Shortly after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, her iconic book that is credited with launching the environmental movement, Catholic monk Thomas Merton responded thus:
I have been shocked at a notice of a new book, by Rachel Carson, on what is happening to birds as a result of the indiscriminate use of poisons (which do not manage to kill all the insects they intend to kill). Some will say: you worry about birds: why not worry about people? I worry about both birds and people. We are in the world and part of it and we are destroying everything because we are destroying ourselves, spiritually, morally and in every way. It is all part of the same sickness, and it all hangs together.
The immediate response to Carson’s book had been fiercely negative from many scientists, corporations, media moguls and others. Merton scholar Monica Weis wrote: Carson’s writing and scientific career seemed to be at an end. Targeted in a vicious and financially underwritten campaign to discredit her scientific integrity, Carson was vilified as a ‘hysterical female,’ a ‘pseudo-scientist,’ ‘probably a communist,’ a ‘bird and bunny lover,’ and a charlatan researcher.
In a two page letter on January 12, 1963 Merton thanks Carson for her awareness of the “interdependence” of all things and tells her that thanks to her study DDT will no longer be employed at the monastery. He elaborates on the “sickness” that he alluded to in his journal above. “I would almost dare to say that the sickness is perhaps a very real and very dreadful hatred of life.”
This resonates for me with poet Adrienne Rich’s observation that Patriarchy carries a “fatalistic self-hatred” within them—and therefore within cultural institutions.
Many mystics whom Merton knew well—Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart to name a few—talk about God as “Life.” Is a dreadful hatred of life also a dreadful hatred of God? Sentimental talk about God ceases in this context.
Weiss tells us that January 12 marked a turning point in the ecological consciousness of Thomas Merton—a day of revelation and revolution, when a significant spiritual insight effected a dramatic and permanent change in his attitude and behavior.
She calls Merton’s reading of Silent Spring “an epiphanic event akin to other well-known and powerful moments of spiritual insight in his life.”*
*Monica Weis, The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), pp. 12,11, 16, 9f.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 118-120.
To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you detect a “hatred of life” behind denial of and refusal to act on climate change? Is this necrophilia at play?
A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.