Saturday, April 21, 2012

merton on what xianity will become

The new Christian consciousness, which tends to reject the Being of God as irrelevant (or even to accept as perfectly obvious the "death of God"), must be seen to...[have] no metaphysical intuition of Being, and hence "being" is reduced to an abstract concept, a cipher to figure with, a purely logical entity, surely nothing to be concretely experienced.  What is experienced as primary is not "being" or "isness" but individual consciousness, reflexsive ego-awareness.

This dimension is very important indeed, because if the primary datum of experience and the ultimate test of all truth is simply the self-awareness of the conscious subject, verifying what is obvious to its own consciousness, then that self-awareness would seem to block off and inhibit any real intuition of being.  By the nature of the case, being, in this new situation, presents itself not as an immediate datum of intuitive consciousness but as an object of empirical observation--which, as a matter of fact, it cannot possibly be.  This has many important consequences.  For such a consciousness, a nonobjective metaphysical or mystical intuition becomes, in practice, incomperhensible.  The very notion of Being is nonviable, irrelevant and even absurd...

The new consciousness naturally turns outward to history, to event, to movement, to progress, and seeks its own identity and fulfillment in action toward historic political or critical goods.  In proportion as it is also Biblical and eschatalogical, it approaches the primitive Christian consciousness.  But we can already see that "Biblical" and "eschatalogical" thinking do not comfortably accord with this particular kind of consciousness, and there are already signs that it will soon have to declare itself completely post-Biblical, as well as post-Christian...

[The] new Christian consciousness would seem to be the product of a kind of phenomenology which more and more questions and repudiates anything that seems to it to be "metaphysical," "Hellenic" and above all "mystical."  It concerns itself less and less with God as present in being (in his creation) and more and more with God's word as summons to action.  God is present not as the experienced transcendent presence which is "wholly other" and reduces everything else to insignificance, but in an inscrutable word summoning to community with [others]...The Church in its traditional authoritarian structures is severely criticized--which is not necessarily a bad thing!  But the rather more fluid idea of community which "happens" when people are brought together by God's word may perhaps remain very vague and subjective itself.  In theory it is excitingly charismatic; in practice it is sometimes strangely capricous.  It may conceivably degenerate into mere conviviality or the temporary agreement of political partisans...

...But this much can be said:  the developing Christian consciousness is one which is activistic, antimystical, antimetaphysical, which eschews well-defined and concrete forms, and which tends to identify itself with active, progressive, even revolutionary, movements that are on the way but that have not yet reached any kind of clear definition.

--from Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton (emphasis added)

well, the best that can be said for merton's prescience is that he probably was right about how public xianity was developing in 1968.  however, that would prove short-lived.  by the late 70s and early 80s the public face of xianity would develop into a religion that would be exactly the opposite of what merton was chiding:  heavily mystical, narrowly focused and defined, and remarkably conservative if not regressive in search of some neverwas golden age.  about the only thing he got right that stayed right is the activism which has led almost like it was on a treadleboard into the fears he voiced about political partisanship (and as for its temporary nature, see what any number of fundamentalists have had to say about mitt romney before and after his ascendency to candidacy).  merton of course wasn't the only one to get late 20th century xianity wrong; but a question I've often wondered is what would he think about what xianity has become in the 4 decades since his death?

No comments:

Post a Comment