Change in American Social Values in Thomas Merton's Rain and the Rhinoceros and Fire Watch

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A query from Thomas Merton: “Can’t I just be in the woods without any special reason?” (TMSM, 391). The question returns with each reading of Merton’s earlier works. And, the commonplace response of the newly introduced student to Merton comes not from the Trappist Monk, but from Dorothee Soelle in her book Theology for Skeptics: Reflections on God: “But must we really speak in this way?” (Sölle, 15). No doubt the gifted theologian realizes the truth in this hypothetical Socratic dialogue; even the most humdrum reader, too, should find the words contradictory but necessary. Indeed, Merton asked his rhetorical question in “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” an essay written in response to the changing of American (and International) social values, …show more content…
A query from Thomas Merton: “Can’t I just be in the woods without any special reason?” (TMSM, 391). The question returns with each reading of Merton’s earlier works. And, the commonplace response of the newly introduced student to Merton comes not from the Trappist Monk, but from Dorothee Soelle in her book Theology for Skeptics: Reflections on God: “But must we really speak in this way?” (Sölle, 15). No doubt the gifted theologian realizes the truth in this hypothetical Socratic dialogue; even the most humdrum reader, too, should find the words contradictory but necessary. Indeed, Merton asked his rhetorical question in “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” an essay written in response to the changing of American (and International) social values, but the plea could have just as easily been referring to his will to escape in late youth. There is, without a doubt, more seriousness in his desire to escape without special reason than first meets the eye. Within the temporal order—for lack of a better term—of modernism, the ultimate cri de coeur was “Make it new.” With that being said, consider the following: “While Merton continued to teach the way of nonviolence, he wrote about other subjects as well, addressing questions of belief and unbelief, exploring religions of the East, making the case for monastic renewal, reflecting on the challenges of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, and promoting contemplation within a world of action” (TMEW, 28). Here was a man focused on

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