The Word Engaged
Restoring the Fall
“Who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29)
Albert Camus wrote, I believe, the most incisive account of what our “fallen nature” would be without the Lamb of God that John the Baptist announced.
The Fall is a monologue-novel narrated by one Jean-Baptiste Clamence ruminating in an Amsterdam bar about a civilization of empty silhouettes interested only in fornication and entertainment.
Clamence is a fictional John the Baptist, “clamoring” in a wilderness stripped of love and hope. “When all is said and done, that’s really what I am ... an empty prophet for a shabby time, an Elijah without a Messiah.”
As opposed to John the Baptist who saw the Spirit descend like a dove to rest on Jesus, Clamence sights some doves that seem unable to find a place to land or some face to bless as beloved.
The title of the book refers to the “fall of man,” that moment of succumbing to the lie, that victory of the great deceiver, the snake of seduction. But since there is no messiah to be found, seduction rules the earth, lies control our minds. “Truth,” Clamence says, “is a colossal bore.”
There is no God, no truth, not even the truth of a person outside of Clamence’s ego who might merit his respect or win his love. Having no savior to announce, Clamence can only proclaim himself. Everything is to be used at the service of his narcissism. There are only two kinds of people he can relate to: dead ones and slaves. His whole life is devoted to denying any duty to which he might be held responsible or any morality by which he might be judged. “The essential is being able to permit oneself everything.”
Camus is saying that this radical self-centeredness is the essence of sin. And if we humans cannot be healed or delivered from this moral sickness, we are condemned to an endless hate not unlike Satan’s. “How intoxicating to feel like God the Father. ... I sit enthroned among my bad angels. ... I understand without forgiving, and above all, I feel at last that I am being adored!”
In his own life, Albert Camus apparently could not bring himself to fully believe the beloved whom John the Baptist named. But he knew that such a savior, in reversing the sin of the world and the fall of humankind, would have to be someone utterly given to the truth and wholly devoted to love.
Such a savior would not dominate men and women, but would free them. Such a savior, far from wanting slaves, would be a servant. Instead of killing for the truth, he would die for it. Instead of feeding on others, he would become their food and drink.
The true John the Baptist, unlike Camus’s Jean-Baptiste Clamence, never postured as a pseudo-god. He preached not self-justification, but repentance and reform. He sought not to increase, but to decrease. And one day, as Jesus approached, he saw the Spirit-dove descend upon God’s Chosen One.
Two thousand years later, Christ’s followers continue to say the Baptist’s words: “This is the Lamb of God, the one who has come to take away the sins of the world.”
And they banquet with the bread of life.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University