This was written by Thomas Merton, a Cistercian monk, social critic and prolific author, as a preface to his collection of essays in Faith and Violence. He wrote it for the Advent season of 1967. His last as it happens, before his death in Thailand in 1968. Merton was writing at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the beginnings of the opposition to the Viet Nam war. Now we’re faced with the one percent vs the ninety nine percent, occupy Wall Street, the war on terrorism; doesn’t seem that much has changed in the forty odd years since Merton wrote this essay.
“The Hassidic rabbi Baal She Tov, once told the following story. Two men were traveling through a forest. One was drunk and the other was sober. As they went, they were attacked by robbers, beaten, robbed of all they had including their clothing. When they emerged, people asked them if they got through the woods without trouble. The drunken man said: “Everything was fine;; nothing went wrong; we had no trouble at all.”
They said: “How does it happen that you are naked and covered with blood?”
He did not have an answer.
The sober man said: “Do not believe him he is drunk. It was a disaster. Robbers beat us without mercy and took everything we had. Be warned by what happened to us, and look out for yourselves.”
For some “faithful”-and for some unbelievers too-“faith” seems to be a kind of drunkenness, an anesthetic, that keeps you from realizing and believing that anything can every go wrong. Such faith can be immersed in a world of violence and make no objection: the violence is perfectly all right. It is quite normal-unless of course it happens to be exercised by Negroes. Then it must be immediately put down instantly be superior force. The drunkenness of this kind of faith-whether in a religious message of in a political ideology-enables us to go to life without seeing our own violence is a disaster and that overwhelming force by which we seek to assert ourselves and our own self interest may well be our ruin.
Is faith a narcotic dream in a world of heavily armed robbers, or is it an awakening?
Is faith a convenient nightmare in which we are attacked and obliged to destroy our attackers?
What if we awaken to discover that we are the robbers, and our destruction comes from the root of hate in ourselves?”
Abbey of Gethsemane
I read this for the first time several years ago. Rereading this tied to my own searching it really shook me this time.