Visitor Jeremia John offered a comment that is possibly timely, and certainly gives an opportunity for believers in dialogue to further explain themselves. He writes:
(I) could never understand the fascination that Thomas Merton had with other religions…why should we look further if we believe the words Jesus spoke about himself “I Am The Way, The Truth and The Life…nobody can come to the Father but through me”.
Only Thomas Merton can speak to his reasons. Perhaps a Merton scholar in the readership here can cite a passage from his letters or books.
Speaking for myself, and looking among my friends, I am fascinated by the choices they make in religion. On a personal level, if I am interested in a person, by extension, I’m usually interested in what drives them, what makes them happy or fulfilled, and such.
I can imagine Christian and Buddhist monks might harbor a mutual fascination. How are they alike? How do they differ?
In each situation, the fascinated person may not be seeking direct theological insights, but rather more information about persons. Learning about a friend’s monasticism is more likely an indirect experience of God, if one is prepared to take one’s experience to deeper examen.
I think it is possible to admire an opposing athlete such as Mesut Özil, but still root for one’s team, and lament the other side’s performance.
For me (I)slam is a false and twisted ideology born … of violence, spread by violence and fueled by violence. More than 100 passages in the (K)oran command violence against non-(Muslims). Certainly not a ‘religion of peace’.
Yes, this is difficult in the context of this moment. If you are moderately well-read in the Koran, then you have more expertise than most Christians on this point. I wouldn’t take a final talking point on the Koran seriously from anyone other than a Muslim. Of course, our friend Max would argue vehemently that Christianity, and perhaps no religions are “of peace.” But I wouldn’t take his word on anything having to do with religion.
The best we can say with accuracy is that many people who adhere to religion are women and men of peace. My sense is that to be a “person of peace” requires something of a personal commitment, beyond a casual practice of one’s faith. But that’s fodder for an in-depth essay on peace.
Beyond that, every religion has members, practitioners, and leaders who do not exemplify virtue. Some of these folks are true believers. And some are pretenders. How does one tell? I suppose one must study them carefully.
Some Christians think of themselves as evangelists, disciples, and apologists in the more neo-traditional sense. If so, it seems logical to want to know what others believe if one understands one’s mission is to convert them to Christ. The alternative is to treat everyone as uninformed duplicates of the self. Jesus’s words are powerful to Christians, certainly. But non-Christians have been reading the Gospels for centuries and millions walk away, unconvinced. I think we have to ask: why is that?
I would suggest one key to understanding Thomas Merton is that he was a contemplative. One important contemplative dimension is a radical openness to finding God in everything – openness to being surprised in that way. So his “fascination” is more of a contemplative curiosity, with delight as part of the reaction.
The economy of mutual surprise and delight can be part of the energy of a mystical contemplative relationship between a beloved soul and God. Also between human spouses and other beloved relationships.
PS: My single favorite example of this in modern American literature is the closing line of Ron Hansen’s justly lauded novella, “Mariette in Ecstasy” (which I will spare readers to maintain the, well, suspense).
“The best we can say with accuracy is that many people who adhere to religion are women and men of peace.”
We can also say with accuracy many people who shrugged off religion and believed in no gods
are women and men of peace:
Dr. Jonas Salk, Studs Terkel, Helen Keller, The Dalai Llama,
Nicholas Winton (the British Schindler), A.C. Grayling, Dr. Seuss, Jacque Yves Cousteau,
Julia Kristiva, Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, Barney Frank, Nehru,
Butterfly McQueen, Susan B. Anthony, Buckminster Fuller
and Paul Newman (whose “Newman’s Own” has raised $400 million for poor children).
All of the above were Agnostic Atheists like myself.
I think the word ‘peace’ is not thought about enough by religious people.
There is too much important work to do to seek personal peace for its own sake. The 22,000 medics who volunteer for Doctors Without Borders (the slight majority of whom are French atheist doctors) are not seeking peace so much as trying to run into places where people are in need and bring relief. They eradicated Ebola from Africa and in a way, they have brought peace. But they have hurried to other locations like Afghanistan and Nepal where there is enormous work to do.
A monk may find peace. But who wouldn’t when one hides from society in a small room and meditates a lot?