Friday, September 24, 2010

Saved by Camus?

Rob Moll at Christianity Today recounts some of the influences that led him as a college senior back to the faith of his childhood. Surely the most unlikely of the influences Moll discusses was his reading of Albert Camus' novel The Plague. I say this is unlikely since Camus was an atheist and the hero of The Plague is also an atheist. Indeed, the only Christian in the novel, a Father Paneloux, is something of a buffoon.

Anyway, here's the heart of Moll's account:
[T]he biggest influence on my spiritual journey was the novels and philosophy of Albert Camus, a French existentialist of the 1940s and '50s—and an atheist. C. S. Lewis warned, "A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading." Camus should have been safe territory for me, but as I like to say now, I was saved by an atheist....
The world, as Camus found it, is absurd. Humans yearn for meaning, yet life offers none. God is absent. But Camus argued against the nihilism of his fellow Europeans who found life meaningless and therefore flocked to totalitarian, fascist, or communist philosophies. "I don't know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it," Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus, his argument against suicide. "But I know that I do not know that meaning." Rather than take a leap of faith, Camus sought to "know whether I can live with what I know and with that alone."
He illustrated his philosophy of creating meaning in the face of meaninglessness in the novel The Plague. When the city of Oran is struck by disease, officials quarantine the city. The main character, the physician Rieux, chooses to stay, throwing himself into caring for the sick. This is how one creates meaning amid the meaninglessness of the sudden outbreak of plague. And life is no different, Camus believed. We are to work against wrongs and injustice, with humility, trying to aid others in small ways.
Rieux....realized that "I, anyhow, had had plague through all those long years in which, paradoxically enough, I'd believed ... I was fighting it." Not only that: "I have realized that we all have plague."
Camus was right, and I, too, had plague. I was sick and in need of a Physician. Camus' willingness to accept the truth that humans 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.
There's much more in the essay that makes it worth taking five or six minutes to read. Indeed, there's much in others of Camus' works that's worth reading, not just in The Plague but also in his other famous novel The Stranger. Camus doesn't shrink from portraying the awful emptiness of a life lived in the absence of God. To repeat Lewis' words, "A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading."

Disincentives to Crime

Caleb passes along a report released by the NRA based on recently released FBI crime statistics. The report points out that over the last two decades violent crime has been decreasing as private gun sales have been increasing. I think we have to be careful about drawing a cause and effect relationship, though all the trends are certainly suggestive of one, but we need not be coy about declaring that predictions that more guns would result in greater crime rates have been pretty much discredited.

The NRA summarizes their report in this paragraph:
Coinciding with a surge in gun purchases that began shortly before the 2008 elections, violent crime decreased six percent between 2008 and 2009, including an eight percent decrease in murder and a nine percent decrease in robbery. Since 1991, when violent crime peaked, it has decreased 43 percent to a 35-year low. Murder has fallen 49 percent to a 45-year low. At the same time, the number of guns that Americans own has risen by about 90 million.
Predictions by gun control supporters, that increasing the number of guns, particularly handguns and so-called “assault weapons,” would cause crime to increase, have been proven profoundly lacking in clairvoyance.
Documentation is provided at the link. Perhaps criminals perform a subconscious calculation, pondering the chances that an intended victim may be armed and proceeding accordingly. As gun ownership has increased, the likelihood of encountering an armed victim increases apace, and the thug's crude cost-benefit analysis weighs heavily against an assault.

This stands to reason, especially in crimes like rape or robbery. If most potential robbers thought their intended victim was likely to produce a weapon instead of a wallet it could make the crime decidedly unprofitable and just not worth the risk.