Study Guide

The Stranger Religion

By Albert Camus

Religion

Part 2, Chapter 1

[…] drawing himself up to his full height and ask[ed] me if I believed in God. I said no. He sat down indignantly. He said it was impossible; all men believed in God, even those who turn their backs on him. That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would become meaningless. "Do you want my life to be meaningless?" He shouted. As far as I could see, it didn’t have anything to do with me, and I told him so. But from across the table he had already thrust the crucifix in my face and was screaming irrationally, "I am a Christian. I ask Him to forgive you your sins. How can you not believe that He suffered for you?" (2.1.11)

The magistrate places the meaning of his existence on his faith in God. This is why he gets so upset when Meursault denounces it—he’s not concerned about Meursault, but he’s nervous that his own faith is being attacked.

After a short silence, he stood up and told me that he wanted to help me, that I interested him, and that, with God’s help, he would do something for me. (2.1.9)

The magistrate judge is interested in saving Meursault—in the name of God.

Suddenly he stood up, strode over to a far corner of his office, and pulled out a drawer on a file cabinet. He took out a silver crucifix which he brandished as he came toward me. And in a completely different, almost cracked voice, he shouted, "Do you know what this is?" I said, "Yes, of course." Speaking very quickly and passionately, he told me that he believed in God, that it was his conviction that no man was so guilty that God did not forgive him, but in order for that to happen a man must repent and in so doing become like a child whose heart is open and ready to embrace all. […] He was waving his crucifix almost directly over my head. (2.1.10)

Meursault’s description reveals that the magistrate—though he tries to be threatening—comes off as ridiculous. If he’s "waving his crucifix almost directly over [Meursault’s] head," it looks like he’s brandishing it as a weapon. Um. That's not super-scary.

Then he looked at me closely and with a little sadness in his face. In a low voice he said, "I have never seen a soul as hardened as yours. The criminals who have come before me have always wept at the sight of his image of suffering." I was about to say that that was precisely because they were criminals. But then I realized that I was one too. It was an idea I couldn’t get used to. (2.1.12)

The magistrate tries to invoke Christianity as Meursault’s ultimate savior. When it doesn’t work, Meursault is made a more "hardened" criminal because of his reaction. Religion is being used to assign guilt once again.

And I can say that at the end of the eleven months that this investigation lasted, I was almost surprised that I had ever enjoyed anything other than those rare moments when the judge would lead me to the door of his office, slap me on the shoulder, and say to me cordially, "That’s all for today, Monsieur Antichrist." I would then be handed back over to the police. (2.1.13)

There is an absurdist’s brand of humor. Ha ha ha... oof.

Part 2, Chapter 4

But all the long speeches, all the interminable days and hours that people had spent talking about my soul, had left me with the impression of a colorless swirling river that was making me dizzy. (2.4.7)

Meursault, though uninterested, does at least comprehend that it is his soul on trial here, not his crime. The jury, the judge, and the prosecutor have added a religious element to the court system and Meursault, by using the word "soul," recognizes this.

Part 2, Chapter 5

Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. […] What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him […]? Couldn’t he see, couldn’t he see that? Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people. The others would all be condemned one day. And he would be condemned, too. What would it matter if he were accused of murder and then executed because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral? Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as his wife. (2.5.25)

Meursault declares that, if everyone’s going to die, God shouldn’t matter. Those who believe in God will meet their ends just as those who don’t. Death makes life a level playing field.

For the third time I’ve refused to see the chaplain. I don’t have anything to say to him; I don’t feel like talking, and I’ll be seeing him soon enough as it is. All I care about right now is escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there’s any way out of the inevitable. (2.5.1)

Meursault has outwardly declined the chaplain’s efforts three times. Though he accepts death to be inevitable, he doesn't want to give up hope for life and freedom—yet.

[…] the way he saw it, we were all condemned to die. But I interrupted him by saying that it wasn’t the same thing and that besides, it wouldn’t be a consolation anyway. (2.5.15)

Through his atheism, Meursault has accepted death as his—and everyone else’s—final sentence.

The chaplain knew the game well too, I could tell right away: his gaze never faltered. And his voice didn't falter, either, when he said, "Have you no hope at all? And do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains?" "Yes," I said. (2.5.15)

Meursault has already gone through all this with the magistrate. In its absurd repetition, he sees the whole thing as a "game"—the same word he used to describe his own arrest, trial, and conviction.

"Then God can help you," he said. "Every man I have known in your position has turned to Him." I acknowledged that that was their right. It also meant that they must have had the time for it. As for me, I didn’t want anybody’s help, and I just didn’t have the time to interest myself in what didn’t interest me. (2.5.14)

Because he's totally uninterested in relying on any external authority or source for meaning, Meursault lays bare his atheism for the chaplain to see.

Meursault

"Why have you refused to see me?" he asked. I said that I didn’t believe in God. He wanted to know if I was sure and I said that I didn’t see any reason to ask myself that question: it seemed unimportant. (2.5.13)

Meursault’s fight with the chaplain is one-sided: the chaplain is adamant about their opposition, but Meursault doesn’t really care.

Then, I don’t know why, but something inside me snapped. I started yelling at the top of my lungs, and I insulted him and told him not to waste his prayers on me. I grabbed him by the collar of his cassock. I was pouring out on him everything that was in my heart. […] He seemed so certain about everything, didn’t he? And yet none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman’s head. He wasn’t even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man. […] But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes, that was all I had. But at least I had as much of a hold on it as it had on me. (2.5.25)

Meursault combats the chaplain’s religiousness with his own brand of certainty—his certainty of his own death.

"I know that at one time or another you’ve wished for another life." I said of course I had, but it didn’t mean any more than wishing to be rich, to be able to swim faster, or to have a more nicely shaped mouth. It was all the same. (2.5.23)

Meursault challenges the chaplain’s view of Christianity with the absurdist position that nothing means more than anything else.