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Merton~ Cardijn~See-Judge-Act & Technology

Thomas Merton and Joseph Cardijn approached technology as inherently neutral.

Keep in mind the Sitz im Leben. Fifty-six years after his death, we find ourselves in a new era of autonomous technology. The ship has sailed, if you didn’t notice. Yet, we can draw a hermeneutic from his writings that address our era. His writings speak to a new autonomous revolution in many ways, as his words spoke of the industrial revolution in which he lived.

In our world of autonomous technology that will only grow and permeate our lives, we need to understand what it means to apply the Exegesis and Hermeneutic tools to the writing of Merton. But first, we need to understand the technology. To understand the difference technology makes in being human and the difference between humans and artificial intelligence and what that means if we believe we are made in the image of God.

As a Praxis theologian, Merton and Cardijn are probably not the first combination that comes to mind when considering technology. Yet, when we read Merton, especially his writing during the 1960s, we can see similar threads of thinking that we discover in the work of Joseph Cardijn. They both bring their teachings of what it is to be a Christian and live a Christian life. Technology is all about societal change, and historically, we can see the cause/effect of technology on the practice of theology.

How religion adapts to the technology of the situation in time, and we see this in the work of Cardijn in the early twentieth century with workers and students.

I want to suggest that this understanding is foundational to see how to apply the thinking and principles both men demonstrate for us in their work and writings and how we should view it in our world of a new and emerging technology, which can only be understood in the light of the gospels and the writings of Paul.

It assumes and strengthens the argument that Merton and Cardijn were theologians and not just spiritual writers, and the focus of much of their lives and work was centered on what we call PRAXIS. Merton brings together a focus on experience with a theological search that draws on the Scriptures that saturate the monastic life and can be applied to our lives, as does Cardijn when we study the purpose of Catholic Social Teachings. Both men had a complex and nuanced view of technology, with critical and hopeful perspectives. Here are some key points to consider:


  1. Depersonalization and collectivization: Merton and Cardijn worried that technology, as they saw it during their lives, was about emphasizing efficiency and productivity at the cost of human beings, which could lead to the loss of individual identity and genuine community. Both believed it created a depersonalized “collectivity” that offered a false sense of empowerment and fulfillment. Both saw the effects of technology in the hands of people who desired and sought after wealth, power, and prestige.

  2. Ethos of expediency: Both argued that technology often follows an “ethic of expediency,” prioritizing efficiency and progress even if it comes at the cost of human dignity, environmental destruction, or ethical considerations. Both lamented the disregard for long-term consequences and the focus on immediate gain.

  3. Spiritual impoverishment: Both expressed concern that technology could distract from contemplation and spirituality, the foundation of religion and praxis. Both felt the constant busyness and stimulation of the technological world made it difficult to experience silence, solitude, and connection to the divine. Do we experience this in our lives today?


  1. Neutral potential: Unlike some technology critics, Merton and Cardijn didn’t see technology as inherently good or evil. They believed it was a tool that could be used for both positive and negative purposes, depending on human intention and choices. This is where we need to focus.

  2. Possibility for liberation: Both saw the potential for technology to be used for good, such as promoting communication, understanding, and solving global problems. Both envisioned it as a tool for social justice and environmental protection. Reflect on the technology of their day and do not compare their writings as if they were aware of what we know today, but study what they saw as the patterns. The key is always to understand the patterns of their situation in time to map to our situation in time.

  3. Need for discernment: Both men, especially Merton, emphasized the importance of critical reflection and discernment when interacting with technology. He called for conscious choices about how and when to use technology, ensuring it served human values and spiritual well-being.

Key takeaway:

Both men’s view on technology was a complex condemnation. Both acknowledged its dangers and pitfalls and believed in its potential for good. Their main message was for conscious and critical engagement with technology, prioritizing human values, spirituality, and ethical considerations over blind efficiency and progress.


Here are some resources for further exploration of Merton’s views on technology and Cardijn and the Documents of Vatican II:

  1. “What the Machine Produces and What the Machine Destroys” by Paul R. Dekar (You can find the article on my website under downloads.)

  2. “Technological Perspectives: Thomas Merton and the One-Eyed Giant” by John Wu, Jr (You can find the article on my website under downloads.)

  3. “Can One be a Contemplative in a Technological Society?” by William Shannon (You can find the article on my website under downloads.)

  4. Dust off that copy on the shelf of the Documents of Vatican II, especially Gaudium et Spes, the landmark of Catholic social teaching, that has wide-ranging cause/effect where Joseph Cardijn was the most instrumental influence.

This gives you a good starting point for understanding Thomas Merton’s and Joseph Cardijn’s complex and insightful perspectives on technology.

We are in the new world of the Autonomous Revolution, a new era for humans to decide and thrive. We have the history of the last two revolutions to see the patterns, to judge the processes, and to act for the greater good.

The link to my website is 

This link is direct to the downloads:

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