Thursday, May 21, 2020

Francis Collins, the Templeton Prize,
and the Problem of Evil

Online and authorial friend John Horgan dusts off an old interview with Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health on news that he's won this year's Templeton Prize.

Horgan notes that, at the end, where he asked Collins about the future of humanity, he showed lots of faith in god but little in homo sapiens. The questions were really about another issue — the role of suffering in religious belief.

The reality, per Logic 101 is that "suffering," however the word is defined, is not logically necessary for religion or a deity. (Remember: Folks like Theravada Buddhists have a religious belief system without a personal divinity.) Philosophy of Religion 101 will then add that suffering, or a belief in it, is not psychologically necessary, either.

The first is the old Problem of Evil. For believers in a god both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, it's an even bigger stumbling block than the Euthyphro Dilemma. The second often results from attempts by believers in a dual-omni god to avoid the Problem of Evil by citing their god's inscrutability. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this usually involves an appeal to Job, with Christians doubling down by citing Paul referencing Job.

Doesn't work.

This is, as I have called it, the Psychological Problem of Evil.

Either said god is less than all-powerful if he can't make himself scrutable, or he's less than all-good if, other than "stop questioning me," he can't make his followers accept his inscrutability is for their good.

That said, what if there was some new way to get these people to accept his inscrutability? Still doesn't address the omnipotence and psychological evil issue.

There's also a bit of a petard lurking here.

IF ... we did accept that some suffering is necessary for human development as part of religion, how much is necessary and how much is too much? Usually this ends up again being hoist on the inscrutability of god in the Western "dueling-omnis" idea of god.

Otherwise, Collins himself, who famously once said, and included it in a book, that he had the idea of the Trinity be made understandable by a three-part waterfall, doesn't strike me as the deepest of thinkers on matters religious. It's almost as silly as the apple explanation that I heard as a kid — the peel, the pulp and core are all separate, but all connected, and all have "appleness," but there's still just one apple.

Nor does his taking a page from Augustine, on the idea that an omni-god is outside humanity's four-dimensional space-time, makes such a god inscrutable by logical necessity. Per Flatland, such a god could intervene into our four dimensions in a perfectly scrutable way.

I mean, if Collins did a riff on Whitehead's process theology into something even more creative, or invented his own religion, even more, I'd have more respect for him. But this is just plain bleah evangelical Christianity.

As far as what Collins misses in terms of psychology of religion? It was staring himself in his hiking face. The "trinitarian" waterfall is a dictionary exhibit of confirmation bias.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Walter Kaufmann: Skeptic, heretic, antichrist
and a whole lot less

Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, HereticWalter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic by Stanley Corngold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


FANTASTIC book. Five stars for it, while my rating of Kaufmann falls from a high 4 stars to a flat 3.


This is a greatly extended version of my book review, which was written so as to not be too long and not avoid spoilers. It was written to also be a book review first and foremost, whereas this will be a Kaufmann review as much as a book review.


As someone who owns and has re-read “Without Guilt and Justice,” “Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre” and “Critique of Religion and Philosophy,” and has read Kaufmann’s translation and explication of Nietzsche in “The Portable Nietzsche,” and also has read “Faith of a Heretic” and “From Shakespeare to Existentialsm,” I was definitely looking forward to this bio when I heard about it.

Corngold didn’t disappoint. But he did lead me to see how I’ve overrated Kaufmann in the past, especially because I had not read, or heard of, one book and one trilogy after “Without Guilt and Justice.”

“Religions in Four Dimensions” puts Kaufmann’s special pleading for Judaism as a special religion on full display, and it’s pretty bad. He simply rejected what was already in place on modern biblical criticism at that time, going beyond earlier claims that the traditional documentary hypothesis was antisemitic. More below, as the bio goes chronologically and this was a late book of his.

“Discovering the Mind” shows the poverty of his not looking at British philosophy, and I’m talking about empiricism, then utilitarianism, not modern analytical philosophy. Basically, it is the culmination of his lifelong stance of an uncritical, HUGELY uncritical, love for Freud.

I’m agreeing still with Kaufmann as a demythologizer of Nietzsche, namely stripping away the anti-Semitic and Nazi-related past his sister put on him. The post-Epilogue chapter of “Contra Nietzsche” (interesting to have a chapter after the Epilogue) reinforces this.

