19 Jan 2005

Martin Luther King

Howdy all, it’s been a while. I got it in my head a few weeks ago to start podcasting, and I had hoped it would have begun by now. Apparently, there are a few important things I didn’t know about audio. I shall share once I actually get it working.

I had wanted to write about Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, since my wife and I were lucky enough to have this Monday off in honor of it, but I was far too busy sleeping in and such. I felt it would be a good time to write a little something about him now.


When most people think of Martin Luther King Jr., the first words that enter their head tend to be “I have a dream”. Indeed, of most of the articles I read about him this weekend, there was not one that did not at least make reference to that phrase. His legacy as a civil rights leader is ingrained in us from middle school on, and even on the current INS immigration study test, the answer to the question “Who was Martin Luther King Jr.?” is : “a civil rights leader”.

I will only touch on this, since I don’t want to patronize many people who actually lived through this era, as I did not. However, for those of us who did not, or were there but do not know, I feel it is important to see King as a man and a leader, and not simply a sound bite. He was not just some feel-good moral leader, he was a radical and a pacifist. He studied the likes of Ghandi and conquered armies of hatred and oppression with compassion and non-violence.

I do not presume to be an expert on Dr. King, nor am I a pacifist, nor would most people probably consider me a radical. However, an honest discussion of Dr. King’s beliefs and message are worth having. The next time I get a day off of work to commemorate the life of a man who was powerful and influential not because of his money or social position or armies, but because he was a true man of God who lived for love and truth and to spread his message of peace, I will try to engage someone in real conversation about that. I ask you to do the same.

That conversation may well include topics and material from some of his more controversial speeches, like this one. Perhaps from it, we may draw parallels to our own time, and our own war :

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism"


Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

With all of this recent punditry talk of “moral values”, it is interesting to hear a man who is actually moral speak of values :

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word”.

What do you suppose Sean Hannity or Rush would have to say about Dr. King today? I may not agree with everything he says, and the reality of foreign policy may well be more nuanced and complicated than that, but to honestly listen to his message and consider it against our current options in the global community would pay far more respect to his life and his message than a day off of work.

I urge you to listen for yourself, share with your children, and discuss within your own house.

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