“First one must say ‘yes’ where one really can”

“I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further. So, too, with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc. This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot ‘affirm’ and ‘accept,’ but first one must say ‘yes’ where one really can. If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.” –Thomas Merton



  1. #1 by Steve on October 8, 2009 - 9:28 pm

    Okay, so you analyze other religions and make a list of the various ‘truths’ contained therein. Then what? I tried that blindly in my younger days and attempted to mash it together into a semi-coherent belief system. It didn’t stand up to the harsh realities of life very well.

    This is similar to the argument that since humans and chimps share 98% of their DNA it must be proof of a common ancestor. The relevant point is not the similarities between religions (or betwixt humans and chimps), but the differences. Why not start with the essentials and work from that point? Who do the various religions say Christ is? What is the nature of the relationship between deity and man? Is there such a relationship? If I need to rent a truck to move furniture, I don’t care if the stereo sounds nice. I just need to know the basics – will it fit all my stuff and what does it cost. Only the essentials are essential. Everything else is fluff.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on October 8, 2009 - 10:17 pm

      With all due respect, Steve, re-read what Merton wrote here. He is not espousing syncretism or relativism. However, the relevant points ARE the similarities that might exist between two or more religions. This is abundantly clear in how many Christians engage with Jews. There is value to their faith tradition.

      Why would non-Abrahamic religions have anything to say about who Christ was? Why would we assume that because the Abrahamic religions disagree on who Christ was that the rest of their theology is invalid. Certainly we do not always assume the invalidity of the Hebrew scriptures.

      It sounds as if you are promoting deconstruction here – only the essentials are essential – everything else is fluff. If Jesus tells us that all the Mosaic laws and all the Jewish prophets amount to one very simple idea that embraces love of God and love of fellow man- then is everything else fluff? If so, then when we concern ourselves with doctrine and orthodoxy and do not love God and others – we became buried in religious fluff.

      Seems pretty basic to me.

  2. #3 by Steve on October 8, 2009 - 10:41 pm

    I would say that truth – including the truth of who Christ is – is more important than superficial similarities. You can embrace the chimp as your brother but at the end of the day he’ll still fling poo at you.

    I can live at peace with my Muslim or Hindu or atheist neighbors, but still accept that they’re bound to hell without Christ, whether there are happy, comfy aspects to their beliefs or not.

    Merton’s point, as I read it, is that we are to respect other’s beliefs. I’m good with that. I think you occasionally miss the ‘There is much that one cannot ‘affirm’ and ‘accept’ part.

    • #4 by Christian Be on October 8, 2009 - 10:58 pm

      Not at all. I am a ‘Christian’ in that I have encountered God through Jesus and continue to do so. I think you might be missing the part where Merton says that if I continue to focus on where I am in disagreement rather than agreement that “in the end I will find there is not much left for me to affirm” as a Christian. I think you’ve made this obvious by your choice of wording: chimps flinging poo? This might undermine any of your claims of respecting their beliefs.

      Besides, if Christ came to fulfill all the law and the law is summed up by the golden axiom and other faiths also have this axiom are the similarities really that superficial?

      For example, I think we can say that the those aspects that were similar between America and Nazi Germany were very superficial, if tremendously abundant. We shared the same histories, the same cultures, the same arts, the same religion, the same Western standard of living. American soldiers had a greater affinity for Germans than any other people they encountered in Europe during the forties, including the British (according to Stephen Ambrose). But in the end these similarities were terribly superficial. At heart, the ‘truths’ that drove our societies could not have been more different.

      We do not need to accept or affirm their beliefs to respect them and actually live and work with them. As long as the truth at the heart of their faith is similar to ours and that is the truth that Jesus held up as being most important, we have common ground. And that’s a start.

      Now, of course I do not put much stock in the mythical place called “hell” but I do believe that there can be and is hell here on this earth and many Christians are living there and many Christians have put others there as well. Which is probably inevitable with a fear based theology.

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