I have decided to add these writings of Merton on nonviolence without taking them out of the original context in which I explored them in 2005.]
I have come to see that there is something in myself that needs to be transformed. Like the old saying: “you have to be the change that you want to see in the world”. But just what is this change? And how will it happen?
According to Thomas Merton, what is missing in protest movements is compassion. Those involved in protest tend to become enraged with those that they see as responsible for injustice and violence, and even toward those who uphold the status quo. Without compassion, the protestor tends to become more and more centered in anger and may easily become an obstacle to changing the attitudes of others.
And the angrier we get at the Judge’s decisions, the obstinacy of the prosecution, the more they dig in their heels.
“[People] do not feel at all threatened by the bomb … but they feel terribly threatened by some … student carrying a placard.” (Merton letter to Jim Forrest, Jan 29, 1962)
Without love, especially love of opponent and enemies, neither profound personal nor social transformation can occur:
“It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is, and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action.Peace movements identify too much with particular political groups and ideologies. Any actions taken must communicate liberating possibilities to all involved in the conflict. The message that the opponent will also be “free-ed” has to be clear. A way out of the “we-they” standoff.
“ To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as an other self, we resort to the impersonal “law” and to abstract “nature.” That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, its demands. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused. To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights and his integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as similarly accused along with him … and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved. Then, instead of pushing him down, trying to climb out by using his head as a stepping-stone for ourselves, we help ourselves to rise by helping him to rise. For when we extend our hand to the enemy who is sinking in the abyss, God reaches out to both of us, for it is He first of all who extends our hand to the enemy. It is He who “saves himself” in the enemy, who makes use of us to recover the lost groat which is His image in our enemy.” (Merton letter to Dorothy Day, 1961)
“One of the most important things to do is to keep cutting deliberately through political lines and barriers and deemphasizing the fact that these are largely fabrications and that there is another dimension, a genuine reality, totally opposed to the fictions of politics: the human dimension …” (Merton letter to Dorothy Day, 1961)
Peacemaking is rooted in spiritual life, not politics.
If I can, in some way, incorporate (become a channel for) nonviolence (peacemaking) in my struggle for Taylor, then perhaps this power can be unleashed in the world.
Important: The truth can never be used as a weapon. We are the instruments of truth, truth is not our instrument.
This is especially true with Taylor’s case, for we do, indeed, have the truth. But we cannot use it to taunt the opponent. We have to use the truth to open the opponent’s eyes:
“One of the problematic questions about non-violence is the inevitable involvement of hidden aggressions and provocations … It is an enormously subtle question, but we have to consider the fact that, in its provocative aspect, nonviolence may tend to harden opposition and confirm people in their righteous blindness. …
“Yet there is that danger: the danger one observes subtly in tight groups like families and monastic communities, where the martyr for the right sometimes thrives on making his persecutors terribly and visibly wrong. He can drive them in desperation to be wrong, to seek refuge in the wrong, to seek refuge in violence. … In our acceptance of vulnerability … we play [on the guilt of the opponent]. There is no finer torment. This is one of the enormous problems of our time … all this guilt and nothing to do about it except finally to explode and blow it all out in hatreds, race hatreds, political hatreds, war hatreds. We, the righteous, are dangerous people in such a situation …We have got to be aware of the awful sharpness of truth when it is used as a weapon, and since it can be the deadliest weapon, we must take care that we don’t kill more than falsehood with it. In fact, we must be careful how we “use” truth, for we are ideally the instruments of truth and not the other way around.” (Merton letter to Jim Forrest, February 1962)
“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing … an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end … it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything …