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St Johns Southgate

08 Apr 2016

Christianity and the absurd

If it’s par-for-the-course – which I imagine it is – for a first year philosophy undergrad to fall head-over-heels in love with Albert Camus and absurdism, then I was a very average university student.

Camus’ philosophy was the kind that turned everything I thought I knew on its head and I was ready and willing to dive headfirst down the rabbit hole with him. I found his novel L’Étranger, often translated as The Outsider, to be so incredibly intoxicating. It wove a certain way of thinking, questioning and living through a vivid tapestry that made me want to sit on an Algerian terrace house balcony and smoke cigarettes all day, thinking deep and meaningful thoughts like the protagonist.

Absurdism, of which Camus could be called the father, essentially suggests that life has no meaning, but that we can find meaning in the meaninglessness.

The definitive Generation X film of the 90s, Reality Bites, had a character by the name of Troy Dyer who lived the absurdist philosophy to a T. He riffed on life, saying:  “There’s no point to any of it.  It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes … So I take pleasure in the details.  You know … a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, those are good; the sky about 10 minutes before it starts to rain; the moment your laughter becomes a cackle … and I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights, and I ride my own melt.”

One might think that a Christian, even more so a mature Christian, and even more so than that a pastor would have to reject such notions. To that, I say, nonsense!

Christianity is all about seeing light in seemingly impenetrable darkness, it’s about finding hope in utter hopelessness. My faith tradition doesn’t try and distance itself from normal human experiences like sadness, doubt, confusion and it doesn’t even try to transcend the seeming absurdity of life.

The Christian God, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, isn’t a supreme being we can only commune with if we’re able to transcend the directionless life. Jesus came to earth to be among us because life was absurd, because there was no way for it all to come together with any kind of symmetry.

What draws me to Christianity is the way Jesus makes the absurd intelligible. Jesus showed that the state of human existence was so absurd that the deity needed to die – that’s how absurd life was and is!

Friedrich Nietzsche, my other favourite philosopher, famously stated, “God is dead.” While Nietzsche probably wouldn’t be a fan of me as a Lutheran pastor – and would be even more horrified by me co-opting his famous thesis – God did die.

The Christian church celebrated this on Good Friday. Jesus Christ, God’s own son, died on the cross in an act of gracious solidarity with the human being who says, “I can’t find meaning, I can’t transcend, it’s all absurd!” Jesus died to bring life and meaning to us, because without him it is just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes.

Sound absurd? Well, it is. But in the best possible way.

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