Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The REAL Tragedy of Thomas Merton-Part Two

37:00 Here, Dr. Von Hildebrand begins to quote the eminent psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Zilboorg who basically tore Merton to shreds, not in a loving nurturing way as most would do as a mental health professional, but as a personal attack. Some of the many things Dr. Zilboorg said were:
"You like to be famous, you want to be a big shot, you keep pushing your way out - into publicity - meglomania and narcissism are your big trends."
"Your hermit trend is pathological."
"You want a hermitage in Times Square with a large sign over it saying 'HERMIT.' many psychiatric sessions did Merton and Zilboorg have that allowed Zilboorg to come to these conclusions? None. According to Mott, "In New York, Zilboorg said he already analyzed Merton from his published writings. He felt confident he knew what the trouble was" (p. 291-292). You see, Merton was interested in psychoanalysis and was involved in the writing of a paper called "Neurosis in the Monastic Life." Dr. Zilboorg was not impressed with the paper and clearly expressed his agenda. Could he possibly have decided in advance to tear down a potential rival? After all, Zilboorg was just gaining popularity at the time, but Merton had an international reputation and would be read more quickly then Zilboorg. Mott says, "The psychologist was certainly out to quash the publication of "Neurosis in the Monastic Life." "....there was a good deal of the rival writer in Zilboorg's attitude" (Mott 291). From the book "Frightful Stages:From the Primitive to the Therapeutic" article by Alexander Smith called "Burnt Offereings to Prometheus: The Consultation Meetings Between Thomas Merton and Gregory Zilboorg." page 45 "At the very least, Zilboorg appears to have been disturbed by Merton's interest in the eremitical life, perhaps even envious of Merton's blend of monastic life and reputation as a writer and monk." "At the very least Zilboorg presumed to enter into a relationship to which Merton had not fully agreed nor about which he was fully informed. Zilboorg appears to have been a victim of his own grandiosity in that he communicated a highly patronizing and "infallible" presence to the conditions of the consultation." (Smith 50). According to Michael Mott, "There is plenty of evidence that Gregory Zilboorg was in no state of objectivity when he went to St. John's" (to meet Merton). "His first concern was to deal with somebody he regarded as a dangerous quack." p. 291-292. Imagine anyone thinking that they can psychoanalyze someone only through their writings! This is appalling and most bizarre. By reading someone's words you might gain some insights and map out a potential psychoanalytic strategy, but it is most necessary to meet the person, and most of all to wait until that time to draw apparently irreversible conclusions!! Even the publisher Robert Giroux "was concerned that Zilboorg seemed to have some preconceptions about Merton even before the meeting at St. John's" (p. 291). Zilboorg also did a few things that were highly unorthodox and very unprofessional. He spoke to others about Merton in a professional way before even meeting him, stating psychologically what he thought Merton's problems were. And at their second meeting, he began to slice and dice Merton in front of his Abbott! Alexander Smith writes, "He then goes a step further and devalues and humiliates Merton. We do not know his internal reasons for doing so, but it does seem quite plausible that Zilboorg was defending himself against admiration and/or envy. Zilboorg appears over-taken by his own aggression, overwhelmed, having lost his capacity for objectivity and professional distance. Instead he created a dominant/submissive relational tone which later shut down Merton to future contacts" (Smith 51) I know of no one in this world who would take too kindly to a well known psychiatrist expounding on what he considers your faults in front of your superiors. A first year psychology student would have that insight. That is where Merton lost it. Maybe it was a bit of immaturity, but perhaps it was a completely honest reaction to a most bizarre situation. Dr. Von Hildebrand describes this moment as one it which Merton “throws a tantrum and cries like a baby.” I suppose if she would like to see this as a “tantrum,” that is her business. He did lose his composure, and was embarrassed that his psychological state was being broadcast to another person in his presence. This does not sound like a "tantrum" to me, but of course Von Hildebrand appears to be looking for any kind of ammunition to have Merton emasculated. She enjoys using words that you would use with a child to convey her view of Merton's vulnerability. Her ability to empathize leaves much to be desired. Now that she has established that Merton "cried like a baby," it is very interesting to me that she ignores what Merton says about Zilboorg after the initial shock of Merton's "humiliations." If Merton were truly "humiliated" by Zilboorg, what are the chances that he would expound on the greatness of Zilboorg? You see, Merton was deeply affected by Zilboorg's and his crass analysis. But after the first meeting with Zilboorg, Merton writes, "As for my own peronal problems - clearly Zilboorg is the first one who has really shown conclusively that he knows exactly what is cooking....." (Mott 296). So, Merton allows Zilboorgs
words to filter through as it were and make them his own. Hardly someone who is trying to ignore Zilboorgs insights. How about Merton's reaction after the second interview where he was humiliated again by Zilboorg. Mott writes "Merton continues to express admiration for Zilboorg to others" (298).

