I recently read The Stranger by Albert Camus. The main character, for some critics, is admirably stoic, not willing to bend his will to the absurdity of life, faithful to his nihilistic ideals.
Some think that Merusault does a heroic job of controlling or ignoring his human emotions because of his firm belief that nothing matters. For instance, he does not feel sorry about his mother’s death; he does not feel love for his fiance, guilt for helping a friend beat a girl, or even regret for killing another person.
But Mersuault is no hero. To me, Camus created in Merusault a sad character who represents a kind of modern-day Everyman when it comes to the spiritual life. God is constantly there, knocking at his door, but Merusault, like so many of us, has become so deaf from listening to the din of the world that he cannot hear the knock.
In the very opening scene, a priest is there to provide the charitable act of burying Mersualt’s mom. But Mersualt could care less. That indifference he exhibits towards religion and the religious sensibilities is a common theme throughout the novel. It is manifested in his inability to love his fiance or to desire having their marriage occur in a church as she would like. It’s seen in his lack of guilt for having helped a little-known neighbor to write a letter that was used to lure a girl into a dangerous situation where she was brutally beaten. It shows up again when he callously kills an Arab with whom he has no personal grudge. And at the very end of the novel, Mersualt can be seen getting angry at a priest who has come to do nothing but offer consolation and even absolution, the greatest gift we can have at the end of our lives.
This constant rejecting of the spiritual sensibility in favor of the objective insensibility is Mersualt’s greatest flaw, and it is in fact what makes him The Stranger. He is a complete stranger to the spirit and to the God who gave it.
Unfortunately, this Stranger is no stranger to us. There are all too many of this kind of stranger in the world. People who hide behind a facade of intelligence pretending they are too educated or intelligent to believe in a creator God. Those superstitions, they think, are just for the uneducated or the weak-minded who need the opium of religion to get by. Ironically, these Mersaults are often the ones so in favor of real opium or wine or drugs to help them ignore the abyss of emptiness inside and quiet the sound of the savior’s knocking.