Next to CS Lewis, the monk Thomas Merton (1915–1968) might have been the most influential Christian in the West during his lifetime. Best known for his powerful autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton was a Trappist monk, writer, social activist, and contemplative Christian. Here he contrasts two ways of living Christianly. The exterior or external self is a life of self-impersonation, superficiality, alienation, conformity, indulgence, and narcissism: “Reflect, sometimes, on the disquieting fact that most of your statements of opinions, tastes, deeds, desires, hopes and fears are statements about someone who is not really present. When you say ‘I think,’ it is often not you who think, but they — it is the anonymous authority of the collectivity speaking through your mask. When you say ‘I want,’ you are sometimes simply making an automatic gesture of accepting, paying for, what has been forced upon you. That is to say, you reach out for what you have been made to want.” In contrast, and this is the positive theme of the entire book, is the life of what the Apostle Paul called the “inner man,” and other Christians throughout the last two millennia the way of illumination, the way of the heart, or contemplation.
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