Merton, Pinochet and Thatcher

Dec 11th, 2006 | By | Category: Cross Channel

Only afterwards did I notice that yesterday was the anniversary of Thomas Merton entering monastic life in 1941 and of his sudden death in 1968. Busy trying to avoid uncharitable thoughts about Pinochet, I had sought out a quote from Merton as an escape.

Assuming that Pinochet died with the full rites of the Church, it would be Church teaching that he now enjoys eternal bliss. What a strange God, if a man responsible for many hundreds of brutal killings who was never tried, despite requests for his extradition from the Spanish Government, and who showed no remorse, should be guaranteed a place in heaven; while a devout Moslem, who has lived his life in an exemplary fashion, would be denied the possibility of salvation.

What is the point in teaching ethics, what is the point of attempting to embrace Jesus’ example, if eternal life depends on the right verbal formula and ceremonies at the right moment?

Merton saw spiritual life not as an escape, but as an engagement with the world and became a controversial figure for his championing of the causes of civil rights and peace. The Christian, for Merton, lived the Gospel, “not only in prayer and penance, but also in his political commitments and in all his social responsibilities.â€?

Merton’s position is the antithesis of that of Margaret Thatcher, who was yesterday “saddenedâ€? at the death of Pinochet. When the Church of England produced a major report on inner city deprivation in 1981, Thatcher’s attitude was that the Church should stay out of politics. Faith to her was something private and personal, although she did expect the Church to give thanks for the victory in the Falklands.

Christians can never disengage from the world and can never make faith purely personal. To suggest that any aspect of human life is outside the concern of Christian ethics is to deny the sovereignty of God and to deny that God is Lord of all is to deny that he is the God in whom we believe. God engages directly with his world.

Christmas is about the incarnation, about God coming to his world, to live life in its fullness. Jesus never seeks spiritual things as a means of avoiding the reality of his world. The spiritual and the worldly are integrated in his life and teaching.

Can we expect a life after this one if we have spent our present life ignoring all that Jesus said and did, counting on the right set of words to get us into heaven?

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