Was Thomas Merton Left, Right…or Catholic?

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Thomas Merton, like the concept of “social justice,” has been co-opted by the American left. Many liberals, progressives, socialists, and probably even some further left still, have hijacked the Trappist monk and remade him in their own image. He is handily used for all sorts of left-leaning causes and purposes. Among the latest examples, Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center is honoring the Occupy movement (specifically Occupy Pittsburgh) with its annual New Person’s Award.

In truth, Merton was a complex character, much easier to understand earlier in his life, such as when he published his wonderful 1948 memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, than later in life, when he died tragically in a freak accident at the age of 53 in 1968. We know that Merton was decidedly, unequivocally anti-war. And it was there that American liberals would pick up Merton and deploy him into various political battlefields, from the nuclear freeze to anti-Apartheid.

Thomas Merton, 1915-1968

We do know this, however, Merton was staunchly anti-communist, particularly after being misled, burned, and duped by communists in his youth at the radical Columbia University. “Communists,” wrote Merton later, “are, in actual fact, noisy and shallow and violent people, torn to pieces by petty jealousies and factional hatred and envies and strife.”

Merton was also, of course, thoroughly Christian, Catholic, intensely pious—anything but secular.

It is difficult to imagine Merton today supporting something as secular, violent, and wildly hedonistic as the Occupy movement. From untold numbers of rapes and robberies and drug dealings and assaults on police, and even urinating and defecating on cars, the Occupiers are an unkempt, remarkably radical bunch. To borrow from Merton, they are noisy and violent, torn to pieces by all sorts of envy and jealousy and hatred. If Thomas Merton were to appear at an Occupy gathering at Wall Street, Cleveland, Seattle, or Pittsburgh, and dare share his utterly brilliant insights into the Christian faith and his unwavering conviction that the Catholic Church was the repository of truth—which he would—he’d be denounced as a religious fanatic by the modern occupiers.

Thomas Merton found his home in the Catholic Church. Let’s keep him out of Occupy Wall Street.



Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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