I don’t totally agree with Kaufmann that Nietzsche’s biggest focus on will to power was mastery of one’s self, though that could come from the Greek antiquity.

Disagree even more with Kaufmann on Nietzsche and sublimation. I think Nietzsche did promote some version of that, but Kaufmann is a big Freudian and he is seemingly specifically referencing that. But, per that trilogy, I didn’t realize Kaufmann was THAT big of a Freudian. Corngold, by looking at his whole opus, lays this out  QUITE clearly, though. It’s why he accepts Nietzsche’s claim to be the first philosopher to be a psychologist. (And, this is wrong; that would be Hume. Hume, of course, was not a depth psychologist. Thank doorknobs for that.)

Disagree even more that there’s an overall large unity to Nietzsche.

Now, on Existentialism from …

I think critics are at least partially right to call out Kaufmann for not including religious existentialists other than Kierkegaard. I know he savages Bultmann especially in his next book, Critique of Religion and Philosophy. More on book in a minute. He still could have included somebody besides Kierkegaard, or else left him out.

And why put Dostoyevsky before him? If he believes Nietzsche was the root of 20th century existentialism, why not start with HIM?

Now, to Critique. I think Kaufmann does a disservice to British philosophy. Not so much to the 20th century version, although Russell the pacifist being arrested in WWI shows that even in modernity, it was not so ivory-towered as K claims. I think his disliking its anti-mysticism led to all other dislikes he had. But it’s simply wrong in other ways, one in particular.

I’ve said many, many times that Hume was, in my estimation, the world’s first modern psychologist. And for K., who calls N. a psychologist in the title of his book about him, to ignore Hume, and to claim that this man who was know first, in his own day, as a historian, second as a befriender of Smith and his economics-oriented moral philosophy, and third, more than Descartes, as a reviver of Greek Skepticism, to claim that he’s really not worth study as a philosopher or in general? K. impoverished himself.

That said, Kaufmann also misreads Judaism here. I had noted this in my copy of Critique, which I’ve not read for more than half a decade. It’s simply wrong, and Qumran’s library, with many apocalyptic books in Hebrew, was proof. Tho he didn’t preach hellfire, Ezra DID preach exclusiveness. Daniel 12 talks about “everlasting contempt.” Qumran has scrolls that talk about everlasting damnation. And, on “dogma”? No, it doesn’t have nearly that of Christianity, but a Buddhist or Hindu might well call the Shema “dogma.” Or the Orthodox idea of 613 mitzvoth, and how to fulfill them.

Kaufmann also tries to look at Judaism while ignoring the Mishna and Talmud. And this is despite studying under renowned rabbi Leo Baeck.

Couldn’t we call him a modern Karaite? Well, Karaism’s attempt to reject Mishna and Talmud and get back to “authentic Judaism” seems to me, per Husserl, a failure to fully “bracket” the “later testaments” of Judaism. It’s a lesser-degree parallel of Campbellite type Christians of the “primitive Christianity” movement to get back to allegedly “Jesus Christianity” while ignoring the 1,900 years (at that time) of Christian doctrine filters they were using to define “primitive Christianity.”

More on dogma and exclusiveness. Even if we grant Kaufmann is partially correct, much of the Torah itself is priestly pronouncements. That’s where those 613 mitzvoth are. And, while the Lutheran idea (held in some ways by many other Xns) of distinguishing between moral, ceremonial and civil commands doesn’t fully wash (and certainly not in terms of Xn exemptions, contra Paul), nonetheless, many commands are about ritual purity that is specific to that religion.

More on dogma. Spinoza was, to use a normally Xn term, excommunicated.

And, Kaufmann knew much of this. And, by the time of his untimely death, had opportunity to know enough of the early study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and how it too undercut his Xn-Judaism bifurcations.

Kaufmann also hadn’t read Jewish or Christian NT criticism closely if he thought Jessu claiming to be the Messiah (if he did) was blasphemous. He also, despite studying with Baeck, had not made h imself familiar with Tannaitic Jewish history, namely, Akiva proclaiming bar Kokhba to be the Messiah.