40:46 "And had become a close friend of the psychoanalyst who had given him the keys to his office. And one day he made a rendezvous with a young girl in his office when the psychoanalyst was on call and he broke his vow of chastity."
There have been many allegations regarding this event and I'm not saying that Merton did not break his vow of chastity. I don't know, and unless Von Hildebrand comes up with incontrovertible evidence, I would think that as a Christian she would err on the side of caution. But Von Hildebrand never uses words of qualification in her lecture, but dogmatically states what she believes to be true, whether it is true or not. Here is the account as stated by Mott on page 444. After Wygal (Merton's psychiatrist) found out that Merton used his office to meet the young nurse, he rightly was upset. "This time there were no evasions or half-statements. Merton wrote an account on Sunday which made it quite clear he was in trouble with his vow, and he confirms this later. On Saturday, returning to Gethsemani, he went to find his confessor." Now, what is the definition of chastity: Chastity - the state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or esp. from all, sexual intercourse : vows of chastity. Once again, I'm NOT saying that Merton did not break his vow, but the words used by him and by others betray an absolute ruling on this. As he says above "made it quite clear he was in trouble with his vow." There is a big difference in saying "in trouble with his vow," and "broke his vow." Afterwards, Merton said of the situation that is was getting "potentially out of hand." Breaking your vow of Chastity is not "potentially out of hand," it IS out of hand. So, I'm not sure, perhaps he broke his vow, perhaps he came close. Either way to my mind, Merton flirted with absolute disaster! If anyone has concrete evidence that sexual intercourse took place with the young nurse I will stand corrected. Now, let's continue this with the assumption and the possiblity that he DID have sexual intercourse with the young lady. What was it that he immediately did? He confessed it! Yes, that power that was given to the apostles which confer on them and their successors the ability to forgive sins. If the confession was a valid one, and if Merton was truly repentant and contrite then he was forgiven. If God forgave him for the possibility of this very grave mortal sin, maybe we should try and do the same. My problem with Von Hildebrand is that she almost sounds ecstatic that this may have occurred and almost glows with delight that she could now consider him a sinner.

47:24 "And one very fine day, he just decided he had to go to the Orient truly get a sort of first hand idea of what Oriental spirituality was like. And he insisted and insisted until finally his Abbott gave him permission to travel."
Once again, Von Hildebrand wants to make it sound like it was an impetuous thing that Merton woke up one morning and decided to go to the Orient. As she herself states he had been interested in Oriental mysticism since his young adulthood. Also, Merton was well versed in the writings of the Orient and hardly needed to go there to "get a sort of first hand idea of what Oriental spirituality was like." He had been authoring books and was in contact with many mystics from the East. Von Hildebrand continually uses this same line of reasoning....that Merton insists and insists until he gets what he wants. This is of course partly can read this in many places in his journals. How do we know this? We know this because Merton is always brutally honest, and one can’t help but wonder what would be known about most people who spent as much time as Merton baring his soul in print? What would Dr. Von Hildebrand’s brutally honest journal say about her. And then, put that on bookshelves all over the world. Now, my problem with this is that does Von Hildebrand have any respect for Merton's superiors? If I were the Abbott and thought that something was wrong for one of my monks to do, he could ask a million times and the answer would be no. So, if Merton came to me as Abbott and I knew that going to the Orient would be a problem for Merton’s soul...the answer would be a firm no - everytime he asked. Even if Merton did pester his Abbott, is Von Hildebrand insinuating that the Abbott was so immature and spineless that he could not say no to Merton. I highly doubt it. Therefore Von Hildebrand is suggesting that Father Ford was wrong, the Abbot that accepted Merton as a novice was wrong, the Abbott that couldn't say no to Merton was wrong, Danny Walsh was wrong, the thousands of people who Merton has influenced are wrong.....but she is right.

53:11 "He became a teacher. He became so famous that hundreds of people came to him for advice, and all of a sudden he saw that he was capable of given spiritual advice not realizing that you can only give spiritual guidance when you yourself have worked on your own perfection."
I wish I knew what Von Hildebrand thinks is happening each and every day. People teach others. For them to wait for perfection first, would mean that no one would ever be a teacher and no one would dare to advise another for fear that he was "not perfect yet." Von Hildebrand is instructing us through this lecture. Is she the only one who is perfect enough to do this?

No comments: