Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

August Books 16) Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, by Thomas Merton

I have long had a vague interest in Thomas Merton, who became a Trappist monk after a dissolute youth (part of which was spent studying at my own later stamping ground, Clare College, Cambridge), and so was looking forward to reading this collection of his writings from the early 1960s - not least because I have been uncomfortably aware that I have enjoyed reading atheist tracts (Lucretius, Russell) more than Christian apologetics in the last few years.

I wasn't disappointed. A lot of this has dated - Merton's historical experience is of the Second World War and he writes in the context of the Cuban missile crisis and the Civil Rights movement - but basically he has a sane, humane, liberal take on Christianity and belief which I find comfortably close to my own prejudices and instincts. I winced a little at his initial naïve enthusiasm for Vatican II, knowing now how badly the Church has failed to follow through on the spirit of those times, but then a later piece in the collection accurately predicts the problems of the enterprise, in outline if not in detail.

The presentation of the material is not perfect. On the one hand, we are given to understand that this is a kind of commonplace book for occasional jottings; on the other hand, the text has been revised and expanded for publication. It would have been better to have a more thematic treatment, and better yet to have an index. As it is, it reads a bit more like random ramblings of a middle-aged monk than it really deserves to.
Tags: bookblog 2010, religion

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