and the Minister

Albert Camus & the Minister - Howard E. Mumma For several months this book has sat on my nightstand untouched. Finally, with much trepidation, I finally started reading it the other night.

The title of the first half confirmed by fears.

The Wearied Existentialist.

Mumma, an Ohio minister served as a guest preacher at the American Church in Paris in the 1950s. During this time, he supposedly began a friendship with Albert Camus. The first chapters strain credibility as Mumma describes his initial meetings with Camus. For example, Mumma would have us think that Camus, in his late thirties, hit a turning point in his life when Mumma described the story of the Garden of Eden after their second meeting. Mumma's words:
His face lit up dramatically. Camus was excited by my explanation of man's being cast out from the garden- which related to his own interest in man's estrangement. I said to myself, here is a man who is on the road to becoming a Christian. Here was a key moment, a turning point in this man's life. I could tell by the light in his eyes, the expression of his face, that Camus was experiencing something new in his life pg. 26

We are supposed to believe that Camus, who by 1950, had obtained a degree in philosophy, was a former journalist for the French Resistance, a playwright, author of The Stranger, The Plague and The Myth of Sisyphus (among other works), and most telling Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonsim was unaware and awed by one of the most basic and well known childhood biblical stories?

Such claims cannot even be excused as merely poor memory nor language problems between the French speaking Camus and the English speaking Mumma. It also does not help that the supposedly naive Camus asks the most basic one sentence questions regarding faith that permit Mumma to provide two page sermons explaining the meaning of life and religion.

Later chapters find a voice for Camus that resonates slightly more faithfully for those familiar with his writings. But all is suspect in light of Mumma's Christian perspective (at one's most innocuous reading) or Christian agenda (at one's most accusatory). The final chapters have Camus, having reached a depth of despair for lack of faith, nearly allowing himself to be baptized. Mumma then speaks of his sense of failure at not preventing the death of Camus which he deemed "obviously suicide" pg. 98. However, Camus died in a car accident in which he was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his friend and publisher, Michel Gallimard. Such factually faulty insights into Camus' character cannot be dismissed kindly.

The second half of the book contains Mumma's personal letters regarding other matters. However, at that point, I was so disgusted I just skimmed through them.

In the Introduction, Mumma writes:
During our second or third meeting, Camus asked if I might agree that our visits would be kept confidential- that no records or dates of our meetings be kept. "After all," he said, "You are a priest!" I smile and quickly agreed.

Ministers aren't generally known for reneging on promises, but now, at the age of ninety-one--and with Camus forty years dead--I am confident that the benefits of sharing his story far outweigh the betrayal of confidence.

If the betrayal of confidence was not bad enough, the betrayal of intellectual integrity is.