Kaufmann also thought the documentary hypothesis on formation of the Torah was antisemitic. To reference above, Spinoza was one of the first people to question Mosaic authorship, even if he didn’t formulate a replacement theory. (I personally believe in a modified documentary hypothesis, moved back a century or two and reliant on issues of development and fragments, without going full Copenhagen.)

And, this speaks to a conceit that Kaufmann seems to have had about himself, that he was widely read in every area where he made major commentary. He wasn’t.

The author was good for provoking these thoughts in me. But, I’m going way beyond him in my critique of Kaufmann.

Page 306, Kaufman is quoted as claiming the Greek gods as presented in the Iliad were only poetic fictions. They may have been viewed as such at the time of Plato, per his comments elsewhere, but in its original oral formation, and presumably its earlier written forms, no, I think it’s more likely the gods were viewed as real.

The chapter on what is my favorite Kaufmann book, “Without Guilt and Justice,” is very good. Corngold notes the dual Latin etymology of “decido” behind Kaufmann’s “Decidophobia” (though it’s not clear Kaufmann was invoking that). It can either mean “to decide,” or to “fall away/off/down.” In other words, to stumble or to err. And this failure, whether it causes personal physical consequences, or social ones like embarrassment or loss of face, is a real human worry.

That said, Corngold also has me questioning Kaufmann even here. Since Kaufmann rejects the poles of both moral rationalism and moral irrationalism, could we not, per friend Massimo Pigliucci saying, “I’m a moral naturalist, as I think morality is a human invention (thus not “real”), but constrained by human nature, desires, and limitations (thus partially factual),” find a middle ground on distributive justice, which I think, contra Kaufmann, has advanced. And, on retributive justice, to cite the Nivi’im and Plato as “advances” for developing a natural law? No.

Corngold, by quoting Kaufmann, reminds me of other failings here. No. 2 of his six reasons to retain punishment despite retributive justice being a fail, “to inculcate a moral sense,” strikes me as self-referentially defeating. I think many people intuit something like what K. has said on both retributive and distributive justice; ergo, the punishments of the criminal system can inculcate no moral sense, but only more questioning of the idea of retributive justice.

No. 8 is also self-referentially defeating. If we punish a person to offer a psychological benefit to their victim, isn’t this a concession that distributive justice is not illusory after all?

If we agree with Kaufmann that trying to apply distributive justice as a moral calculus is a refuge of the decidophobe, I’m in agreement. But if, from that, we extrapolate to rejecting attempts to produce better versions of them, and instead, on the retributive side, still try to justify punishment on dubious grounds, I’m gone.

I’m even more gone on his rejection of guilt in light of what he says above. If there is no guilt, then punishment cannot inculcate a moral sense. And one can retain the idea of guilt while still rejecting the idea of desert.

What’s really missing is Kaufmann seeming to be ill-informed by non-Freudian humanistic psychology that was available to him at his time, let alone what is available today.

Corngold does note that others criticize him and also for the hypocrisy of pointing out how the Hebrew prophets gave the world … a call for JUSTICE.

Corngold does note that Kaufmann is very readable in this book and comes off li ke the best attributes of a journalist.

That leads to the next chapter, about a book of Kaufmann’s I had not heard about, about world religions, the “Religion in Four Dimensions.” It too sounds problematic. The issue of religion may still be the most important issue of human discussion. Or it may not. It certainly was in the past. That doesn’t mean it will be so forever, contra a quasi-essentialist stance like Kaufmann’s.

He again gets his Judaism wrong. It was influenced by Zoroastrianism more than he’ll admit, especially on heaven and hell and ethical dualism. Daniel talks about this, and the intertestamental books thatTannaitic rabbis rejected after the Second Revolt. Kaufmann doesn’t get into this at all. Corngold rightly notes that he ignores the unjust and unseemly parts of the Tanakh, like Yahweh’s call for genocide against the Amorites. He also ignores that much of the call for social justice was only with Israel. As for ancient Hebrew having the same word for servant and slave? Please, Walter. It’s not the only ancient language to be like that. As for his seeing indications that Israel intended to end slavery? No. He also, Corngold shows, repeats the old myth that Judaism was not an evangelistic religion, though he has to allow for the Khazars. He ignores the conversion by the sword of the Hasmoneans. And, conversions by medieval Spanish rabbis in three-way disputes with Christians and Muslims. He ignores that the growth of Rhineland Judaism pre-First Crusade was in part due to conversions. He ignores Chrysostom warning Christians in Constantinople to stop going to synagoges, which implies that rabbis were welcoming them.

