Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book: Thomas Merton: Peace in the Post-Christian Era


Author: Thomas Merton
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, pp.165

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

“In this long-withheld manuscript, Thomas Merton identifies the readiness of many nations – led by our own – to prepare for and threaten mass murder as the most urgent moral crisis of our time. Ringing across four decades, his profound warning is more timely than tomorrow’s headlines.” Daniel Ellsberg

An Excerpt from the Book:

(Click here to read the Forward to the book)

This then in conclusion: the Christian is bound to work for peace by working against global dissolution and anarchy. Due to nationalist and revolutionary ideologies (for Communism is in fact exploiting the intense nationalism of backward peoples), a worldwide spirit of confusion and disorder is breaking up the unity and the order of civilized society.

It is true that we live in an epoch of revolution, and that the break-up and re-formation of society is inevitable. But the Christian must see that his mission is not to contribute to the blind destructive forces of annihilation which tend to destroy civilization and mankind together. He must seek to build rather than to destroy. He most orient his efforts towards world unity and not towards world division. Anyone who promotes policies of hatred and of war is working for the division and destruction of civilized mankind.

We have to be convinced that there are certain violences which the moral law absolutely forbids to all men, such as the use of torture, the killing of hostages, genocide (or the mass extermination of racial, national or other groups for no reason than that they belong to an “undesirable” category). The destruction of civilian centers by nuclear annihilation is genocide.

We have to become aware of the poisonous effect of the mass media that keep violence, cruelty and sadism constantly present to the minds of unformed and irresponsible people. We have to recognize the danger to the whole world in the fact that today the economic life of the more highly developed nations is in large part centered on the production of weapons, missiles and other engines of destruction.

We have to consider that hate propaganda, and the consistent heckling of one government by another, has always inevitably led to violent conflect. We have to recognize the implications of voting for extremist politicians who promote policies of hate. We must consider the dire effect of fanaticism and witch-hunting within our own nation. We must never forget that our most ordinary decisions may have terrible consequences.

It is no longer reasonable or right to leave all decisions to a largely anonymous power elite that is driving us all, in our passivity, towards ruin. We have to make ourselves heard.

Every individual Christian has a grave responsibility to protest clearly and forcibly against trends that lead inevitably to crimes which the Church deplores and condemns. Ambiguity, hesitation and compromise are no longer permissible. We must find some new and constructive way of settling international disputes.

It is clearly the mind of the Church that every possible effort must be made for the abolition of war, even though the theory of the “just war” and the right of legitimate self-defense remain intact. But appeal to this right must not blind us to the much higher and more urgent duty of working with all our power for peace.

This may be extraordinarily difficult. Obviously war cannot be abolished by mere wishing.

We have still time to do something about it, but the time is rapidly running out.

Table of Contents:

1. Preamble: Peace – A religious responsibility

2. Can we choose peace?

3. The dance of death

4. The Christian as peacemaker

5. War in Origen and St. Augustine

6. The legacy of Machiavelli

7. Justice in modern war

8. Religious problems of the cold war

9. Theologians an defense

10. Working for peace

11. Beyond east and west

12. Moral passivity and demonic activism

13. The scientists and nuclear war

14. Red or dead? The anatomy of a cliche

15. Christian perspectives in world crisis

16. Christian conscience and national defense

17. The Christian choice

This book has my highest reccomendations. It has helped seal my understanding of the issue of the Christian perspective on warfare once and for all.

Concerning the term "post -Christian" Merton writes this:

"Whether we like to admit it or not, we are living in a post- Christian world, that is to say a world in which Christian ideals and attitudes are relegated more and more to the minority. It is frightening to realize that the facade of Christianity which still generally survives has perhaps little or nothing behind it, and what was once called "Christian society" is more purely and simply a materialistic neopaganism with a Christian veneer... Not only non-Christians but even Christians themselves tend to dismiss the Gospel ethic on nonviolence and love as "sentimental". "


Merton's book was written in 1961 at the onset of the "Cold War" and the Vietnam conflict. Not only was it very prophetic for that time as well as this, but it recognizes the rise of the hardline neopagan pseudo- Christianity that holds sway in today's toxic political discourse. If one were to substitute the word "terrorist" each time Merton wrote the word "Communist" he would be speaking directly to us today about the "War on Terror".

For instance:

"At one extreme we have the "hard" and "realistic" view. It excludes all other considerations and concentrates on one inescapable fact: the "terrorist" threat to western society. It considers that negotiation with "terrorism" is for all practical purposes futile. It is thoroughly convinced that only the strongest pressure will be of any use in stopping "terrorism" and the victory over "terrorism" by any available means takes precedence over everything else. Hence this "hard" position is in fact favorable to nuclear war and makes no distinction between preemption and retaliation, except perhaps to favor preeemption as more likely to succeed...
...they tend to regard anyone who strongly favors peace and disarmament as a "terrorist" dupe or fellow traveller, simply because of the worldwide propaganda given to the "terrorist strategy for peace".

The simplicity and ruthlessness of this view makes an immediate appeal to a very large proportion of the American middle class. It is simple. It is clear. It promises results. It has the advantage above all of permitting disturbed and frustrated people to discharge their anxieties upon a hated enemy and thereby achieve a sense of meaning and satifaction in their own lives. But unfortunately this kind of satisfaction leads to moral blindness and to the stultification of conscience. The fact that this "solution" at the same time favors nuclear war, and considers it fully morally justified by its "good cause" and also appeals to certain types of Christians, shows that it is a SERIOUS danger. To be succinct, it produces a state of invincible moral ignorance. It consecrates policies that have very dubius justice, blurring the ethical clarity of Christian thought, making base emotions and hatreds with the specious appearance of christian zeal."

This book is the most refined, comprehensive and persuasive tesament on this subject i have ever read.

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