Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Masks Are Not Our Reality

Ann Arbor store

What sort of wisdom could come from a person dedicated to dwelling in God's presence, from someone not captured by the idols of technology and media? Thomas Merton, for myself and many others, serves as an example. Merton never watched television! What could he have to tell us?

The answer is: prophetic words of ontological realities. One ever-relevant Merton-theme is the stripping away of the false self, accomplished by God, in God's presence. He writes:

"If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities - "selves," that is to say, regarded as objects. Selves that can stand back and see themselves having fun (an illusion which reassures them that they are real)." (Merton, Raids On the Unspeakable, 15)

Merton published Raids in 1965. That's 50 years ago. He discerned the creeping shallowness of American culture. Were he alive today he would see the same, only multiplied, magnified, and glorified. 

The American social milieu profits on sustaining hypocrisy. A "hypocrite" (Greek ὑποκρίτης) is: an "actor," a "mask-wearer." We are a world of false personas who don't merely hide behind our culturally constructed masks but who have come to believe that our masks are our reality. Halloween, our preferred holy day, has become every day.