From Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Destruction:
If God has become man, then no Christian is ever allowed to be indifferent to man’s fate. Whoever believes that Christ is the Word made flesh believes that every man must be in some sense regarded as Christ…
We have to remember the terrible danger of projecting onto others all the evil we find in ourselves, so that we justify our own hatred and destructiveness by directing them against a projected evil.
The extremists on both sides are mirror images of each other…. In this climate of thought, strategy tends to work round to the idea of “hitting the enemy before he hits me first.”
We are told that Hitler, viewing the terrible conflagration of Warsaw when it had been bombed by the Luftwaffe, wept and said: “How wicked these people were to make me do this to them!”
It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is, and who we are.
The race question cannot be settled without a profound change of heart, a real shake-up… on the part of white America. It is not just a question of a little more good will and generosity: it is a question of waking up to crying injustices and deep-seated problems which are ingrained in the present setup and which, instead of getting better, are going to get worse.
The Light in which we are one does not change.
From Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
Auschwitz was built and managed by dutiful, obedient men who loved their country, and who proved to themselves they were good citizens by hating their country’s enemies.
…In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So whole we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth. Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth.
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness…
I have the immense joy f being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this. But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
From Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti (Brothers All):
Amid the fray of conflicting interests, where victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents, how is it possible to raise our sights to recognize our neighbours or to help those who have fallen along the way? …. We are growing ever more distant from one another.
To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves. Yet we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home. Such care does not interest those economic powers that demand quick profits. Often the voices raised in defence of the environment are silenced or ridiculed, using apparently reasonable arguments that are merely a screen for special interests. In this shallow, short-sighted culture that we have created, bereft of a shared vision, “it is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims.”
War, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution, and many other affronts to human dignity are judged differently, depending on how convenient it proves for certain, primarily economic, interests. What is true as long as it is convenient for someone in power stops being true once it becomes inconvenient.
Paradoxically, we have certain ancestral fears that technological development has not succeeded in eliminating; indeed, those fears have been able to hide and spread behind new technologies. Today too, outside the ancient town walls lies the abyss, the territory of the unknown, the wilderness. Whatever comes from there cannot be trusted, for it is unknown, unfamiliar, not part of the village. It is the territory of the “barbarian”, from whom we must defend ourselves at all costs. As a result, new walls are erected for self-preservation, the outside world ceases to exist and leaves only “my” world, to the point that others, no longer considered human beings possessed of an inalienable dignity, become only “them”. Once more, we encounter “the temptation to build a culture of walls, to raise walls, walls in the heart, walls on the land, in order to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people. And those who raise walls will end up as slaves within the very walls they have built. They are left without horizons, for they lack this interchange with others.”
…Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of “them” and “those”, but only “us”. If only this may prove not to be just another tragedy of history from which we learned nothing. If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems. If only this immense sorrow may not prove useless, but enable us to take a step forward towards a new style of life. If only we might rediscover once for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth, with all its faces, all its hands and all its voices, beyond the walls that we have erected.
Even as individuals maintain their comfortable consumerist isolation, they can choose a form of constant and febrile bonding that encourages remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart. … Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures.
For Christians, the words of Jesus have an even deeper meaning. They compel us to recognize Christ himself in each of our abandoned or excluded brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25:40.45)…. I sometimes wonder why, in light of this, it took so long for the Church unequivocally to condemn slavery and various forms of violence. Today, with our developed spirituality and theology, we have no excuses. Still, there are those who appear to feel encouraged or at least permitted by their faith to support varieties of narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different. Faith, and the humanism it inspires, must maintain a critical sense in the face of these tendencies, and prompt an immediate response whenever they rear their head.
… We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet. If we are troubled by the extinction of certain species, we should be all the more troubled that in some parts of our world individuals or peoples are prevented from developing their potential and beauty by poverty or other structural limitations. In the end, this will impoverish us all.
Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of goods by a few. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour rights. It means confronting the destructive effects of the empire of money… Solidarity, understood in its most profound meaning, is a way of making history.
From Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants:
If we allow traditions to die, relationships to fade, the land will suffer. . . All of our flourishing is mutual.
My natural inclination was to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide.
Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.
From Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents:
“Whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection for the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.”
“…amid talk of Muslim bans, nasty women and shithole nations, it was common to hear in certain circles the disbelieving cries of ‘This is not America,’ or ‘I don’t recognize my country,’ or ‘This is not who we are.’ Except that this was and is our country and this was and is who we are, whether we have known or recognized it or not.”
“Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy… Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that has been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things. ..many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classic sense, not openly hateful of this or that group.”
“Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated, chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States.”
“Dehumanization is a standard component in the manufacture of an out-group against which to pit an in-group, and it is a monumental task. It is a war against truth, against what the eye can see and what the heart could feel if allowed to do so on its own… …Dehumanize a group, and you have completed the work of dehumanizing any single person within it….Dehumanization distances not only the out-group from the in-group, but those in the in-group from their own humanity.”
“…the price we pay for our caste system: In places with a different history and hierarchy, it is not necessarily seen as taking away from one’s own prosperity if the system looks out for the needs of everyone.
People show a greater sense of joint responsibility to one another when they see their fellow citizens as like themselves… Societies can be more magnanimous when people perceive themselves as having an equal stake in the lives of their fellow citizens. There are thriving, prosperous nations where people do not have to sell their Nobel Prizes to get medical care, where families don’t go broke taking care of elderly loved ones, where children exceed the educational achievements of American children, where drug addicts are in treatment rather than in prison, where perhaps the greatest measure of human happiness—happiness and a long life—exists in greater measure because they value their shared commonality…
..A caste system builds rivalry and distrust and lack of empathy toward one’s fellows. The result is that the United States, for all its wealth and innovation, lags in major indicators of quality of life among the major countries of the world.”
“A world without caste would set everyone free.”
From Francisco Cantu’s The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Border:
Jung asserts that when we come to perceive “the other” as someone to be feared and shunned, we risk the inner cohesion of our society, allowing our personal relationships to become undermined by a creeping mistrust. By walling ourselves off from a perceived other, we “flatter the primitive tendency in us to shut our eyes to evil and drive it over some frontier or other, like the Old Testament scapegoat, which was supposed to carry the evil into the wilderness.”
Return to Readings page