Item description for Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton...
Overview The Trappist monk employs a Christian perspective to examine such contemporary moral concerns as communism, racial unrest, violence, and the move away from organized religion
Publishers Description In this series of notes, opinions, experiences, and reflections, Thomas Merton examines some of the most urgent questions of our age. With his characteristic forcefulness and candor, he brings the reader face-to-face with such provocative and controversial issues as the "death of God," politics, modern life and values, and racial strife-issues that are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago. "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander "is Merton at his best-detached but not unpassionate, humorous yet sensitive, at all times alive and searching, with a gift for language which has made him one of the most widely read and influential spiritual writers of our time.
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Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, spiritual director, political activist, social critic, and one of the most-read spiritual writers of the twentieth century. He is the author of many books, including The Seven Storey Mountain.
Reviews - What do customers think about Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander?
Monk Shares Insights with a Busy and Violent World Oct 16, 2006
Thomas Merton was a troubadour of contemplative life from America's Gesthemane Abbey. His books, including the famous autobiography 'Seven Storey Mountain' have made him one of the greatest spiritual writers from America. While this reviewer has read nearly a dozen of his sage works, 'Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander' is among his most colorful and engaging. Journal-like in its presentation and conception, Merton reflects upon the headlines of the Black Movement, Kennedy's assassination, and the Cuban Missile crisis with great depth and insight. The wisdom he provides doesn't date the topics he covers. 'Conjectures' would be fine as a historical document, but his commentary provides more than an antidote for history repeating itself. There are also trappings--no pun intended--of his little anecdotes of the monk's life. His observations of new candidates and the liturgical calendar hold simple truths that we can embrace with the variety of seasons.
I would hope every Catholic, and every non-Catholic, would embrace this book. It straddles the value of Eastern spirituality and widens the scope of Catholic experience. While many conservatives embrace G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft as beacons of light and truth, Thomas Merton expands the scope and splendour of that truth without contradiction. Personally, I loved the part where Merton talked about medeival "Passion" plays demonizing Jews. He railed against the practice, and I read it just when the controversy about 'Passion of the Christ' was brewing, just before its release. I could see why there was so much trepidation after reading his historical perspective.
Wild ride if you can stay with it Aug 3, 2005
This book is terrific for the advanced reader and who has read Merton before. These are a compilation of his notes, which means he's rambling ALL over the place. I found that I could only read a few notes at a time. I had to reflect during or at the end of each. They don't all resonate all the time, and some will be taken aback by Merton's views on U.S. military adventures of his day. Clearly, his comments are as pertinent today as ever.
Reflections from the 1960's, still important today Jan 23, 2004
CONJECTURES OF A GUILTY BYSTANDER is the second collection of brief reflections by Thomas Merton, a book which he called in his Preface "a personal vision of the world in the 1960s". The format of these reflections is quite reminiscent of the modern weblog, so consistency should not be expected. Some are evocative and interesting. Others are intensely personal and opaque, such as one that says only, "Every time Kennedy sneezes or blows his nose, an article is read about it in the refectory."
Some of this book is quaint and linked too much to the time of its writing. Merton's writes nearly vitriolic reflection on communism but does not foresee the rise of liberation theology in his own church. However, there are many other portions where the author moves beyond the context of his time. Merton's reflections on race-relations, for example, are unusually compassionate for a writer of his time, for he believes that African-Americans are blessed by God, who was bringing them in freedom from exile, slavery, and oppression like the Hebrews.
When I was younger and full of idealistic fire, having just left the Navy as a conscientious objector, I couldn't understand Merton. Here was a man who was full of zeal for the gospel, but who turned away from the community for a hermitage in rural Kentucky. From CONJECTURES, however, I can better appreciate this writer. Though he was alone, he has made a considerable contribution to society through books like these. Merton essentially wishes to make people live more authentically, to always be more conscious of Christ's social teaching and reject the false values of the world. Merton may have been a recluse, but if more people out and about in society read his writings, then the world would be a better place. For example, though Merton is not one to overtly recommend political engagement, he often calls the American reader to consider that his nation has strayed from the values on which they were founded and needs righting.
If you have never read Merton before, I'd recommend starting with THE SEVEN-STOREY MOUNTAIN, the story of his youth, conversion, and entry to a Trappist monastery, a book which occasionally rises to true greatness and might be a modern-day CONFESSIONS of Saint Augustine (well, almost). CONJECTURES is an excellent book for those interested in Merton who want to know better his social ideas.
Personal and compelling Aug 16, 2002
This book is a series of reflections on and examinations of topics ranging from the flora and fauna of Kentucky to studies of grammar by Cassiodorus. This is a later work of Merton's, and what comes across more than anything is his all too human moodiness. At times he seems to despair of the human condition. But then a tremendous hope wells up in him as he sees Christianity reaching out in brotherhood to all men of all faiths and non-faiths. But regardless of his attitude, Merton, as always, maintains the highest standards for fidelity to one's self and to God. His rather caustic critiques of Western culture seem more true today than when he wrote them in the 1960's, as he exposes the moral rationalizations and spiritual hollowness that necessarily accompany a mass culture devoted to materialism and pragmatism. His understanding of the human condition is so clear and so true and so universal, that his writing seems to be speaking to each of us alone, much as a parent might speak to his child. And like a child, our first reaction to his challenging words might be resentment or denial, but in the end, if we reflect and examine, we begin to see his truth-that is, his pointing us to God. I imagine one of Merton's hopes in this book is to move us beyond words and arguments so we might dispense with temporal intellectual distractions and concentrate on what counts-personal salvation.
Truth Prophesied To A Violent World May 13, 2002
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is Thomas Merton's response to the terror of the world around him, the world he had been raised into, and the world he sought to leave behind as a monk in the back corners of Kentucky. It is a collection of thoughts which had been developing in him from the very beginning of his life. He came to monastic life to retreat from the world. He came to find quiet. And yet he remained more connected to the outside world than most people within that world, and certainly more than anyone behind his monastic walls, even as he wrote and compiled Conjectures itself from his secluded hermitage.
This book is his reaction against the violent century which he was born into and which was born into him. He speaks against issues including such things as the true nature of the monastic relationship with the world (he calls "separation from the world" an illusion); unity/ecumenism; war & violence; false "truths" (particularly what he calls the American myth); technology versus nature, etc.
He calls himself a "bystander" relating to his aloofness as a monk. He calls himself "guilty" in relation to not living up to his responsibility for the outside world. As a monk, he calls himself a contemplative activist. As a collection of "conjectures," it is a compilation of thoughts or pensees grouped together loosely, only slightly tied together by five section titles. Because of this format it is not the easiest thing to read; it is helpful to read topically (a good guide for this can be found in Something of a Rebel by William Shannon). But I would say the experience is worth it. The book is deeply moving and convicting. Merton stands out as an authoritative voice on how Christians, all people in fact, should be aware of the world around them, while they also should not neglect the contemplative life that feeds their love for that world.
There is a short observation Merton gives us in his Conjectures as he witnesses the way of the world around him: "This morning, before Prime, in the early morning sky, three antiquated monoplanes flew over the monastery with much noise followed by a great heron." (15)
Commenting on this thought, Thomas Moore writes in his introduction to Conjectures: "Many antiquated machines have come and gone in the time since Merton wrote these lines, an explosion of technology giving the illusion of progress, while Merton himself continues to fly, pulling up the rear, a great silent heron reminding us that the noisy are not necessarily the knowledgeable." (v)