“The Only Christ We Deserve”: Meursault Meets The Dude

Laura Nelson
8 min readOct 11, 2019
(Creative Commons)

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Christ-figures, in literature and cinema, are always going to be problematic. The theological tail of the Jesus-comet is long and dense: attempts at transferring its energies to Christ-like creatures with exclusively human natures are always going to come up short. The trick to avoiding this artistic fate is, I think, to make it clear that allusions to Jesus Christ — redeemer, divine and incarnate Logos, God-Man, sacrificial lamb — are at best immanent allegories of a presumptively transcendent event. Whether one is Christian or not, it’s clear that there isn’t anyone quite like Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. But perhaps there are people “like” Him. The scare-quotes indicate that the analogies and allegories go only so far, certainly not far enough. The scare quotes mean our efforts at seeing similarities between the divine and the human are inadequate when they are not outright failures. Any artistic imitatio Christi that does not fail will have a Christ-figure who is mostly not like Christus Victor, and where he or she is Christ-like it will be in an attenuated, highly distorted way.

(Wikimedia Commons)

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I think this has to be kept in mind when joining the chorus singing “Meursault, in Albert Camus’s L’Etranger, is a Christ-figure!” who dies for our sins — in this case, the sins of bourgeois smugness and superficiality. There is, of course, something to this reading which, after all, was endorsed, in a highly qualified manner, by the author himself:

One would therefore not be much mistaken to read The Stranger as the story of a man who, without any heroics, agrees to die for the truth. I also happened to say, again paradoxically, that I had tried to draw in my character the only Christ we deserve. It will be understood, after my explanations, that I said this with no blasphemous intent, and only with the slightly ironic affection an artist has the right to feel for the characters he has created.

Camus was responding to the complaints of conservative, usually Catholic, critics of L’Etranger who viewed Meursault as “a schizophrenic” or “a piece of social wreckage”…

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Laura Nelson

Writer, philosopher, information technologist,guitarist, neurotic, polite radical, avid and indiscriminate reader, Episcopalian, trans woman.