A LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER, ROBERT ELLSBERG - August 2016
Goodness knows, the world is filled is with fear—much of it justified by actual events; a good deal of it fanned for political profit. Has it always been so? It is striking how often the words appear in the gospel, “Be not afraid!” I remember how Dorothy Day used to pray, “Lord, deliver us from the fear of our enemies”—and she would emphasize that the prayer was not that we be delivered from our enemies, but from the fear of them. In 1961 Thomas Merton wrote an essay for The Catholic Worker entitled “The Root of War is Fear,” which marked his first controversial entry into the subject of war and peace. The world at that time was very conscious of the threat of nuclear war. While Merton addressed this danger, his aim was to expose the perilous psychological mindset and spiritual illness that could lead supposedly sane and moral people to justify global destruction. More than fifty years later, that concern remains sadly relevant.
In The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemaking, Jim Forest, author of many Orbis books, traces Merton’s concern for peace, which runs like a thread throughout his life and writings. In addition to the spiritual void that justifies so much violence, Merton was also concerned about the spirituality of peacemaking. Much of this book draws on Merton’s letters to Jim, beginning in 1961 when Jim was editor of The Catholic Worker. The book ends with a particular letter that Merton sent him in 1966. (As it turns out, many years later, when I was a young editor of the Worker, I reprinted this piece as “Letter to a Young Activist,” the title by which it has become well known.) Merton begins, “Do not depend on the hope of results….” and ends with: “The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.”