Preeminently, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is a Catholic work in two regards. First, it bears the imprimatur of the Church and stands both as Merton’s reflections on the essence of its beliefs and as a reaffirmation of his own accepted faith in man’s need to transcend his delusive self-love and egotistical preoccupations and to devote himself to comprehending what is in the heart of Christ. Second, the work is catholic—universal, open-and broad-minded—in its ecumenical reach. Merton warmly acknowledges the perceptiveness and wisdom as well as the errors of good intention in writings that address the deep questions of human nature and the modern predicament. Notwithstanding his own critical reservations about the meanings such authorities placed upon their observations, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is organized as a series of implicit dialogues with these other minds. Some of them, such as Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are Protestant theologians; some, such as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and the Old Testament prophets, are Jewish; some, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Chuang-tzu, Confucius, and Mencius, represent various Oriental beliefs; others—Jacques Maritain, Louis Massignon, Cardinal John Henry Newman, and Saint Thomas Aquinas—are Catholic; and still others—Karl Marx, Lewis Mumford, Edmund Wilson, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre—are proclaimed secularists. In the somewhat episodic passages of the work, none of...
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