Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow, don't walk behind me, I may not lead, walk beside me and be my friend.
- Albert Camus
A paperback book written in a straightforward style and divided into three sections, the first one is titled The Wearied Existentialist, Conversations with Albert Camus. In the early 1950's Albert Camus visited the American Church in Paris to hear the music of the famous organist Marcel Dupré There he found an unexpected friend in Howard Mumma, a Methodist minister from Ohio serving there as a guest preacher Intrigued by Mumma's philosophy and theology based on a living faith in a higher power, Camus invited Mumma to lunch and formed a surprising friendship. Though a series of profound conversations over the next several years Camus explored the Christian faith. A very personal side of Camus not seen by the public. A genuine human exchange over the deepest questions of life.
Mumma also includes brief conversations with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. What follows is a paraphrased summary of a few conversations we have shared as well as some excerpts with regards to the Reverend Mumma’s theological statements and thoughts in relation existentialism and his friendship with Albert Camus as well as a brief encounter with Jean-Paul Sartre.
Science ironically lays the groundwork for an increasingly irrational and unintelligible world. In such a world, human beings find it more difficult to act in a reasonable and ethical way. The essential relationship between labor and thought in human life is being destroyed by modern science.
Existentialism is the idea that includes 'morality and man's realization that he is free and is therefore responsible for his own actions.' (Jean-Paul Sartre). However the emphasis upon freedom or spirituality of the human personality, this idea leaves unanswered the question of man's non-material origin, a sort of metaphysical tour de force.
The question cannot be left unanswered by the soul. If there is no God, and if nature has not produced man's freedom existentialists are saying that man’s freedom has produced itself and that man is, perhaps through evolution, his own creator.
What man does with the anguish and glory of his freedom is important and the origin of that freedom may determine its nature and use. Man is thrust into the anguish of freedom and has been thrust by someone or something.
The source of freedom cannot be ignored.
On the subject of freedom, the Christian answer does not exempt man from existence or from the anguish and responsibility that existence proves. Indeed. Christianity requires responsibility. The greatest difference is that existentialism is attached to a meaningless world. Christianity's answer comes partly from reason and partly from reason transcended, that is from revelation. Reason demands that from nothing, nothing may come. Hence man, who finds himself free, could have created his own freedom. He cannot be his own creator. Nature might be the mother but could not be the father of man's spirituality. Only one possibility remains on rational grounds, namely a power and an intelligence capable of producing man's freedom must have created man.
Revelation moves beyond these arguments of reason to declare that God exists, that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him, that he has made us and not we ourselves. He moved of his own redemptive volition out of pure spirit into history, supremely in the form of Jesus Christ. The answer of revelation requires the response of intuition and faith in addition to the assent of reason.
The Christian answer, while requiring both existence and responsibility, tells man the news that is almost too good to be true: Mankind is not alone. Christianity and existentialism both require responsibility and freedom. Responsibility is the structure of the universe, the character of power and process and our purpose-the very nature of God.
Sartre explains, 'the only meaning that exists, man has created. Man has found no purpose in life except to refuse slavery and pursue freedom. The sole basis of ethics is the fact of freedom. Therefore, whatever assists the growth of freedom is moral and what ever hinders the growth of freedom is immoral."
Freedom I have come to learn, is the key to understanding Satre.
My thoughts about this point of view is that if God does not exist, man is man's god and is the sole creator to whom tribute must be given. It seems to me that the man who will not have God worships himself as a god-a tribute which presupposes the creating of the intelligence that was created.
A more important question comes up. 'What therefore, should be regarded as the nature of morality? Shall the basis of action be absolute morality coming to man from above to influence his nature, or expedience that is lightened by self-interest?'
In Christianity, the requirements of freedom in soul and society are the basis for morality. The difference is that, in Christianity, man pursues the requirements for freedom in the presence of a moral absolute, a holy good.
When Sartre spoke of ethics, he spoke of the ethics of strict accountability based on individual responsibility. He said, 'If mans is what he makes of himself, then he has no one, except himself to blame for what he is. Moreover, in the process of choosing for himself, he is choosing not only for himself, but also for all men. Before a man can choose a path of action for himself, he should first ask what would happen if everyone else acted so. This makes his mode of action relevant to all people.'
