To live authentically, in existentialism, means basically to live without deluding ourselves about the meaning of our lives or our place in the world, or about death. According to the existentialists, much of what we do is in what Sartre would call ‘bad faith’. Religion is a prime example of Bad Faith. God is, allegedly, an imaginative excuse for not facing up to our own responsibilities in life. A priest spends his whole life telling himself and others what God says we can and can’t do. He also tells us that we need not even worry about death because death is not the end of our existence.
He also tells us that even though the world is very confusing, and in some cases completely unintelligible, we need not worry about that either, because all will be explained, by God, when we pass from this world into the next. In one fell swoop, practically all the worries and difficulties are conveniently taken out of our lives by one single mysterious being. The priest lives his life mainly in preparation for his next life. Sartre says that there is no God and there is no next life. The priests actions, like the man behind the glass window talking into the phone in The Myth of Sisyphus, appear ridiculous and incomprehensible.
Meursault lives only for the present moment because, in existentialist terms, that is the only moment of his life that he is in control of. The past is unchangeable, and his future self, according to Sartre, is almost a complete stranger, for whom he can vouch no responsibility. Whether Meursault consciously realises this or not, he places no faith in making plans for the future. He turns down what would appear to be a very attractive opportunity of promotion as uninterested as if he were refusing a cup of coffee. Ambitions are of ‘no real importance’ to him, something he apparently realised when he was forced to give up his studies. Here we see a parallel with Camus’ own life.
He, too, was forced to give up his studies when blighted by that disease that seems to creep into almost all existential works of fiction, tuberculosis. Camus put much of himself into the novel, even literally so, according to a footnote in the original French version of the novel. He enters himself as one of the reporters at the trial scene: “…one of them, a much younger man in grey flannels and a blue tie, had left his pen lying in front of him and was looking at me. All I could see in his rather lop-sided face were his two very bright eyes, which were examining me very carefully, without betraying any definable emotion. And I had the peculiar impression of being watched by myself…”(ch3 part 2)
Meursault does not allow himself to be constrained by the morals of others even though he is very much aware of them. He smokes whilst keeping vigil over his mother’s coffin, even though he knows that others would not because they believed that they shouldn’t. He refuses to see his mother’s body even though he knows it is expected of him to do so. At first glance, Meursault would largely appear to be without his any morals of his own, and it is difficult to decide whether he is amoral or immoral. But there is evidence to suggest that he does draw the line in some places. When Raymond wants to take him to a brothel he refuses, claiming that he does not like that sort of thing, though he has no qualms about having sex with Marie without holding any moral obligation towards her, and openly admitting to her that he does not love her. He does not lie to her to spare her feelings.
Two of the most direct displays of inauthenticity in existentialism, appear to be Happiness and Hope. Meursault does not get excited about anything. He seems to have found some sort of perspective that he believes to be the real and true one.