Roger Garaudy died eight years ago last month, at the age of 98. This was possibly the first choice he made (if you can call it a choice) from which there is no return.
Garaudy’s life was full of flip-flops and backflips. If he had owned a proper leotard he could’ve been an Olympic athlete, with confusion as his discipline.
Garaudy was born in 1913 in France, the same month and year as Albert Camus, who, ironically, was obsessed with dualism, opposites like happiness and sadness, good and bad, dark and light, that plague us until death when we are forced to raise our hand (right or left, we might have to think about) and admit that our lives were quite useless and a bit too long.
That same year also saw Lausanne host the Olympic Congress, which pole-vaulted the Olympic Games to a whole new intellectual level. Here, among the world’s academics, philosophers, and scientists, discussion raged: were ever-increasing demands made on competitors in the just-finished Stockholm Olympics leaving them on-top-of-the-world (like Klein and Asikainen who wrestled for more than 11 hours before they fell asleep in each other arms) or down-in-the-dumps (like Kanakuri Shizō, the Japanese marathon runner who collapsed during the race, was cared for by a local farmer and his slightly-put out wife, and returned to Japan without notifying anyone. He completed the race with a time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds, when he returned to Stockholm fifty years later).
Anyway, our Olympian Garaudy was raised both a Catholic and an Atheist, which probably didn’t give him the most straightforward start.
He began life, like many philosophers and great orators have, as a more-than-active member of the Communist Party. And, from street lighting to public housing, from swimming pools to public lavatories, French Communists were the Olympians of the fight for the rights of the people. However, here is where the Olympic Congress may start to prove their theory of pushing people too far: Garaudy converts to Protestantism.
Swapping religious dogmas can be quite traumatic, but in this case both denominations have very similar beliefs at their core, so the switch may have been quieter for our troubled Olympian.
And so, with his luggage packed, Garaudy set off for WWII, where he promptly joined the French Resistance. Here Garaudy was probably very much at home. He was surrounded by people from all economic layers and political leanings of French society: conservative Roman Catholics, clergyman, members of the Jewish community, liberals, anarchists, and communists. He could be any one of those every day without anyone really caring, as the constant threat of death or, worse, a lifetime of bratwurst, kept them otherwise engaged and on-the run.
This adventure did him good, and after a brief stint as ‘crazy prisoner #1’ in Djelfa, Algeria, he returned to France and annoyed all his friends – particularly his new-found Protestant ones – by rejoining the Catholic Church, having missed the thought of eternal damnation horribly. This is a man who had no problem changing his mind, and damn the consequences.
Garaudy then began writing and produced more than fifty books on his ideological views, which we know were many and varied. And his latest Olympic flame was now Marxism, not Communism.