Writing and Freedom of Conscience; Third Year Reflection

Published: March 1, 2012

Albert Camus, a 20th century French philosopher and writer, once remarked, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” A high estimation, one might say. But for me, writing possess the greatest ability to prevent the maddening apocalypse, not brought about by trumpets on high, but rather the pugnacity bred into us and its irrational voracity.

During my time at the School of Divinity I have developed a large following for my blog, helped develop other sites, and write for news outlets such as the Associated Baptist Press. Writing commentary on faith and public life, I hope that I am making an earnest contribution to the preservation of civilization.

Yet one does not write for glory or compliment—writing for either leaves one with neither.

Each time my hands approach the keyboard I am participating in a millennia-old tradition. I am connected to the literary mastermind and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois. With each peck of the keys connected I become to Roger Williams and his Bloudy Tenent, which fought for freedom of conscience. With the to-and-fro of the backspace and spacebar the spaces become connected to Dorothy Day and her transformative work in The Catholic Worker.

And yet, I too realize that the written word has inspired hatred as well. World history chronicles the diabolical impact of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  The written word possesses the ability to change lives and change the world. In the act of writing I am connected to those that inspired hope, and those that inspired casualty.

Though Camus states that the purpose of writing is to keep civilization from destroying itself, we are naïve to think every writer pursues that purpose. In the end, the question is not about preventing destruction, but in what civilization the writer wants to save.

There are nights when I am fraught with what Frank Tupper, Professor of Theology, calls, “3 A.M. questions.” Is our world worth saving? Are our communities worth changing? These questions haunt me when I hear words of hate against people because of their race or sexual identity. Like specters they prod my patience when the fight to be right outweighs any conception of common humanity.

Then, they disappear. I am reminded of the love of Jesus that associated with the high and low, the powerful and meek, and I fall back asleep. To the world I give my greatest grace—the passion to prevent depletion of our humanity. To God I give my deepest thanks—the continued pen-to-paper with a hopeful pessimism that a resurrection is just around the corner.

Zac Bailes
Third Year
(Pictured left)