Our Alienation from Ourselves

The world cannot be a problem to anyone who sees that ultimately Christ, the world, his brother and his own inmost ground are made one and the same in grace and redemptive love. If all the current talk about the world helps people to discover this, then it is fine. But if it produces nothing but a whole new divisive gamut of obligatory positions and “contemporary answers” we might as well forget it. The world itself is no problem, but we are a problem to ourselves because we are alienated from ourselves, and this alienation is due precisely to an inveterate habit of division by which we break reality into pieces and then wonder why, after we have manipulated the pieces until they fall apart, we find ourselves out of touch with life, with reality, with the world and most of all with ourselves.

Thomas Merton
“Is the World a Problem?” in Commonweal (1966)

I subscribe to “The Daily Asterisk”, a daily thought emailed out by the folks of Culture is Not an Option . I highly recommend joining this service — the quotes are quite thought provoking, and I’ve ended up reading two books from which they have quoted. Indeed, I’d love to join with someone in a regular discussion of some of these quotes.

This one today especially caught my attention and stands in stark contrast to one I read recently:

Since technology grows exponentially, not in a linear way, we will see dramatic improvements in our way of life in just a few years. Though it took us 4,000 years to get from the abacus to the iPad, in 20 years we will have something as far ahead of the iPad as it is ahead of the abacus. This means that soon we will be able to solve all problems that are fundamentally technical. These problems include disease, poverty, hunger, energy, and scarcity.

Byron Reese, Tech Entrepreneur
National Geographic Magazine, January, 2015

I reject the idea our core problems such as disease, poverty, hunger, energy, and scarcity are fundamentally technically. Rather, I stand with Thomas Merton that our problems arise because of our own alienation from ourselves, and because of our continued attempts to break reality into pieces believing we can then manipulate those pieces to create a new reality that can be bent to our will. The more I read of different religions and indigenous knowledges, the more I learn of wisdom that calls for a different way, a way that insists we recognize our singular wholeness with all that is around us. The world itself is no problem.

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