Monday, October 17, 2011

Where Are We Headed?

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I love the dichotomy between the two views of society: one which posits that society is headed toward the Kingdom of God, and the other that says that Eden was the Kingdom and we've been decreasing ever since. (I generally believe the former, but sometimes it isn't so easy!) In both cases, we're fallen and in need of God. It's the ways in which we see ourselves needing God that determines so much about our faith.

Merton is very clear about his stance on this issue. Reflecting on Bill Grime's "prophecy" about the future, Merton discusses the possibility of "Nothing to look forward to but the same inanities, falsities, cliches, and pretenses...surely more frustration, therefore more madness, violence, degeneracy, addiction" (177). However, he puts these options and a standstill and chooses hope over dread. "I have higher hopes," Merton says. "I dare to hope for change not only quantitative but qualitative too; such change must come through darkness and crisis, not joyous and painless adventure. Perhaps I say that out of habit" (177).

What does this mean for us? With technology and globalization, is the world becoming the "vast asylum" that Merton feared in the 1960s? Are we straying from the good ol' days when life was simple, even moral? Merton's idea of where change comes from is even more intriguing: as a society, are we in the midst of "darkness and crisis," or have we instead embraced "joyous and painless adventure"? As I read this, it occurred to me that these two options are nearly synonymous: in seeking joyous and painless adventure, we find ourselves in the reality of darkness and crisis.

Earlier in his essay A Vow of Conversation, Merton declares his stance on the issue of where we're headed. He writes, "To 'return to the Father' is not to 'go back' in time, to roll up the scroll of history, or to reverse anything. It is a going forward, a going beyond, for merely to retrace one's steps would be a vanity on top of vanity, a renewal of the same absurd universe...The 'return' is the end beyond all ends, and the beginning of beginnings" (157). It seems fairly obvious that, as a society, this route is not our conscious focus. But are headed there in spite of ourselves?

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