Merton and the Gap

Tweet Reddit Share

Politics in the Existential Gap

I wrote yesterday that it’s often best to do nothing. In response to a problem (whether it’s COVID or an invasion by Napoleon), it’s a good idea to take a passive approach, setting aside yourself and letting thing settle and sort themselves out, with you inserting yourself as little as possible.

Such an approach works because, in the “act” of taking a passive approach (letting go of the object) and setting aside yourself (the subject), you enter the Existential Gap. The Existential Gap “is a thing” (that pop phrase today is probably the best way to describe it, but it’s known as many other things, including the “Way of the Tao”). Because “it’s a thing,” we need to get in touch with it, but without trying to get in touch with it.

There are types of people who spend a lot of time in the Existential Gap. Among them, the monks, so I concluded the essay with a suggestion that politicians consult with monks more often.

Like Thomas Merton, you might snark?

Merton was a splendid writer with a lot of insight into the Existential Gap in the 1950s. Merton went off the rails in the 1960s, becoming the “hippy hermit” and infatuated with Bob Dylan music (not a sin, but unbecoming for a monk), drinking whisky (in his defense: his hermitage sat on the Bourbon Trail, in the heart of bouron country), acquiring a girlfriend of sorts, and becoming extremely political, embracing every left-wing cause out there, from ecological warfare to anti-Vietnam protests.

Needless to say, every monk is not worth consulting, and by the 1960s, Merton wasn’t worth consulting if you sought guidance from a man walking in the Existential Gap.

I think I know why Merton went off the rails and left the Existential Gap. It’s because he was an artist by temperament, and artists are natural Gnostics for reasons I can’t explain here (but plan on explaining later this week).

For now, it’s sufficient to note that, even for a monk, the world of subject-object can overpower the Existential Gap. How can you tell if a monk has left the Existential Gap? Well, you can consult with a monk who hasn’t. If you can’t find such a monk, you can try looking for signs.

The most telling sign? Involvement in politics. Politics is the most sordid, nasty, and frenzied arena in the subject-object world (well, short of crime). I don’t care if you’re a conservative or a liberal, if a “holy man” is getting involved in politics, you can assume he has left the Existential Gap. It doesn’t mean his political views are good or bad. It just means they’re not informed by a person living in the Gap or that the person’s existence in the Gap has been overpowered by the subject-object.