Saturday, July 8, 2017

resisting error

Associated Press Photo, North Korea, 2017
"We are living under a tyranny of untruth which confirms itself in power and establishes a more and more total control over men in proportion as they convince themselves they are resisting error.

"Our submission to plausible and useful lies involves us in greater and more obvious contradictions, and to hide these from ourselves we need greater and ever less plausible lies.

"The basic falsehood is the lie that we are totally dedicated to the truth, and that we can remain dedicated to truth in a manner that is at the same time honest and exclusive: that we have the monopoly of all truth, just as our adversary of the moment has the monopoly of all error.

"We then convince ourselves that we cannot preserve our purity of vision and our inner sincerity if we enter into dialogue with the enemy, for he will corrupt us with his error. We believe, finally, that truth cannot be preserved except by the destruction of the enemy -- for, since we have identified him with error, to destroy him is to destroy error. The adversary, of course, has exactly the same thoughts about us and exactly the same basic policy by which he defends the "truth." He has identified us with dishonesty, insincerity, and untruth. He believes that, if we are destroyed, nothing will be left but the truth."

-- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", p. 68

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dorothy Day, feminist, pacifist

The transiency of the Church & The World

My photo from the dome of St. Peter's, 2014
If one is conservative, then the Kingdom of God on earth is the Church as a sociological entity, an established institution with a divine mandate to guide the destinies of culture, science, politics, etc., as well as religion.

If one is liberal or radical, then one admits that the progressives and revolutionaries of "the world" have unconsciously hit upon the right answers and are building the Kingdom of God where the Church has failed to do so. Hence, the Christian must throw in his lot with revolution -- and thus guarantee that Christianity will sruvive and rediscover itself in a transformed society.

Before we can properly estimate our place in the world, we have to get back to the fundamental Christian respect for the transiency of the world and the institutional structure of the Church.

True contempus mundi is rather a compassion for the transient world and a humility which refuses arrogantly to set up the Church as an "eternal" institution in the world. But if we despise the transient world of secularism in terms which suggest an ecclesiastical world that is not itself transient, there is no way to avoid disaster and absurdity.

--Thomas Merton, "Conjectures", p. 53

I can't read this without remembering Merton's last talk before he died, when he asked what happens when the institution collapses.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Door

Photo by Eugene Meatyard, The Fraenkel Gallery

 A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact. God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us. God moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.

— Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pharisaism

Photograph of Gal Vihara by Thomas Merton
We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all.

Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as "an intelligent being"!)

But actually, what we desire is not "the truth" so much as "to be in the right."

To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature.

What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not "the truth." It is only an argument strong enough to prove us "right."

And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong?

Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned.

We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as "truth."

What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved "right," and our iniquity be vindicated as "just."

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war!

And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us.

Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 78

How to be a pharisee in politics

Eparchy of Newton
How to be a pharisee in politics:
At every moment display righteous indignation over the means (whether good or evil) which your opponent has used to attain the same corrupt end which you are trying to attain.

Point to the means he is using as evidence that your own purposes are righteous - even though they are the same as his.

If the means he makes use of are successful, then show that his success itself is proof that he has used corrupt methods.

But in your own case, success is proof of righteousness.

In politics, as in everything else, pharisaism is not self-righteousness only, but the conviction that, in order to be right, it is sufficient to prove someone else is wrong.

As long as there is one sinner left for you to condemn, then you are justified! Once you can point to a wrongdoer, you become justified in doing anything you like, however dishonest, however cruel, however evil!

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 77-78

Rare photo of Merton

H.B. Littell | AP Photo
A friend sent me this photo of Merton taken during the celebration of his first Mass. In my years of browsing around Merton lore, I had never seen it.

The accompanying article (with somewhat larger perspective photo) is HERE.

H.B. Littell | AP Photo

resisting error

Associated Press Photo, North Korea, 2017 "We are living under a tyranny of untruth which confirms itself in power and establishe...