Seven Storey Mountain is Thomas Merton’s autobiographical account of his increasing restlessness with a worldly life. He converts to Catholicism and eventually enters one of the most strict (the strictest?) Catholic orders: a Trappist monastery. What has fascinated me—and I’m not done with the book yet—is that his conversion is highly intellectual. He loves Catholic doctrine and the philosophy long before he changes the heavy drinking and carousing that marks his life as an undergraduate and graduate student at Cambridge and later Columbia.
After reading William Blake, for example, he comments that he became aware of the “dead, selfish rationalism which had been freezing [his] mind and will for the last seven years.” That author and others convinced Merton that “the only way to live was to live in a world that was charged with the presence and reality of God” (208). And yet he is quick to note that he doesn’t “want to say it in a way that conveys more than the truth” because his “intellectual realization” was far from “str[iking] down into the roots of [his] will” (209). It takes him quite awhile to decide he has to change his behavior.
While all of us probably understand that the “spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak,” Merton did not—at least at the time of his baptism—recognize the need for the flesh to act differently; his conversion was a thing of the mind.
In my limited experience, Merton’s is an unusual process and one not readily adapted to Mormonism. What is your take? I am trying to think of anyone I know who was converted intellectually to the doctrines of the Restoration before an emotional or spiritual or even social conversion. Even a conversion that relies mainly on doctrine seems to typically rely on an emotional response to a particular doctrine (ie, eternal family relationships). Not that there is anything wrong with that, in my opinion. I believe God will bring people to the gospel with whatever means appeal to them.
So those are my thoughts and questions: are people easily converted to the intellectual depths of LDS theology? (or is the conversion more emotional/spiritual/etc.?) Do we not have enough of a philosophy to attract minds like Merton’s? Oops. Let me rephrase that: what is the philosophical attraction of Mormonism for those of you who are brilliant like Merton?
[side note: Merton does have a brief—one sentence—run in with Mormonism; he reads “two pamphlets on the Mormons . . . but the story of the holy books discovered through revelation on a hill in upper New York State did not convince me and I was not converted” (128).]