The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Thomas Merton

Readings for August 2014

If I had to choose a theme for this month, it would be cloistered anarchic hacking.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain is the account of his conversion to Catholicism and call to his vocation in a Trappist Monastery. I had seen this work recommended by a number of my favorite authors, so I was keeping it on my mental "to read" list (which should probably be written, due to the failings of memory). Having read it, I can easily see the source for the affection which so many have for this writing.

Merton's style is excellent. He stretches the first twenty-eight years of his life past 400 pages, but it is kept engaging. I think my favorite feature of Merton's was to write mostly directly, but then to occasionally throw in the most whimsical observations. These were usually brief and sparse, and were used to great effect in my opinion.

The story is compelling as well. I found myself rooting for Merton. But what I think I liked best in this work was the look into monasticism. I had never known much about the cloistered life (and still don't, honestly), but The Seven Storey mountain paints a vivid picture of the appeal of monastic life. At times I found myself thinking - "What good are these monks? All they do is pray!" And then immediately felt silly. This precisely exposes the rift in worldview between monasticism and modernity. If you are interested in more, then it is certainly recommended.

That Holy Anarchist by Mark VanSteenwyk

After completing Merton's autobiography, with all of its Catholic orthodoxy, I felt compelled to mix things up and read from the radical side of the Christian spectrum. This began with a re-read of Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You (which is still on-going at the time of writing). However, whilst in the general neighborhood, I happened across Mark VanSteenwyk's That Holy Anarchist.

I was already familiar with Mark's work on the Jesus Radicals site and the Iconocast podcast. So when I came across this slim primer on Christian Anarchism, I was immediately interested.

First of all, in line with true anarchist principles, That Holy Anarchist is not protected by copyright and available on-line for free. So if you are interested by this review, there is nothing stopping you from reading the book (and buying it to share if you like).

I believe this is the best, most succinct primer on Christian anarchism which I have encountered thus far. It is not over-long (I read it in a single sitting), and not hard to understand. In addition to this, Mark avoids to the temptation to "theorize" Christian anarchism - he lays out the arguments but does not try to make an airtight case. In this way the book comes across more as food for thought than a forceful argument, which may be useful in attracting new readers to the philosophy.

I myself remain a Yoderian, so Mark didn't win me over. This work is recommended if you'd like to trouble your notions of Christianity and state power.


  • 2600 31:1 - I liked this issue of the hacker quarterly better than I did the other one I had read.

  • Harper's September 2014