21 July 2007

another reflection from Thomas Merton

When I was at Middle Tennessee State University, I took an honors course called the Medieval Experience. Our final project was to be either a field trip to Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky or a medieval fair at some guy's castle south of Nashville. We wound up doing the latter. I think I was the only one who would have chosen the former. That's because Thomas Merton had lived much of his life at the monastery in Kentucky.

In my initial post as Dr. Sheltie, I quoted Merton, and I want to do so again. He's reflecting on his observations of America. He notes that American people's "most serious concerns seem to be involved in trivialities and illusions...It seems to me that for all our pride in freedom and individuality we have completely renounced thinking for ourselves. What passes for 'thinking' is mass-produced, passively accepted, or not even accepted. We simply submit to be process of being informed, without actually registering on our mind at all. We are content to turn on a switch and be comforted by the vapid, but self-assured slogans of the speaker who, we fondly hope, is thinking for the entire nation."

This was written in 1960 as a preface for the book Disputed Questions. I'm not sure how much we've learned in the 47 years since. The events of the early years of this 21st century may show, in some ways, that we've taken a step backward. While the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union has collapsed (to use Reagan's phrase), we've allowed our government, in my opinion, to adopt many of its methods. The church has had few representatives to raise a voice in response.

One thing in Merton's quote I would say doesn't apply today is the last half of the last sentence. I'm not sure that "we fondly hope" the "self-assured slogans" apply to "the entire nation." Instead, there may be some cynical compliance. There may be an acceptance of news as entertainment--if people even bother to attempt educating themselves anymore.

However, that doesn't serve the purposes of citizens in a democracy--only those of a dictatorship. And it doesn't serve the purposes of the Christ who urges us to love God with, among other aspects of our being, "our minds."

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