He also ignores that the intertestamental books, the apocalyptic ones like I and II Enoch, etc., were shown, by being at Qumran, to be more popular in Judaism at the turn of the eras than Kaufmann will admit. Ditto, of course, on at least some people there being celibate, it seems. But yet, Kaufmann can attack

Basically, to use a word, Kaufmann is tendentious. To use another word or two, about a philosopher and philosophy he disliked? He’s trying to employ the “bracketing” of Husserl’s phenomenology or something similar, with the claims that non-rabbinic Judaism vs the emerging proto-rabbinic Judaism isn’t “normative.” Of course not; the rabbis, especially when we get to the Amoritic era, “bracket out” Messianism as much as possible. (Kaufmann also overlooks that Akiba proclaimed bar Kokhba to be the Messiah.)

In his next chapter, Corngold shows Kaufmann stumbling again, this time in his final book, “Discovering the Mind,” actually a triology of books, each devoted to philosophers. The stumble is based in working off an ejaculation by Nietzsche: “Who among philosophers was a psychologist at all before me?”

The answer is: “David Hume.” And Kaufmann’s previous semi-neglect of Hume becomes total here by not having him as any of his nine philosophers of mind in the three volumes.

The trio is worsened only by Kaufmann’s love, via Nietzsche, for depth psychology in general and Freud in particular. Indeed, Freud, in Kaufmann’s eyes, it seems can even more do no wrong than Nietzsche. His pseudoscientific propositions and his lack of scientific rigor in testing his ideas all get swept under the rug.

To summarize? Kaufmann was out of his league from the start on biblical criticism comments. He was out of bounds, though not out of his league, on his ideas on psychology. Ditto on some philosophical thoughts.




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Thursday, May 07, 2020

Gustavo Dudamel is hugely overrated

The first time I heard him, I think it was on Shostakovich's Tenth. Pretty decent on the second movement. Playing it too slow gets you fired from my list of good conductors.

I actually blogged about it, in fact. Anyway, here's the clip.

The Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony under Gustavo Dudamel (who I heard live in Dallas several years ago):



Man, that just bristles!

But, since then? Plenty to not like.

I mentioned in that previous blog post that, hearing him on the Mahler 2, he just doesn't get it. I thought maybe it was just Mahler, and him being too young.

But no.

Listen to this Bolero. You'd think a Latino conductor like Dudamel wouldn't have a semi-somnolent (and semi may be being generous) take, but he does.



Blech. Two full minutes or more longer than many takes.

Or, from the older repertoire, heard recently on Dallas classical station WRR? Eroica, at least the funeral march from it.

I'm not sure if this is the performance played on WRR, and this is only a snippet.



And, it can't all be the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Look at the good take he did on Shosty. That was with it. And his craptacularness on Bolero was with the Vienna Phil.

And it can't all be callow youth. He's nearly 40 now.

It's Dudamel. Why he couldn't bring even 60 percent of the Shostakovich energy to Bolero???? (And yet, he can have a reasonably interpreted 66-minute Beethoven Ninth with a generally very good finale. It's not fantastic, but it's above average and it's certainly not phoned in.)

Maybe he got spoiled by being named LA Phil head, to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen, before he was even 30. Or maybe he spoiled himself by resting on his laurels?

I think that's probably part of it. The Shostakovich? That was before he was named to head the LA Phil. The other stuff? All after the appointment. His Mahler, at least on the Second, appears to have gotten worse as he's gotten older. In general, the opening movements sound not stately, but ponderous, in various performances.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

An "authentic" Luther but a very patchy one

In a previous blog post, I did an extended version of my Goodreads review of Lyndal Roper's Luther bio while saying I was looking for something better.

And, I thought I had eventually found it.

And ... I sort of did. And, this is a longer take on it than I've offered before.

Luther: Man Between God and the DevilLuther: Man Between God and the Devil by Heiko A. Oberman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How I missed this when it came out, I don’t know. It’s a shame to it that my conservative Lutheran college didn’t discuss this in any religion classes I took there. Given that it was still just six years old when I entered my conservative Lutheran seminary, it’s even more a discredit to Concordia Seminary to not have this book discussed in any classes there.

