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Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Classics) Paperback

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Product Details

  • Series: Image Classics
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Image; Reissue edition (January 9, 1968)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385010184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385010184
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

In this series of notes, opinions, and reflections kept since 1956, Thomas Merton examines some of the most urgent moral issues of the modern era.

About the Author

THOMAS MERTON (1915-1968), Trappist monk, author, and peace activist, came to international prominence at a young age with his classic autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. Over the rest of his life he wrote prolifically on a vast range of topics, including prayer, interior growth, social responsibility, violence, and war. Toward the end of his life he played a significant role in introducing Eastern religions to the West. He is today regarded as a spiritual master, a brilliant religious writer, and a man who embodied the quest for God and human solidarity in the modern world.

More About the Author

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has millions of copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960's. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk's trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.

Customer Reviews

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The undersigned enjoyed this book which took time to read.
James E. Egolf
This book is a series of reflections on and examinations of topics ranging from the flora and fauna of Kentucky to studies of grammar by Cassiodorus.
Brad Shorr
It is my understanding that this book is typically Merton as it is very "deep" in content.
Mrs. C

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Brad Shorr on August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a series of reflections on and examinations of topics ranging from the flora and fauna of Kentucky to studies of grammar by Cassiodorus. This is a later work of Merton's, and what comes across more than anything is his all too human moodiness. At times he seems to despair of the human condition. But then a tremendous hope wells up in him as he sees Christianity reaching out in brotherhood to all men of all faiths and non-faiths. But regardless of his attitude, Merton, as always, maintains the highest standards for fidelity to one's self and to God. His rather caustic critiques of Western culture seem more true today than when he wrote them in the 1960's, as he exposes the moral rationalizations and spiritual hollowness that necessarily accompany a mass culture devoted to materialism and pragmatism. His understanding of the human condition is so clear and so true and so universal, that his writing seems to be speaking to each of us alone, much as a parent might speak to his child. And like a child, our first reaction to his challenging words might be resentment or denial, but in the end, if we reflect and examine, we begin to see his truth-that is, his pointing us to God. I imagine one of Merton's hopes in this book is to move us beyond words and arguments so we might dispense with temporal intellectual distractions and concentrate on what counts-personal salvation.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
CONJECTURES OF A GUILTY BYSTANDER is the second collection of brief reflections by Thomas Merton, a book which he called in his Preface "a personal vision of the world in the 1960s". The format of these reflections is quite reminiscent of the modern weblog, so consistency should not be expected. Some are evocative and interesting. Others are intensely personal and opaque, such as one that says only, "Every time Kennedy sneezes or blows his nose, an article is read about it in the refectory."
Some of this book is quaint and linked too much to the time of its writing. Merton's writes nearly vitriolic reflection on communism but does not foresee the rise of liberation theology in his own church. However, there are many other portions where the author moves beyond the context of his time. Merton's reflections on race-relations, for example, are unusually compassionate for a writer of his time, for he believes that African-Americans are blessed by God, who was bringing them in freedom from exile, slavery, and oppression like the Hebrews.
When I was younger and full of idealistic fire, having just left the Navy as a conscientious objector, I couldn't understand Merton. Here was a man who was full of zeal for the gospel, but who turned away from the community for a hermitage in rural Kentucky. From CONJECTURES, however, I can better appreciate this writer. Though he was alone, he has made a considerable contribution to society through books like these. Merton essentially wishes to make people live more authentically, to always be more conscious of Christ's social teaching and reject the false values of the world. Merton may have been a recluse, but if more people out and about in society read his writings, then the world would be a better place.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Patrick McCullough on May 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is Thomas Merton's response to the terror of the world around him, the world he had been raised into, and the world he sought to leave behind as a monk in the back corners of Kentucky. It is a collection of thoughts which had been developing in him from the very beginning of his life. He came to monastic life to retreat from the world. He came to find quiet. And yet he remained more connected to the outside world than most people within that world, and certainly more than anyone behind his monastic walls, even as he wrote and compiled Conjectures itself from his secluded hermitage.
This book is his reaction against the violent century which he was born into and which was born into him. He speaks against issues including such things as the true nature of the monastic relationship with the world (he calls "separation from the world" an illusion); unity/ecumenism; war & violence; false "truths" (particularly what he calls the American myth); technology versus nature, etc.
He calls himself a "bystander" relating to his aloofness as a monk. He calls himself "guilty" in relation to not living up to his responsibility for the outside world. As a monk, he calls himself a contemplative activist. As a collection of "conjectures," it is a compilation of thoughts or pensees grouped together loosely, only slightly tied together by five section titles. Because of this format it is not the easiest thing to read; it is helpful to read topically (a good guide for this can be found in Something of a Rebel by William Shannon). But I would say the experience is worth it. The book is deeply moving and convicting.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Tarbell on October 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
If you are new to Thomas Merton, do not read this book first. There is lots of great writing in this book, but it is not an easy read. Almost everything here is excerpts from his journals or notebooks. Thus much of the material is unpolished and undeveloped. Rarely does the author stay on a single topic for more than four or five pages, and the new topic is frequently completely different.

Nevertheless, Merton's brilliance does occasionally burst forth. A great example is "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 those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers...." which goes on for two pages, and is one of the finest descriptions of a mystical experience ever put down on paper. Because of passages such as this, I will never give up my personal copy of this book! The good writing is wonderful and, as a Merton fan for more than 20 years, I would not want to be without any of it. Yet, the best writing is mixed with other more ordinary, often repetitive, material. Probably because the book is not particularly well organized, there is no table of contents (although there is an index).

I read this book from cover to cover, rarely reading more than five or six pages during a sitting. It took me about six weeks. I recommend reading it the same way, cover to cover, so that none of the good material is missed. The book is best for people who have read other books by Thomas Merton. I recommend reading THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN, or NEW SEEDS OF CONTEMPLATION, or NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, or all three, or several others, before reading CONJECTURES.
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