DO WE LIVE in a post-Christian era? Catholic monk Thomas Merton thought so, back in 1962, when his anti-war book Peace in the Post-Christian Era was banned by monastic censors.
He would surely come to the same conclusion today, when we hear a pulpit Christianity still identified with war and nationalism and listen in shock to a new U.S. president woefully ignorant of the peril of nuclear war. Our deeply divided nation holds scant promise for peace in our streets or in the world, despite the growing chorus of Christian peacemakers.
This new book by Jim Forest adds both deep compassion and timely advice to that chorus. The wise words of Merton, who served unofficially as “pastor to the peace movement” during the Vietnam War, are needed now more than ever. Clearly titled chapters quote from Merton’s published writing as well as his letters to Forest and other peacemakers.
In October 1961, The Catholic Worker published Merton’s essay “The Root of War is Fear,” and Merton ran afoul of monastic censors. He was eventually silenced publicly but fortunately was allowed to circulate Peace in the Post-Christian Era in mimeographed form and to continue writing letters, although for several years everything passed through the censor’s hands. One of the delights of this book by Forest is the first publication of an uncensored and scathingly sardonic letter Merton wrote under the pseudonym “Marco J. Frisbee.”
It’s become a disturbing trend among Christians to lament the downfall of our nation’s “Christian identity” — to judge and criticize the spiritual downfall of the current generation. They boast about the glorious past and predict an apocalyptic demise for the future — brought on by the secularization and ethical demise of our society.
This attitude is based around a sense of fear, judgment, cynicism, fatalism, and hopelessness.
Many Christians today use the term “post-Christian” to describe the United States in conjunction with their assumptions that our nation is falling deeper and deeper into a moral decline, but this word presupposes that we were Christian to begin with. We weren’t.