12 July 2009

The Plague

"Yes, the hour has come for serious thought," wrote Camus in "The Plague." "You fondly imagined it was enough to visit God on Sundays, and thus you could make free of your weekdays. You believed some brief formalities, some bendings of the knee, would recompense Him well for your criminal indifference. But God is not mocked."

Criminal indifference. John Henry Newman saw it coming, watching from the pulpit in England. He saw looming, as a towering anvil, the trembling approach of an indifference that tightened itself in the hearts of the once-believers. People were no longer anti-religion or anti-God, or even inquisitive, they simply didn't care. And today, one sees in no shortage of examples a populace that continues to drive headlong into an aimless apathy. I see it often in the classroom: when you have what you want, you forget what you need. A surging population of young people who've been overfed and undernourished and can't tell the difference between desire and necessity and further, don't care to learn it.

In Camus' book, the plague has imprisoned a town, cut off in every way from the world outside. A friend of mine suggested the other day, while canoeing down the Meramec river, that the whole thing is allegorical: the town is society itself, imprisoned by its own ignorance and apathy.

It's more difficult to deal with indifference than the conundrum of outright disbelief. It's difficult internally, to convince yourself that faith matters when you really find that you couldn't care less about the trappings or rituals. And yet, something persistently churns beneath the surface, sometimes far enough beneath that nothing is noticeable, that apathy is the only visible signal to the outside.

He will not be mocked. And to boot, he will not be ignored. It is supremely foolish to convince oneself that personal freedom is so great that the very nature of God can be reordered according to one's own musings. I can make him hate me, or forget me or simply turn his back to me. I can do something so egregious, so powerfully stupid and sinful to make him cast me away forever. That is precisely the heresy of modern man, that nothing - not even God - can surpass my radical freedom.

Criminal indifference wafts around God like a gnat on a humid afternoon. Irritating but ultimately harmless. It becomes criminal when caught or smacked. Here I am, on my sodden corner of the world, burdened by the inane notion that I can escape his mercy. Even my stoic indifference can do no such thing.

Elsewhere, Camus remarks, "How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free... and danger still remained fantastically unreal."

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