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A Conversation About Technology & Thomas Merton with The Cardijn Methods

“Technology is not in itself opposed to spirituality and to religion. But it presents a great temptation.” ~ Thomas Merton

A Conversation About Technology & Thomas Merton with The Cardijn Methods 

Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, and social activist, profoundly impacted societal change through his advocacy for peace and social justice. Merton's engagement with various political and social movements of change and critique highlighted the intersection of spirituality and activism.

His work also addressed urgent issues such as racial justice, war, nonviolence, and the broader challenges of social justice.

Enter Stage Right:

Merton's vision was to encounter the world, our neighbors, and ourselves in a spirit of contemplation and openness, fostering community, interfaith encounters, and just living. His mission was to inspire others to build knowledge, cultivate contemplative awareness, and encourage exploration of his life and thoughts.

Through his example, Merton demonstrated that contemplative life could be a form of countercultural solidarity with those striving for social justice and transformation. 

His legacy continues to inspire individuals and communities seeking to impact society positively.

"Now, the function of the word is to designate the machine first. Then what the machine produces, Then what the machine destroys." ~ The Strange Islands is a collection of poems by Thomas Merton

Enter Stage Left:

While he didn't explicitly discuss "emerging technology," especially what we think of today as Artificial Intelligence, as a concept, his ideas, writings, words, and talks can be applied to understanding societal shifts and transformations. We call this Socio-Technical Phase Change, and Merton expressed an unease about the impact of new technologies on society. Merton engaged with thinkers who discussed the effects of cybernetics and other technological developments. Merton's reflections on the machine age and its consequences remain relevant today.

Thomas Merton believed that people are ruled by their weaknesses and the prejudices of others who are more frustrated or guilty than themselves. He also said that people let others rule them and excuse their cowardice by being driven to violence under the obedience of tyrants. Merton believed that people should include ecology within their understanding of justice and that human participation in creation or nature through technology should unite wisdom and service to the whole order of nature.

"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." ~Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

One of Merton's key insights is the interconnectedness of the individual and society and the relationship between spirituality and social issues. He believed that true spiritual awakening leads to a deeper understanding of social justice and the interconnectedness of all humanity.

In the context of societal phase change, Merton's writings suggest that periods of significant societal transformation often coincide with spiritual awakenings or shifts in consciousness. He might argue that as individuals undergo personal transformations in their spiritual lives, they can contribute to more considerable societal changes.

"He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas."― Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master, The Essential Writings.

Merton's "contemplation in action" concept emphasizes integrating contemplative practices with engagement in the world. This approach suggests that spiritually grounded individuals can effect positive societal change by living out their values and principles in everyday actions.

Moreover, Merton's emphasis on dialogue and understanding across different faith traditions and cultures is relevant to navigating periods of societal change, where diverse perspectives and voices need to be heard and respected.

Center Stage:

Merton grappled with technology's implications during the 1960s. His reflections offer valuable insights into our relationship with technological advancements.

Merton recognized that technology had far-reaching consequences for society. Using the See-Judge-Act method, let's take a look at some critical aspects of Merton's perspective:

1. SEE The Triple Revolution: In 1964, Merton encountered a pamphlet titled "The Triple Revolution." Think of these in terms of what we now experience with AI. Using Merton's thinking and the SJA methods, This document highlighted three critical shifts upon which we should employ the art of Judging/Discernment:

  • Cybernetics: The rise of computer technology and its impact on communication and control systems.

  • New Weapons: The development of destructive weaponry capable of obliterating civilization.

  • Human Rights: The universal demand for full human rights. Merton saw these revolutions as symptoms of a deeper ailment—the distortion of our true humanity due to technology's unchecked influence.

2. SEE Technology as Distortion: Merton believed technology distorts our humanity when left unchecked. Judging/Discernment: It led to a disconnect from wisdom, love, and justice. Instead of enhancing life, technology risked dehumanizing us.

3. SEE Nature and Unintended Consequences: Merton expressed concern about technology altering the natural environment without due regard for unintended consequences. Judging/Discernment: He saw a need for criteria to evaluate and control technology.

4. SEE Spiritual Resistance: Merton advocated developing a spirituality that could resist negative technological impacts. Judging/Discernment: He urged people to live out Gospel principles, emphasizing the importance of the person, wisdom, and love.

In summary, Thomas Merton's views on technology serve as a timely reminder to critically examine our relationship with technological advancements and their effects on humanity. The Autonomous Revolution is upon us, moving at warp speed. 

The time has come to act. 

"Why Some Look Up to Planets and Heroes" ~ a Poem by Merton

"Brooding and seated at the summit Of a well-engineered explosion, He prepared his thoughts for fireflies and warnings... Until, at last, the shy American smiles, Colliding once again with air, fire, and lenses To stand on noisy earth And engineer consent. Consent to what? Nobody knows what engine will next dig the moon, what costly uncles stand on Mars, what device will fill the air with bumping dollars, or lay out the low-down number of some. Day What day? May we consent? Consent to what? Nobody knows. Yet the computers are convinced Fed full of numbers by True Believers."

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