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January 19, 2010
Martin Luther King and Today
In 1963 Martin Luther King was sitting in a Birmingham, Alabama jail cell staring at a statement issued by other members of the Christian clergy who were pleading with King to exercise more restraint in his struggle against injustice. King's profound and poignant response to what he called his "Fellow Clergymen" is a masterpiece of erudition and classical understanding, as well as an illustration of his genuine love and appreciation for America's founding philosophy.
Properly considered, King's "Letter from a Birmingham City Jail" should serve more as a bucket of cold water rather than source of pride for many of those, both in academia and in politics, who will claim in speeches today and this week to have been touched and moved by King's vision. What King's letter clearly demonstrates, in other words, is that beyond his eloquent defense of civil disobedience and equality, King was mounting a much more important defense of natural law, objective truth, the Judeo-Christian heritage, and the American founding principles.
Can anyone imagine a more toxic brew in today's progressive left, Democrat controlled political and cultural environment? Without further hesitation then, I'd like to do my part in honoring King, and America, by reproducing some of his more beautifully written and profound insights below (with occasional commentary):
"I must confess that I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive non-violent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having non-violent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."
The key term here is "objective appraisal." In other words, like Socrates, King was no moral relativist. The Founding Fathers also understood that creative tension was the key to America's long term prospects for liberty (see Federalist #10). Conversely, the tendency in liberal America is to defend one-party politics, thought, education, and culture.
"How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."
To our friends on the left, King is doing something here quite astonishing - he's defending natural law, objective truth, and the great Catholic philosopher and priest St. Thomas Aquinas. Liberals may want to check out how moral issues such as abortion, gay marriage, divorce, and childrearing are addressed in the natural law tradition. Hint: quite conservatively.
As for "degrading personality" another philosopher in King's tradition, Mahatma Gandhi, had this to say about the increasing power of the state: "I look upon the increase of the power of the state with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the heart of all progress."
Back to King:
"One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great walls of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."
This one speaks for itself.
"I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect . . . The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable "devil."
Reading this makes me think that when Barack Obama and Martin Luther King talk about "faith in America" they are talking about two different Americas.
" . . . when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people . . ."
This is heart wrenching - King at his best. No child should be made ashamed of his or her skin color or heritage. It's worrisome though that some groups today in America are more equal than others, especially on college campuses, where "diversity" has become simply a cover for an assault on all things European, including Socrates, Aquinas, and to a large extent Christianity.