The Future of Civilization – 7 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

by Mark Votava

thomasmerton1. We do not attend

“Here is an unspeakable secret; paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it: we are off ‘one to his farm and another to his merchandise.’ Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static. ‘Wisdom,’ cries dawn deacon, but we do not attend.”

2. The whole idea is preposterous

“…though ‘out of the world’ we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it… But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.”

3. With insight and compassion

“Gradually, by accepting our place in the world and our tasks as they are, we come to be liberated from the limitations of the world and of a restricted, halfhearted milieu: yet one is content with one’s moment of history and one’s obscure task in it. One must be detached from systems and collective plans, without rancor toward them, but with insight and compassion…”

4. The beauty of Christ in each individual person

“You can see the beauty of Christ in each individual person, in that which is most his, most human, most personal to him…”

5. The tempting force of propaganda

“This very special and tempting force of propaganda – that it helps sustain the individual’s illusion of identity and freedom – is due to the isolation of the individual in mass society, in which he is in fact a zero in the crowd in which he is absorbed. It is this simple act of apparently thinking out what is thought out for him by propaganda that saves the individual from totally vanishing into the mass. It makes him imagine he is real. Moreover it gives him the sense of being not only real, but right. It justifies him. To think that there are many people in mass society who consider themselves Christians, and who, psychologically at least, seek their justification not from faith in Christ or from the works of Christ’s love, but from propaganda, which enables them to think out ‘for themselves’ a few simple political opinions that add up to a crusade ‘in the name of Christ’…”

6. The future of civilization

“Can the future of civilization not be somehow directed away from mechanical formalization and spiritual disruption? Or should we bravely regard ourselves as called to abandon light and renounce spirit as superfluous luxury, a remnant of feudalism?”

7. We have hated our need for compassion

“We have hated our need for compassion and have suppressed it as a ‘weakness,’ and our cruelty has far outstripped our sense of mercy. Our humanity is sinking under the waves of hatred and desperation, and we are carried away by a storm that would never have been so terrible if we were not capable of such feelings of guilt about it!…”

What do you think about the future of our civilization? Is it looking positive or negative?

Purchase Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist