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Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton

Read the following quote from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, by Thomas Merton: "The heresy of individualism (and religious ethnocentrism): thinking oneself a completely self-sufficient unit and asserting this imaginary 'unity' against all others, the affirmation of the self as simply 'not the other.' But when you seek to affirm your unity by denying that you have anything to do with anyone else, by negating everyone else in the universe until you come down to you, what is there left to affirm?
"The true way is just the opposite: the more I am able to affirm others, to say 'yes' to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says 'yes' to everyone. I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further.
"This is also the case with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc. This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot 'affirm' and 'accept,' but first one must say 'yes' where one really can.
"If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic, and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it."

As we begin to seriously look at the religions of our world and their world views, we will note many similarities as well as differences. Answer the following questions in an essay of 500-750 words:
1. What is your response to the quotation above?
2. No matter what your religious faith may be, what is your present viewpoint toward our shared task?
3. Will your present attitude enable you to maximize the enrichment and learning we are hoping to share?

Solution Preview

I will begin by discussing the context of which Thomas Merton "evolved" from. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander was published a couple of years before his death thus it would contain his contemplations of his life experiences. In his life, he experienced the "sinners" life as well as the monastic life which are in stark contrast. He was also able to learn and understand different religious understandings and views.

He has written about Buddhism, Zen and Confucianism which are all belief systems that do not believe in a god but in the nurturing of meditative and ethical behaviour. Many of the life principles taught are similar to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The difference is that these three religions, as they are commonly called, are not actual religions according to the definition that there must be a belief in something omnipotent. They are belief systems that people would hold in order to structure and guide their everyday living.

I will go on to respond to the quotation by paragraph.

"The heresy of individualism (and religious ethnocentrism): thinking oneself a completely self-sufficient unit and asserting this imaginary 'unity' against all others, the affirmation of the self as simply 'not the other.' But when you seek to affirm your unity by denying that you have anything to do with anyone else, by negating everyone else in the universe until you come down to you, what is there left to affirm?"

If we, as Christians, are to affirm what we believe, there must be something to affirm our belief. That affirmation is in the acceptance of Jesus Christ. Now, any belief system, worldview, or religion can, through misunderstanding, cause individualistic behaviour in people and one of those ways is through the exercise of religious ethnocentrism where ...

Solution Summary

This solution examines a particular section of Thomas Merton's "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. This response will assist the student in preparing a response to the section indicated, assist the student in presenting a particular viewpoint, and assist the student in elaborating on his/her present attitude.

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