To Be An Outlaw – 8 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Raids on the Unspeakable  

by Mark Votava

download (10)1. An advance into solitude and the desert

“…the contemplative life, which must not be construed as an escape from time and matter, from social responsibility and from the life of sense, but rather, as an advance into solitude and the desert, a confrontation with poverty and the void, a renunciation of the empirical self, in the presence of death, and nothingness, in order to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of ‘being nothing.’  The man who dares to be alone can come to see that the ‘emptiness’ and ‘usefulness’ which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth.”

2. A concept of sanity that excludes love

“And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own?  Evidently this is not necessary for ‘sanity’ at all…”

3. Our future will be made by love and hope

“We believe that our future will be made by love and hope, not by violence or calculation…”

4. To be an outlaw

“To be a contemplative is therefore to be an outlaw…”

5. There are no deserts

“The problem today is that there are no deserts…”

6. A dialectic of hate

“The love of solitude is sometimes condemned as ‘hatred of our fellow men.’  But is this true?  If we push our analysis of collective thinking a little further we will find that the dialectic of power and need, of submission and satisfaction, ends by being a dialectic of hate.  Collectivity needs not only to absorb everyone it can, but also implicitly to hate and destroy whoever cannot be absorbed.  Paradoxically, one of the needs of collectivity is to reject certain classes, or races, or groups, in order to strengthen its own self-awareness by hating them instead of absorbing them.”

7. The ultimate temptation

“This of course is the ultimate temptation of Christianity!  To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved – while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy which alone is truly serious, and worthy of being taken seriously.”

8. The worst insanity

“I am beginning to realize that ‘sanity’ is no longer a value or an end in itself.  The ‘sanity’ of modern man as about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur.  If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival.  But if he is sane, too sane… perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally ‘sane.’”

What is your favorite quote?