Choosing life after not choosing death

Filed in Ethics by on February 28, 2014 1 Comment


There is a good article on Albert Camus over at the First Things website. Camus famously said that the fundamental question of our age was suicide. He thought that to live honestly, one had to face the abyss. In fact, the article makes clear that for Camus, life itself was defined by the existence or not of hope: could “one…get out of nihilism”?

This reminds me of a couple of things. The first is a story about Buckminster Fuller. He had a breakthrough in his thinking when his life was bleakest. The story goes that he was contemplating taking his life when his whole perspective changed. Instead of taking his life, he would give it away. His whole life then became about being for others, an experiment in living.

The second thing is Fr Alexander Schmemann’s exegesis of the first chapters of Genesis in his classic book, For the Life of the World. There, he writes that whatever else one can say about the forbidden fruit, it was definitely taken, not given. In taking the fruit, humanity stopped receiving life as a gift. Rather, it becomes a potential possession, something to be taken. Nihilism is the terminus of the ‘life-as-possession’ mentality.

The final thing it reminded me of is the rite of baptism. In the rite, there is usually an exorcism to free one from evil. This freedom then allows one to make the choice to renounce evil and to choose Christ. From this, we can see that one has to realise that one is dead, a slave to sin, in order to be free of the clutches of sin and death. It is only then that one can choose life.

This is the great mystery of the Cross: it reveals our predicament and, in doing so, offers us salvation. And it is a gift: the gift of Christ himself. But for salvation to be real, it must always be the Cross. We are not saved from anything else but sin and death. Like Camus, we have to be honest about what is going on, if we are really to offer good news. But when we are, Christ’s resurrection gives us the hope that Camus was looking for.

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Fr Jerome Santamaria

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Fr Jerome Santamaria is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia.

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