It’s a gross understatement that few literary works evoke such vitriolic reaction to a fictional character as existentialist Albert Camus’ 1956 book, ”The Fall.” One college student reportedly reacted, “I would like to punch Camus’ absurd hero, Jean-Baptiste Clamence in the face.” Camus, as with Sartre, had no sufficient reference point for absolutes, as atheists, therefore, man must somehow authenticate himself. But how? Good works? Self loathing? Suicide? The hero is on trial in his own court. A successful lawyer, Clamence thinks himself a good man of high self regard. His story becomes a “confessional” of sorts. He bares his soul as an inebriated womanizer. He begs for freedom. But he’s unable to bear it. He disdains hypocrisy, yet his life is just that. An admission of his own depravity. Who hasn’t been there on some level? He called himself “a prophet for shabby times.” Baptiste admitted that his feigned concern for others was mere condescension. Is he despicable because he’s like some of us?
Clamence let this darkly clad damsel drown without lifting a finger to help. He was unmoved by her splash in the river, or her midnight scream for help. Was it too cold? Risking one’s own life is fraught with danger. Was she committing suicide? Would he interrupt her fate? No hero qualities? Was this the genuine Jean-Baptiste? He had just left his mistress. To escape his responsibility he shifted the blame from a personal pronoun to the third person. Equalitarian guilt offered no relief. Trapped in his own web of delusion.
Unfettered freedom was too much for Clamence to bear. He reminds others that he’s no worse than they. Camus cleverly disguises his hero with the French equivalent of secular John The Baptist. He was an “Elijah with no Messiah.” Most notable is that Camus’ hero never repented. He groveled in his shame. A hollow confession to expunge his guilt. Would he have behaved differently to a “second chance” to rescue the drowning damsel? He mused of such a replay. Absent an Infinite Personal God, who hears our repentance, Jean-Baptiste was left with only emptiness. No second chance in his realm.
When mankind begins with himself as the only reference point, he’s doomed. Although Camus captured modern man’s condition, his remedy was wholly insufficient. Camus’s dead. But his legacy of despair’s alive and well in our culture to this day. Suicide’s trophy case is quite impressive: Judas Iscariot; Vincent van Gogh; Virginia Woolf; Ernest Hemingway, and his granddaughter Margaux Hemingway; Marilyn Monroe; Robin Williams; Kurt Cobain; and Anthony Bourdain. Sadly, the list is far too long, down a longer dark corridor of no return.
Why should one be shocked at the alarming teen-age suicide rate? Sociologist relegate it to a variety of factors that may influence such behavior. Bullying, fractured families, abusive relationships, guilt, molestation, and drugs, to name a few. Some are convinced those are symptomatic, rather than causation. Absent genuine hope, what else matters? In the midst of tragedy, whether self induced or otherwise, self-validation is insufficient for such rivals. Is one’s despair a moment in time, or a way of life? Sadly, many adolescent role models often mismanage life’s vicissitudes with opioids, alcohol, illicit drugs, and suicide, while simultaneously extolling the virtues of materialism, introspection, and conflicting messages that few youngsters are equipped to translate or actualize on their own. The Biblical antidote for despair and loss of hope, the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ is roundly rejected, or mocked, in those circles that desperately need His touch.
Following a decade of decline in teenage suicide in the 1990’s, it has tripled over the past eighteen years, especially among adolescent girls, we’re told. More statistics exist than hopeful outcomes. Most therapy models have disdain for Christian conversion that offers life changing intervention, and hope, both situationally and eternally. Open hostility to a Biblical option is haute couture. Public schools, in particular, would rather remain totally secular than offer substantial hope for students they claim to support. For example, Natrona County School District Suicide Prevention Task Force’s Mission Statement, “We intend to reduce suicide by providing information and encouraging action,” is too nebulous to tie one’s fate to it. They promote “Break the Silence” and public walks that are primarily symbolic. Their efforts are laudable, but inadequate in this bare knuckle world of reality. Unsurprisingly, the Washington Post’s panacea to reducing suicide is to “limit gun access.” Rising suicide numbers bely the efficacy of such misguided efforts.
Disintegration of the traditional family continues to disorient offsprings with a moral compass that continually points the wrong direction. In an age where cupidity reigns and self-discipline is rarer than thankfulness. Virtue and moral instruction are marginalized. Trapped in a Camus web, children aren’t born with a moral compass. From kindergarten through secondary education there’s a quarry of rich history and moral literature to inculcate our traditional heritage to generations we’ll never see. Sadly, we didn’t mine that quarry. Many school districts elected trendy, “moral free” curricula, generally ignoring parental input. With nine year olds armed with internet devices, and virtually unlimited social networks, can one expect kids to be interested in the story of Aesop’s fables, or Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo?” “Once upon a time…” is supplanted by Candy Crush, Snapchat and Tik-Tok. Apps that tickle kids fleeting curiosity, yet are devoid of transcending substance or permanency. Critical Race Theory now promotes hatred by color and class, to confuse a generation already morally disoriented and floundering.
Lest we forget, John Dewey, who helped inflict American public education with his pragmatic philosophy, also dismissed the concept of absolute truth, embracing relativism. Public education quickly adopted enmity with a formerly dominant Christian worldview. Secularism defames moral underpinnings found in Judeo-Christian vestiges. Any hint that there might be some purpose to the universe or life, violates their vacuous “moral free” paradigm. Students matriculate understanding that meaning is captured in the next TV sitcom, Facebook post, or other social platforms, marked by cavalier insouciance. Upon examination, materialism’s a flimsy foundation when life’s imploding all around you. Such noble pursuits as defending liberty and Constitutional freedom, isn’t on the radar of most public school adolescents today, who are embroiled in pursuit of a fleeting mirage, without an anchor, or the substance required to face the travails and onslaught of life’s ebb and flow, destined to visit their existence. Surely as the sun also rises.
Secularist fear of a theocracy can be assuaged quite easily by merely looking around at our culture. Evangelicals vehemently oppose an expanding secular culture, and must engage if ever to prevail. Embracing humanistic philosophies leaves one bereft of the answer to the soul wrenching dilemma of despair. Adolescents tragically conclude chastity, promiscuity, drugs or suicide have equal standing in their chaotic world of randomness. Such logic is perfidious. We’ve been quiescent for too long. Rogue school boards have awakened as a swarm of angry moms and dads sting them repeatedly, and won’t sit down or be quiet. A taste of liberty has ignited a pugilistic spirit that’s long been boiling in a caldron of hope unfulfilled, in stark contrast with a spirit of despair and self-loathing, that beckons suicide’s long, ominous shadow across our landscape of existential uncertainty. Teachers and therapist are ill-equipped for this warfare.
Legion are those who contend that Hume was wrong when he wrote, “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” We’ve watched it nearly evanesce before our eyes. Absent individual virtuous liberty, under God, co-mingled with pervasive loss of hope, it’s no surprise that suicide’s a knee-jerk response to despair in our society, where the mention of theological principles are met with scorn, skepticism and derision from cultural and educational elitist. While few adolescents have read Camus, Nietzsche, or Sartre. Sadly, many would feel more at home there, than with the inspiring words of Jesus Christ, Alexandre Dumas, or Abraham Lincoln. Moreover, this catastrophe is preventable. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org