Nearly a year ago, a friend gave me a copy of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation as a gift for my confirmation into Community of Christ. It (obviously) took me a while to start it, and it’s taking me some time to read through it, but there’s a lot in there that I like. This afternoon, this passage stood out to me:
Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.
I have some quibbles with the details of what Merton has to say here. I see no particular value in condemning anyone’s unbelief or in convincing anyone to believe: My spouse is an atheist, my personal faith is less a firm conviction in the existence of God than the belief that, to quote Rachel Held Evans, I’ve found a “story I’m willing to risk being wrong about,” and while I enjoy introducing kiddo to my (new) faith transition, I won’t mind if she follows in her mom’s footsteps instead.
That said, while I object to some of the framing of the first part of Merton’s comment, I think (most of) the second part is dead on. I follow the official blog of the far-right social network Gab for research purposes, and over the past few weeks, they’ve been doubling down on advocating for Christian nationalism, in the same vein that Marjorie Taylor-Greene has. I also grew up in a religious transition that has an unresolved history of racism and an ongoing history of sexism and queerphobia. Faced with these legacies, I just don’t have it in me to argue that others should give Christianity (or even theism broadly) a try. We believers have made it tremendously difficult for others to even consider belief.
Merton’s comment also reminds me of a poem by Kentucky poet T. Crunk:
The cold reveals everything
between thick sky and the raw furrows
of last year’s gardens up and down the alley
houses drawn and closed,
two dogs chained to a fencepost sleeping
on bare dirt, brown smoke and ash
rising from the rusted oil barrel
where my brother and I are burning the wrapping paper
behind my grandmother’s shed.
Every year we do this, every year
scuffing at the gravel and coal chips
to keep warm, until we are called for dinner.
And every year I look closer
into his clear, unhindered face
and think that we are finally growing older-
one of us
still saved by the blood of the lamb,
one still waiting for the dumb to speak.
I find very compelling Crunk’s contrasting his brother’s belief with his own disbelief: Who can blame someone for disbelief when promised miracles fail to ever happen?
I also find it compelling for the way that it reminds me of the Community of Christ slogan “Christ’s mission, our mission.” I don’t know that I literally believe in the miracles recorded in the New Testament, but I take hope in this idea that whether through miraculous or mundane means, we are to try to emulate Christ’s healing of the sick and lifting up of the poor.
Of course, I don’t believe our motivation for carrying out this Christian mission should ever be to convince Crunk to be “saved by the blood of the lamb”—again, I’ve lost my appetite for evangelism and proselyting—but it seems to me that Christians shouldn’t expect anyone to enter their open doors so long as we demonstrate the “coldness and avarice” Merton warned about instead of a Christian dedication to healing and service.
You can use click on the
< button in the top-right of your browser window to read and write comments on this post with Hypothesis. You can read more about how I use this software here.