Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Mertonian Meditation on a Divisive Day

On days like today, when the vicious divisiveness of political dialogue in this country (and in my own church) is so prevalent, I'm reminded of the following passage from Thomas Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, which I offer without commentary:
We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all.  Nothing strange about this.  It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as "an intelligent being"!) But actually, what we desire is not "the truth" so much as "to be in the right." To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature.  What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not "the truth."  It is only an argument strong enough to prove us "right." And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.
Why do we want to prove them wrong?  Because we need them to be wrong.  For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned. We can rest secure in the fiction that we have determined to embrace as "truth."  What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved "right," and our iniquity be vindicated as "just."  This is what we have done to pervert our natural, instinctive appetite for truth.
No wonder we hate.  No wonder we are violent.  No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war!  And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us.  Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster (72-73).