In The Plague, how does religion affect the mind and decisions of the town?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The theme of religion is a very important one in this excellent classic novel, and in particular Camus analyses the human tendency to turn to religion in times of hardship or disaster. The main character that he uses in order to examine this belief is Father Paneloux, the Jesuit priest, who distinguishes himself early on after the emergence of the plague by preaching a sermon claiming, in stark opposition to the novel's other major characters, that the plague is a purposeful representation of God's punishment on them that will be used to test God's faithful. God's act in sending the plague is stressed as being only a last resort. Note how he describes this process:

He looked on the evil-doing in the town with compassion; only when there was no other remedy did He turn His face away, in order to force people to face the truth about their life.

God is all-loving and is using this plague for his ultimate good, Paneloux argues, and however dark the situation, there is still hope, as God is using this to draw us to him. Paneloux's success in terms of the number of people who are drawn to church and who embrace religion in this time of need shows how compelling his arguments are for a people who are in fear of their lives. Religion in the novel is therefore something that is shown to give us answers and a system of interpreting what we see and hear in times of need and disaster.