Thomas Merton on Politics

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Deutsch: Zeichen 283 StVO, sog. "Absolute...

Deutsch: Zeichen 283 StVO, sog. “Absolutes Halteverbot”, fotografiert in Heidelberg (Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some words of wisdom from Thomas Merton for your Wednesday. I put these quotes together from two different chapters of “New Seeds of Contemplation,” in which he is addressing “The Moral Theology of the Devil” and “The Root of War is Fear.” His context for the latter is the Cold War, but all of these paragraphs seemed to me to speak eloquently to the political and social dysfunction in our own time.

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. … There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.

Hatred tries to cure disunion by annihilating those who are not united with us. It seeks peace by the elimination of everybody else but ourselves. But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.

…Another characteristic of the devil’s moral theology is the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another to find the truth. On the contrary, in the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everyone wants to be absolutely right himself or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness, they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong. Those who are wrong, in turn, convinced that they are right…etc.

We never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.

…Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political ideals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practicability in the political ideals of our enemies–which may, of course, be in many ways even more illusory and dishonest than our own. We will never get anywhere unless we can accept the fact that politics is an inextricable tangle of good and evil motives…

I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together.

(Emphasis mine.)

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2 thoughts on “Thomas Merton on Politics

  1. barbaraschoeneberger

    Actually, Jesus is the answer. King, Redeemer, Consoler of the poor and downtrodden. To work daily for our own conversion of heart and that of everyone else would be the starting point for better human relations altogether. To act solely within the laws of God Who really does know what’s best for His children would soothe many. And to remember that there are many ways to skin a cat – my way isn’t the only way.

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