When my older brother, Steve, spoke at my oldest brother Tom’s funeral, he said that Tom (9 years older than me) had introduced him to the work of Thomas Merton as an eighth grader. Tom was a poet and quiet intellectual, and he and I, even without the age difference, did not have much in common. Merton was just a name to me. I knew such a person existed, but had no interest in him. Religious thinkers have never had any appeal for me. It wasn’t until I read James Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, that I caught a better glimpse of Merton and wondered about my older brother, wishing perhaps that I had known him better.
Here’s the Merton money quote from the introduction to Unspeakable:
“I have little confidence in [John F.] Kennedy, I think he cannot fully measure up to the magnitude of his task, and lacks creative imagination and the deeper kind of sensitivity that is needed. Too much from the Time and Life mentality, than which I can imagine nothing further, in reality, from, say, Lincoln. What is needed is really not shrewdness or craft, but what politicians don’t have: depth, humanity and a certain totality of self-forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals but for man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe Kennedy will break through into that someday by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination.”
This was written in January of 1962.