Archive for December, 2010

Reading Thomas Merton before bedtime

I’ve recently stumbled into the wonderful habit of reading from the writings of Thomas Merton every night before I go to bed. I initially decided to pick up reading Merton as a kind of counter balance to all the mind-drying philosophical study I’ve been consumed by lately. I’ve always admired Merton’s profound wisdom; I’ll often find in his notes certain worldly insights that seem like they’d be the last thing you’d hear from a monastic. I actually read this one earlier today, and it inspired me to post it here:

“The basic sin, for Christianity, is rejecting others in order to choose oneself, deciding against others and deciding for oneself. Why is this sin so basic? Because the idea that you can choose yourself, approve yourself, and then offer yourself (fully “chosen” and “approved”) to God, applies the assertion of yourself over God. From this root of error comes all the sour leafage and fruitage of a life of self-examination, interminable problems and unending decisions, always making right choices, walking on the razor’s edge of an impossibly subtle ethic (with an equally subtle psychology to take care of the unconscious). All this implies the frenzied conviction that one can be his own light and his own justification, and that God is there for a purpose: to issue the stamp of confirmation upon my own rightness. In such a religion the Cross becomes meaningless except as the (blasphemous) certification that because you suffer, because you are misunderstood, you are justified twice over – you are a martyr. Martyr means witness. You are then a witness? To what? To your own infallible light and your own justice, which you have chosen.

This is the exact opposite of everything Jesus ever did or taught.”

His words here are a reminder that God is not this thing that we appeal to as some ultimate justification for our own motives and judgments. This seems to me to be the fundamental difference between the “god” of philosophy and the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The former is a dumb prop, the foundation, brick and mortar that use to construct our metaphysical systems, the latter is the wrecking ball that destroy those systems to remind us that we belong to G-d, not the other way around.

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. (New York: DoubleDay, 1965)