Illusions of Freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on Technology and the Human Condition

By Jeffrey M. Shaw

An illuminating comparison of two thinkers from different theological backgrounds and their critiques of the effect of technological progress on modern life.

ISBN: 9780718893620


Illusions of Freedom examines the opinions and ideas of two twentieth-century writers – Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk living in the United States, and Jacques Ellul, a member of the French Reformed Church. Although they were contemporaries, they never met or corresponded with each other, but their critique of the influence that technology was beginning to have on the human condition is strikingly similar. Both Merton and Ellul drew upon the ideas of others, including Karl Barth, Søren Kierkegaard, Aldous Huxley, and Karl Marx, in formulating their worldviews. Jeffrey M. Shaw examines the influence that these other philosophers had on Merton and Ellul as they formulated their own ideas on the impact of technology on freedom.

Tracing the similarities, and in some cases the differences, between their critiques of technology and the idea that progress is always to be seen as something inherently good, Illusions of Freedom brings a unique perspective to the debate and offers readers an alternative avenue for reflecting on the meaning of technology and its profound effect on our lives in the twenty-first century.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 206

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

Jeffrey M. Shaw is an adjunct professor in the General Studies Department at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. His publications are in the fields of ethics, theology, and national security.



1. Introduction
2. Merton and Ellul – Comparative Worldviews
3. Theological Perspective
4. Sociological Perspective
5. Political Perspective
6. Literature
7. Conclusion



Endorsements and Reviews

This book is an important contribution to understanding two sources of wisdom for our technological world, Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul. Shaw carefully parses how their visions often echo and complement one another. The book also contributes to unpacking how we can preserve our freedom when we are being seduced by the false technical ideals of efficiency, productivity, and utility. In sum, this book provides critical resources for preserving our full humanity.
Phillip M. Thompson, Aquinas Center of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

In Illusions of Freedom, Jeffrey Shaw presents his reader with a thorough and finely executed comparison of the intersections in the life and thought of Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on issues relating to technology and the human condition. Their insights and critique, though written decades ago, raise questions as applicable today as when they wrote them, perhaps even more.
Paul M. Pearson, Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY

This is a book that will prove valuable to those seeking to develop a theological ethics of theology.
Eric Stoddart, in The Merton Journal, Advent 2015, Vol 22, No 2

This is a clearly written, thoroughly researched and engaging account of what could be called theologies of technology.
David Lewin, in Theology, Vol 118, No 5

Its impressive scholarship, clarity of exposition, and, above all, its contemporary resonance should secure for this text a readship not just among theologians and sociologists but also among a general public beginning to question a thaumaturgical technology, which exacts a high price for its equivocal boons. I recommended it highly.
James M. Carr, in Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol 25, Issue 1