Thomas Merton on Lake Tahoe

I’m currently rereading Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton. He’s talking about wilderness, and how our relationship to it has changed. It kind of resonated with my current surroundings:

Man no longer needs god, and he can live in the desert on his own resources. He can build there his fantastic, protected cities of withdrawal and experimentation and vice. The glittering towns tat spring up overnight in the desert are no longer images of the City of God…they are brilliant and sordid smiles of the devil upon the face of the wilderness, cities of secrecy where each man spies on his brother, cities through whose veins money runs like artificial blood, and from whose womb will come the last and greatest instrument of destruction.

That’s pretty heavy, I suppose, but I have no doubt that he was talking about Las Vegas (and, perhaps, Los Alamos). He goes on later to say “our senses are dulled by inordinate pleasure”. I’m not sure about that, but it certainly has a certain meaning as I walked through a casino.


  1. I get an exhilaration walking through places such as Las Vegas (or at least Reno and Disneyland, where I’ve actually been). They’re not of me, but they’re exciting and grand, a little like the Vatican. Would Thomas Merton tear them down? What would bring a smile to his face? Austerity and privation? I mean the Grand Canyon during sunset has a certain tackiness. The Taj Mahal, too. What would Merton (and by extension, you) put there instead?

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