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Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  406 Ratings  ·  26 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
ebook, 243 pages
Published November 17th 2009 by Image (first published January 1st 1966)
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Jan 20, 2012 Johnny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: devotional, theology
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
Feb 11, 2010 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
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
Feb 28, 2010 Jake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
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
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
May 06, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 02, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 08, 2009 J.D. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 10, 2008 Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Geoff Glenister
Jan 01, 2016 Geoff Glenister rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are sections of this that contain some of the most brilliant thoughts I have read anywhere. Merton sees with such clarity and pierces right to the hearts of matters in these sections. The book as a whole, however, is more of a journal, and is thus a bit scatterbrained. Despite this, everyone should read this book. Merton's revelation of the problems his society faced are still completely relevant today.
Bishop Bergland
Jun 03, 2015 Bishop Bergland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
I have seen reviews of this book that say it is dated. The sad truth is that it really isn't. While we still aren't fighting in Vietnam, we haven't learned it's lessons and so Merton's Vietnam comments can equally be applied to our wars in the Middle East today. We still have not resolved civil rights in America, and though we aren't on the brink of a hot war with the Soviet Union today, there are hundreds of nuclear weapons unaccounted for which makes that issue timely as well. This book stands ...more
Nov 12, 2015 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this author after Pope Francis mentioned him. I may be forgetting some of the philosophical discussions I had when younger, but I am surprised that I had neither heard of nor read Merton during the sixties. This book was both easy to read, and difficult. It made me think and look at myself and retread passages--not a quick read for me, but an enlightening one.
Frank Hoppe
Jun 11, 2014 Frank Hoppe rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
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.
Dec 25, 2014 Renee marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I tried to read this but it is not a book you can just pick up and read. It is a scattered journal of thoughts with a high degree of religion - yes I know that's his thing but it was hard for me to consume. Although there is real wisdom in some of what I read that made me think that slowly picking at this book might be a worthwhile activity but not for me. Not now.
May 30, 2007 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 03, 2007 Melinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 02, 2013 Jaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 17, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 21, 2007 Will rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, i-won-this-book
I won this book through Goodreads! I am so excited to receive it and get started!
Oct 26, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
maybe the best book i've read this year!
Larry Hansen
Sep 10, 2013 Larry Hansen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious
Incredibly insightful.
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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.” 21 likes
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
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