To Give Apparent Meaning – 3 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

by Mark Votava

thomasmerton1. We have no real access to the truth

“In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him.  So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right.  And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth.  Love, only love, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth.  As long as we do not have this love, as long as this love is not active and effective in our lives (for words and good wishes will never suffice) we have no real access to the truth…”

2. To give meaning to a meaningless political process

“In moments that appear to be lucid, I tell myself that in times like these there has to be something for which one is willing to get shot, and for which, in all probability, one is actually going to get shot.  What is this?  A principle?  Faith?  Virtue?  God?  The question is not easy to answer and perhaps it has no answer that can be put into words.  Perhaps this is no longer something communicable, or even thinkable.  To be executed today (and death by execution is not at all uncommon) one has no need to commit a political crime, to express opposition to a tyrant, or even to hold an objectionable opinion.  Indeed most political deaths under tyrannical regimes are motiveless, arbitrary, absurd.  You are shot, or beaten to death, or starved, or worked until you drop, not because of anything you have done, not because of anything you believe in, not because of anything you stand for, but arbitrarily: your death is demanded by something or someone undefined.  Your death is necessary to give apparent meaning to a meaningless political process which you have never quite managed to understand.  Your death is necessary to exercise a hypothetical influence on a hypothetical person who might conceivably be opposed to something you may or may not know or understand or like or hate.”    

3. So fixed, so determined, so rigid

“But our ideas of news, the newspapers’ idea of news, might lead us to believe that any word except what came from God was news.  As if what was said by God had to be so fixed, so determined, so rigid in its set form that it could never be anything new, never unpredictable, never astonishing, never frightening.  If there is no risk in revelation, if there is no fear in it, if there is no challenge in it, if it is not a word which creates whole new worlds, and new beings, if it does not call into existence a new creature, our new self, then religion is dead and God is dead.  Those for whom the Gospel is old, and only, have killed it for the rest of men.  The life of the Gospel is its newness.”

Which quote is your favorite?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.