Saturday, March 29, 2008

Readings: Ascent qua Assent?

We interrupt this hiatus to offer some complementary thoughts to those presented in this previous post, from The Ascent to Truth by Thomas Merton:

The big problem that confronts Christianity is not Christ’s enemies. Persecution has never done much harm to the inner life of the Church as such. The real religious problem exists in the souls of those of us who in their hearts believe in God, and who recognize their obligation to love Him and serve Him – and yet do not!


The fact that the Communists used to be in revolt against everything “bourgeois” imposed on every serious Communist the obligation to practice a strict and almost religious asceticism with regard to practically everything that is valued by the society he hates. I say that this used to be the case, because it is clear that the Stalinist empire has rapidly reached a cultural level in which everything that was basest in bourgeois materialism has become the Stalinist ideal. If Christianity is to prove itself in open rebellion against the standards of the materialist society in which it is fighting for survival, Christians must show more definitive signs of that agere contra, that positive “resistance,” which is the heart of the Christian ascetic “revolution.” The true knowledge of God can be bought only at the price of this resistance.

A couple of things come to mind here. First, while Stalinism and the Soviet Union have been laid to rest, this has not been brought about by any triumph of enhanced spirituality. What has triumphed, rather, is the bourgeois materialism by which the original Communist asceticism – of which Stalinism was a corruption – was ultimately destroyed.

The second thing that comes to mind is to wonder whether the word “ascent” in the book’s title was meant to be a conscious play on its homonym, “assent?”

Now, if you'll excuse me...