How we cite our quotes:
You won’t delight a man by complimenting him on the efforts by which he has become intelligent or generous. On the other hand, he will beam if you admire his natural generosity. Inversely, if you tell a criminal that his crime is not due to his nature or his character but to unfortunate circumstances, he will be extravagantly grateful to you. […] one is surely no more responsible for being a criminal by nature than for being a criminal by circumstance (4.11).
Good point – and quite a modern one, too. What Jean-Baptiste is getting at is the classic Camus argument that we can’t punish criminals with say, the death penalty, because it’s not their fault if they’re murderers. In fact, Camus published an essay shortly after The Fall that says as much. How does the argument go? Let’s say you’ve got two murderers, murderer A and murderer B. Murderer A was cleaning his shotgun and accidentally killed his maid. Not his fault, right? Murderer B was abused as a child and learned that violence was the way to solve problems. Not his fault, right? So when Murderer B murders, isn’t he as much a victim of circumstance as Murderer A?
But those rascals want grace, that is, irresponsibility, and they shamelessly allege the justifications of nature or the excuses of circumstances, even if they are contradictory. The essential thing is that they should be innocent, that their virtues, by grace of birth, should not be questioned and that their misdeeds, born of a momentary misfortune, should never be more than provisional. As I told you, it’s a matter of dodging judgment (4.11).
In Christianity, "grace" is the love or favor of God. As Jean-Baptiste says later, the only point of religion is for it to grant innocence – for God to bestow his grace. In Jean-Baptiste’s mind, to accept such "grace" means being irresponsible, because it’s basically a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. On the other hand, Jean-Baptiste’s solution – to just accept that you’re guilty and be OK with that – is just as irresponsible. "Taking responsibility" for your actions is about more than just saying, "Yup, sure, I’m guilty, I admit it," – it’s about making amends and a conscious effort to remedy your behavior, neither of which has even occurred to Jean-Baptiste.
I have never been really sincere and enthusiastic except when I used to indulge in sports, and in the army, when I used to act in plays we put on for our own amusement. In both cases there was a rule of the game, which was not serious but which we enjoyed taking as if it were. Even now, the Sunday matches in an overflowing stadium, and the theater, which I loved with the greatest passion, are the only places in the world where I feel innocent (4.18).
At first, this seems like an odd place for Jean-Baptiste to start talking about innocence. Basically, what he’s talking about here is his "fundamental duplicity" argument, where he decides that man is a liar and most of his actions are false. Because he is conscious of such falsity, Jean-Baptiste sees much of the world as a fictional play-set or a game. As such, he feels best when things are what they really seem – for example, in an actual play or literal game, like soccer. But what does this have to do with innocence? If Jean-Baptiste feels most innocent when things are what they seem (in plays or in games), then it means that his guilt has a lot to do with feeling duplicitous – with feeling like a liar.