Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
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Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  346 ratings  ·  22 reviews
In this series of notes, opinions, experiences, and reflections, Thomas Merton examines some of the most urgent questions of our age. With his characteristic forcefulness and candor, he brings the reader face-to-face with such provocative and controversial issues as the “death of God,” politics, modern life and values, and racial strife–issues that are as relevant today as...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 9th 1968 by Image (first published January 1st 1966)
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Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is a dated but profound view of the 1960s from a contemplative monk. Certainly, Thomas Merton was one of the most famous of monastic writers during my lifetime and this book was both disturbing and encouraging as it resonated with some of my memories as a young boy. Merton takes on jingoism, materialism, and religiosity in powerful and effective ways. He even touches base with some of the great hurts in many people’s lives that are tied to religion. Yet, since t...more
I won this book from GoodReads.
This book is a collection of short stories, reflections on life, essays, and quotes. It reads like a reference book, and it even has an index.
I read this book realizing that I wasn't grasping every concept, but I do have enough intelligence to know that this collection from a Trappist Monk is a work of wonder, with a keen incite of the world around him. The troubles that he wrote about are from the sixties, and are the same or similar troubles we face today.
Do y...more
Though not a Catholic, I've always retained an interest in the Mass. Usually at least once a year, on no particular Sunday, I'll go to a Roman Catholic service. More generally, I enjoy the exercise of exploring different faith perspectives. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, by the late writer and monk Thomas Merton, has been a worthwhile opportunity to do that.

Merton's book, a collection of notes, reflections, and arguments, charts a thoughtful course through the early 60s. From his cloistered...more
Apr 20, 2011 Diane added it
Trying to read this but might not make it. Merton's an insider talking to his particular issue/vocabulary/concern-defining group and I'm not sure I'm curious enough to keep peering through the murky windows as an outsider. Guess I'm more interested in the idea of him than in all his writings writings writings (of which there are quite a lot!) Really like the title tho - it's what drew me in.

I've decided to buy my own copy of this book, which has many wonderful gems tucked into the matrix of his...more
This is a collection of Merton's more public journal entries from the early 60s. Some of them are dated and wordy, but there is always the next page and mostly the entries reveal wonderful insights for the time and for today. I picked it up to reread it thinking about it historically - for an insight into the events of the sixties, civil rights, the Cold War, religious thought of the time. And Merton provides that, but his thought requires more than just historical engagement, it really is exist...more
The themes are varied - but most of the entries (probably taken from his journals)are efforts of Thomas Merton to explore the relation of faith and the world. He treats (and, at times, struggles with) war, racism, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Catholic Church. Some passages are gems. Though it covers the late fifties and early sixties it is generally not dated. Some of his remarks would be good sources of reflections for those struggling within the Catholic Church, but he will probably not make any...more
Although Merton prefaces the book by saying that this book is a random assortment of his journal entries and should be read as such, I was not expecting it to lack as much cohesion as it did. Many of his books seem to have this format, which I've grown accustomed to, but I just could not reconcile it as much in this. This made it hard to enjoy, and while there certainly are wonderful Merton nuggets in this work, it falls short because there also seems to be "filler"(for lack of a better word) wh...more
Jean Kelly
I found parts of this book entralling. It changed my mind about what monks are all about. He clearly saw himself as very much a part of this world and wrote of the troubles of the world with, I think, the hopes of bringing his faith into action. I did find though that I only absorbs a small percentage of his message because he quotes many authors unknown to me and leaves foreign phrases untranslated. His descriptions of the nature around him are really beautiful.
Merton was such a surprising monk -- cranky, earthy, impatient, but funny too, with a sharp and warm sense of humor. Even a monastery was too crowded and busy for him. The personality makes the metaphysical stuff easier to swallow, and now (hooray!) his meditations on a pointless war with no end in sight are once again timely.
Nicholas Whyte

I have long had a vague interest in Thomas Merton, who became a Trappist monk after a dissolute youth (part of which was spent studying at my own later stamping ground, Clare College, Cambridge), and so was looking forward to reading this collection of his writings from the early 1960s - not least because I have been uncomfortably aware that I have enjoyed reading atheist tracts (Lucretius, Russell) more than Christian apologetics in the last few years....more
Frank Hoppe
Not sure I'll make it to the end of this. So far, his insights haven't aged well over the years since this was written.

Update: I made it through the first 100 pages, but I'm done. For a "liberal," he comes off as very constipated. Since I'm not a fan of organized religion, most of his concerns were not my concerns. My nightstand is creaking with books awaiting my attention that seem more worthwhile to me. As a matter of fact, the rest of my house is filled with such books.
May 30, 2007 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: EVERONE
My God, what an amazing collection of writings! I absolutely love this book and thought that several of the entries by Merton convened wisdom. What's also great about it, too, is that because it's written in diary format, you can pick it up whenever you want for some enlightening reading.
At points this book is really revelation and epiphany - at others it is too esoteric for me. I would like to read it again someday, when I have time to savor and consider Merton's development and how he is like a prophet for us today in the post-modern world.
When I read Thomas Merton, I want to live a life of contemplation.

These short reflections by a Catholic monk are often making a case for social equality and responsibility as the obvious conclusion of Christian faith.
Really great Lenten read. Some reflections were out of this world good, some I probably would have liked if I knew the different philosophers or theologians he was referring to. Highly recommend it.
I wish I had read more Merton before attempting this one. The sections are small and very manageable, but that force a lot of breaks which inhibits the flow of the work.
sadly, pretty much every thought he had about racism, the arms race, the culpability of everyday americans, and the confusion between faith and inaction, holds true today.
Written in the shadow of the cold war and the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the underlying themes are very much relevant. This book is timeless.
This book is incredible. A truly independent mind working through some of the most difficult questions of modernity.
Mar 29, 2010 Lauren marked it as to-read
Shelves: i-won-this-book, own
I won this book through Goodreads! I am so excited to receive it and get started!
maybe the best book i've read this year!
Incredibly insightful.
Liza Miller
Liza Miller marked it as to-read
Sep 08, 2014
Corri added it
Sep 05, 2014
Dixie Diamond
Dixie Diamond marked it as to-read
Aug 28, 2014
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Aug 27, 2014
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Aug 23, 2014
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Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int...more
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“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” 7 likes
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely ... I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is every- where.” 3 likes
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