Sartre seems to be calling attention to one of the clearest experiences of human beings: 'All men must choose and make decisions. Although they have no authoritative guide, they must still choose and at the same time ask if they would be willing for others to choose the same action. The act of choice, then is one that all men must make with a deep sense of anguish -anguish is another key word for Sartre-'for in this one act men are responsible not only for themselves but for each other'
Is the World Meaningful or Meaningless
Meaningful! I say in recognition
Sartre is talking about The Golden Rule
War began with Cain and Abel. The Bible is full of war stories sanctioned by God. About the refusal of slavery and the pursuits of freedom. Whatever assists the growth of freedom is moral and whatever hinders the growth of freedom is immoral.
In Christianity, the requirements of freedom in soul and society are the basis for morality. The difference is that, in Christianity, man pursues the requirements for freedom in the presence of a moral absolute, a holy good. Before a man can choose a path of action for himself, he should first ask what would happen if everyone else acted so. (The Golden Rule). This makes his mode of action relevant to all people.
The competition for power is the most fundamental cause of war. Power itself is neither good nor evil but a means to an end to bring about goals or desired ends. Power leads nations to security and I wonder if war and dominance are inevitable, a cycle of life that cannot be avoided. The Old Testament name for God is Lord of Hosts which could be translated today as General of Armies (the ranks of George Washington and John Pershing) Even Jesus himself said he came not to bring peace but a sword.
The chief end of man IS the pursuit of freedom. Volumes could be written classifying the various kinds of freedom pursued; adultery, murder, the Holocaust, and genocide in general. All of these principles of conduct have been created by man. Man is without excuse.
But as a Christian, I believe not only in love, but also in a divine lover of men's souls. It is impossible to have a world devoid of evil. God uses sin, evil, and suffering as a means of magnifying and enhancing his own grace and glory. Leibnitz reasons that if God had not permitted sin, he would have been prevented from displaying his own benevolent mercies. From our limited point of view we can survey the whole history of the universe and ultimately recognize that all things are interconnected or related to produce the greater harmony or good.
Evil is necessary for the enrichment of life's complexity, just as a painting requires contrasting hues and colors and musical compositions require some assonance. A FULL life requires a diversity of experience. Furthermore, men and women mature though suffering. The experience makes them stronger. Suffering allows them to appreciate the ultimate harmony of things, a divine perspective and can free us greatly from anxiety and fear, and have confidence in the rule of reason.
Two other sections are included in the book are titled The Ministers-Heroes and Friends
. These final two sections share personal glimpses of the people and experiences that had influenced his own life enabling him to understand what Camus was facing in his own personal life. One entails a daring and all too brief encounter with Albert Schweitzer
and some well-taken advice as a young man from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
. By far my favorite chapter has been The Teddy Bear
Howard has told me of two phone calls, one from a reader in Ohio and another from Yale professor asking him if he knew anyone who could get through that chapter without crying. My personal favorite is a story of him on a sojourn to Berlin via the Berlin Airlift
near the end of World War II
to visit the Polish Underground
and ended up being interrogated for 72 hours. After the end of the war he was taken on a tour of The Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw
, where many of Poland's Jews had been confined. Mumma writes:
"When Hitler ordered the ghetto destroyed, a quarter of a million people were herded together so that the air force could dump petrol over them and set them afire. After the fire had run its course, men drove bulldozers in and covered the remains with dirt. This mass murder happened here in 1944. On a warm August day in 1948, as I walked over the area, I was nearly overcome by the terrible stench of burnt flesh"
A very interesting read.
, in 1909
, Howard Mumma
holds degrees from Yale University
and Yale Divinity School
, and honorary doctorates from Ohio Northern University
and Salem College
in West Virginia
. He was ordained
in the Methodist Chruch
in 1940 and served pastorates
and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
. He was appointed District Superintendent of the Akron District, Northeast Ohio Conference, the United Methodist Church
, and chairman of the Cabinent for the Bishop of Ohio.Dr. Mumma and his wife of over 60 years currently reside in Tucson