The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

By McGregor, Michael | Cithara, May 2013 | Go to article overview

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton


McGregor, Michael, Cithara


The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton. By Monica Weis, SSJ. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. Pp 216. $40.00.

The idea at the center of Monica Weis's new book-that Thomas Merton, who was ahead of his time on so many social issues, had become an environmentalist before he died in 1968-is definitely intriguing. After all, his death came two years before the first Earth Day and decades before humanity's responsibility for climate change became an accepted scientific fact. If Merton had returned from Asia alive, might he have taken his place among America's best-known environmental advocate-writers, people like Aldo Leopold, Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams?

In The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, Weis weaves together compelling evidence that Merton's reading of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in the early days of 1963 catalyzed a shift in his relationship to the natural world, turning what had been a mostly Romantic appreciation of Nature into something more concrete and urgent-a realization, as Merton wrote in reviewing Roderick Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind (his last published book review), that "an ecological conscience is also essentially a peace-making conscience."

Weis begins with a letter Merton wrote to Carson immediately after reading Silent Spring, a book widely credited with alerting Americans to the ecological dangers of advancing technology-especially insecticides such as DDT that kill songbirds as well as what we call "pests." In his letter, Merton connects his concerns about nuclear war to Carson's warnings about other technologies while disparaging not technology itself but the "sickness" he sees at the heart of our civilization. "The awful irresponsibility with which we scorn the smallest values," he writes, "is part of the same portentous irresponsibility with which we dare to use our titanic power in a way that threatens not only civilization but life itself."

Although he uses the extermination of the supposedly harmful Japanese beetle as an example of the "logic" (Merton's quotation marks) that allows those in power to plan the extermination of humans, little in Merton's letter suggests the concentrated concern for the natural world as an entity unto itself that those we consider "environmentalists" usually express. By this time, Merton had led a tree-planting effort by the monastery's novices and participated in other conservation efforts, but the views his letter expresses are less ecological than strictly Biblical. To religious thinkers, he writes, the world "has always appeared as a transparent manifestation of the love of God, as a 'paradise' of His wisdom, manifested in all His creatures, down to the tiniest, and in the wonderful interrelationship between them." He goes on to say that mankind is part of nature yet transcends it, and so "must make use of nature wisely."

While asserting the oneness of creation, Merton is also professing belief in a traditional Christian interpretation of God's call for man to have "dominion" over the earth-a view of humanity's role that makes many environmentalists uneasy. As with other issues, Merton's most important contribution here is his viewing of environmental matters through a spiritual lens.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.