THOMAS MERTON (on faith and violence) – Part Three
The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin,
but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.
A spiritual reflection
~ Part 3 ~
by bruce thomas witzel
In my previous reflection about the monk Thomas Merton (click here) I left off with the United States in the midst of Vietnam War and the emerging consciousness about ecological destruction.
By 1968 Merton’s book Faith and Violence had been published.
In it he writes:
“The population of the affluent world is nourished by a steady diet of brutal mythology and hallucination, kept at a constant pitch of high tension by a life that is intrinsically violent in that it forces a large part of the population to submit to an existence which is humanly intolerable… Crime that breaks out of the ghetto is only the fruit of a greater and more pervasive violence: the injustice which forces people to live in the ghetto in the first place.”
“Violence today, is white-collar violence, the systemically organized bureaucratic and technological destruction… The theology of violence must not lose sight of the real problem, which is not the individual with a revolver but death and even genocide as big business.”
During the 60’s, protest and change had also come to the Catholic Church, partly as a result of the the 2nd Vatican Council. The churches slowly began to crack open their windows and doors for a breath of fresh air.
By 1968 Thomas Merton was permitted to leave the Abbey of Gethesemani in Kentucky for extended periods of time.
His final journey was to South East Asia where he met with other contemplatives, including Buddhists and Hindus.
The Dalai Lama later said about his meetings with Merton in Dharamsala, India, “I could see that he was a truly humble and deeply spiritual man. This was the first time I had been struck by such a feeling of spirituality by anyone who professed Christianity.”
Not long before Thomas Merton had departed to Asia he had also written an article about the emerging awareness of ecological destruction. It was published by the Catholic Worker, a group that helps disadvantaged people in numerous American inner city neighbourhoods.
In part it reads:
“The ecological conscience is essentially a peace making conscience. A country (America) that seems more and more to hot and cold war making does not give much promise to developing one. But perhaps the very character of the war in Vietnam – with crop poisoning, the defoliation of forest trees, the incineration of villages and inhabitants with napalm – presents enough of a stark and critical example to remind us this most urgent moral need. Catholic theology ought to take note of the ecological conscience and do it fast.”
Merton was concluding his tour with a monastic conference in Bangkok. He had intended to write a book about his insights and experiences and on the day of his death, Dec 10th, 1968 and he told fellow priest Basil Loftus “The Holy Office has already condemned me before I have written it.”
After speaking at the conference Merton went back to his room to cool off. As he stepped out of the shower he was electrocuted by a faulty fan. His body was taken back to the United States in a B-52 bomber en route from Vietnam, sadly loaded with his fellow dead Americans, the soldiers.
“Modern technological mass murder is not directly visible, like individual murder. It is abstract, corporate, businesslike, cool, free of guilt-feelings and therefore a thousand times more deadly and effective than the eruption of violence out of individual hate. It is this polite, massively organized white-collar murder machine that threatens the world with destruction, not the violence of a few desperate teen-agers in a slum. But our antiquated theology myopically focused on individual violence alone fails to see this.”
Thomas Merton (1915 –1968)