I know that Oberman was likely Dutch Reformed, not Lutheran, but, he clearly takes Luther at face value, including his man being like a mule ridden by either god or devil, and takes seriously what Luther intended by that.

And, he’s got the theological chops to know Luther’s history.

Even without him making connections, I now see that his reading Hutton’s edition of Valla exposing the Donation of Constantine as a forgery may well have upped not “just” Luther’s general antipathy to the papacy, but his seeing it as Antichrist. In turn, that meant to him that the end times were here.

I need to digress there for a moment. The “antichrist,” or actually “antichrists” of I John are not the same as I Thessalonians’ “man of lawlessness,” but the term has become ascribed to that being. Rather, writing at least 40 years after Paul, and maybe 60, the author of I John seems to be referring to a king-sized “alligator” in a church or something like that, not a quasi-metaphysical entity. Digression done.

(If you want to continue the digression, I've addressed the difference between both these two critters and Revelation's "beast" and its "mark" in this longish blogpost. That said, to smash Luther in the mouth, anybody looking at the "plain sense of Scripture" in either his German or my English needs no Greek to tell these are different entities, as long as one takes the three books as is, rather than crammed through a meatgrinder called "THE theology of the New Testament." Paging Dr. Luther for a self-inflicted slip and fall.)

At the same time, Oberman’s book falls short in some ways, and to again go beyond Goodreads, is directly anticipated by that parenthetical paragraph above.

Here’s one. If Luther wasn’t nearly as literalistic about “sola Scriptura” as the Scofield reference bible, then on what grounds was he right and the Schw√§rmerei wrong? On what basis were the Reformed wrong (and Karlstadt) and him right on the Eucharist, since Karlstadt had proven him wrong on the “this is” per Greek grammar?

None other than Luther being a cantankerous stubborn mule. That said, Oberman leaves it that way. He doesn't try to defend Luther being right, he simply, to me, indicates he believes Luther WAS right and that's that.

For that matter, since Master Melanchthon was the professor of Greek at Wittenberg, why didn’t HE challenge Luther like Karlstasdt did? (Roper could have done some psychoanalysis with THAT in her book.)

Also, Oberman reports Luther myth as fact even as religious historians and theological scholars were challenging it by the time he wrote this book. I talk specifically of the nailing of the 95 Theses and the “here I stand” at Worms as fact, when almost certainly neither are.

(I've tackled all of this in MUCH depth. And, will add more as needed as the Luther 500th celebration wends its way toward Worms.)

Does it matter? In the second case, it’s more something of pietistic hagiography. But, Oberman cuts through that on other things.

On the Theses? Yes it matters. Goes to motive, or similar. If they were never nailed to a door, how did they become public so quickly, and what hand did Luther have in that?

(The answer is — his hand was surely fairly large on getting them made public. Exactly what he hoped to achieve with that, I'm not sure.)

Otherwise, the book is spot on about aspects of Luther’s life Oberman covers. He is indeed an existentialist, but not Kierkegaard, let alone Sartre. He does have one foot in the medieval world and literalistic beliefs not even Kierkegaard did.

BUT … per the above, Oberman covers very little about Luther’s interactions with others. Much less than Roper on Karlstadt or the Reformed. Nothing on the Peasants Revolts or Muntzer et al. And, given that the Peasant's Revolt led to the permanent loss of Anabaptist types, to the cuius regio, ejus religio of the Thirty Years War, and to tie this back to Hitlerian Germany, a German sort of caesaropapism that led to the established Evangelical state church rolling over and playing dead for Hitler, this is another major oversight by Oberman.

So, five stars for what he covers. Three stars for what he doesn’t and for repeating Luther legend. We’re at a disappointing four stars. And, yes, disappointing. I'm almost ready to move my review down to three, after these additions.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Of tragedy and Hume

I didn't realize that David Hume wrote a treatise "On Tragedy." (As in, the tragedy of great plays and literature, and some music and plastic arts.) Walter Kaufmann referenced it in a quote cited in a new bio of him. It's from a Kaufmann work I hadn't read before.

Here's an abridged version. (The unabridged, linked off it, is about twice as long, and itself is less than, oh, 3,500 words?)

Hume reflects quasi-Aristotelian ideas in what makes good presentation of tragedy good. It needs nuance, counterbalance and framing, among other things.

He includes talk of the passions, which may be part of why good tragedy appealed to him. He then discusses what sets tragedy apart from if we saw a similar incident in real life. He says it's artistic eloquence, including but not limited to how it resolves the suffering and the issues behind it. In other words, he points to something similar to Aristotle's cathexis, though he doesn't use that language.

He also thinks that good tragedy, if based on real history, succeeds by having some distance from the historical time in question.

Hume also flips this on its head, as to why we weary of hypochondriachal and similar narratives in real life.

He also thinks it should not be too grotesque. Here, Kaufmann disagrees with him, referencing the Isenheim altarpiece approvingly.

Give it a read.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The snoozefest and more at WRR

WRR, Dallas' classical radio station, has continued to go further and further downhill over the years. That's not just my opinion, it's that of former Dallas Morning News classical critic Scott Cantrell, who was let go, but retained on a freelancer basis, about half a dozen years ago, and due to the coronavirus, is surely not working at this time, and for further cost-cutting, may never be called back.

It's not just the mispronunciations by announcers, though there are still some of those.

It's the particular choices.

I heard recently an Egmont overture by some conductor that was so somnolent Baron Egmont would have died of boredom rather than Spanish execution had he heard it. (I got home before it was done, the conductor wasn't announced in advance, and I didn't stick around to hear who it was. Radio went off with car ignition.)

A day before that I heard Gustavo Dudamel's conducting of at least the funeral march from Eroica. Bland as well as slow. Beyond getting tempo and nuances wrong, the more and more I hear of him, the more and more I dislike him. More on that later.

Fifteen years ago, I remember hearing an absolute snoozer of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth on WRR. It was such a train wreck I felt compelled to listen through and find out who.

Turns out it was Lenny's from Berlin after the Wall fell. I'd never heard it before, and never will again. But WRR loved it.

This happened again today, after this post went up! They were playing Shosty's Jazz Suite No. 1. I was driving for work and in and out of my vehicle, so I didn't hear the end as to who was conducting. But? Too slow. And, not that rhythmic. (That said, one could insert a joke about rhythm, jazz and the Soviet Union in here somewhere.)

At least they do occasionally let the 20th century in, besides the warhorses. I actually heard Schnittke on there a while back.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The outrageous half-truths of Jacobin on Sartre

Jacobin, whose eclectic, editorially-unfocused (NOT a complement, editorial management) stable of contributors runs from Bernie Sanders DSAers to people stanning for the anniversary of the Revolution in November 2017, lauds "The Outrageous Optimism of Jean-Paul Sartre."

And, leads to my header.

The biggest half-truth is by omission. Even when Sartre did accept the truth about the USSR, after it crushed the 1956 Hungarian revolt, it was kind of grudging. And besides, he later shifted his worshipful devotion to Mao. That piece, by Jim Holt, is closer to the truth of who Sartre was.

The real issue is that Camus rejected violence after World War II, including rejecting the death penalty. Sartre never rejected the former, and given his praise for Mao and others, implicitly never rejected the latter. This was part of the reason for their split.

The Rebel somewhat disappointed me, but, nonetheless, Camus was light years ahead of Sartre here, even if his fallout with Sartre was not total and has sometimes been stereotyped.

Camus wasn't perfect on Algeria, but he was better than many Sartre-stanners portray him as being. Plus, he died in 1960, long before the civil war ended. And, his "federation" status might have worked. And, the idea that part of the backing of Algerian independence was an Egyptian version of colonialism? I don't think he was totally wrong there.

The real problem with Sartre? He was an absolutist. And, I think Heidegger did influence him on this. This is all part of what distinguishes Camus' absurdism from Sartre's existentialism. Per this very good CJR essay, Camus wasn't afraid of shades of gray and wasn't afraid to stand in the middle of them.

I'm too late to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Camus' death, vs. Sartre's 40th, but I can meditate on "The Plague" as a good substitute.

Beyond that, many of our best philosophers have been among the best writers, and Camus leads Sartre there, too.