Ultimate Reality and America’s Role

An interesting blog that I was informed about has stimulated reading of some speeches from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. From thence comes the following:

And I tell you this morning, my friends, the reason we got to solve this problem here in America: Because God somehow called America to do a special job for mankind and the world. Never before in the history of the world have so many racial groups and so many national backgrounds assembled together in one nation. And somehow if we can’t solve the problem in America the world can’t solve the problem, because America is the world in miniature and the world is America writ large. And God set us out with all of the opportunities. He set us between two great oceans; made it possible for us to live with some of the great natural resources of the world. And there he gave us through the minds of our forefathers a great creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

This was a very powerful statement for me. If at times I come across as overly critical of the U.S. policies, foreign and domestic, it is because I feel the same as Reverend King. We, in the USA have the greatest opportunity and obligation to make the world a better place. Some may believe that the neo-conservative movement is the way to accomplish that change. I disagree. Others may believe that socialism is the way to make the change. Again, I disagree. However, that doesn’t diminish the proposition by Rev. King that the U.S. is a provident land and in so being has an obligation to be better than its enemies, above the fray, not abide by “business as usual,” but be unusual in its approach to problems.

What do I believe the way to accomplish the change is? I’ll let Dr. King explain in words that are much better than mine:

And I would like to say to you this morning what I’ve tried to say all over this nation, what I believe firmly: that in seeking to make the dream a reality we must use and adopt a proper method. I’m more convinced than ever before that nonviolence is the way. I’m more convinced than ever before that violence is impractical as well a immoral. If we are to build right here a better America, we have a method as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mohandas K. Gandhi. We need not hate; we need not violence. We can stand up before our most violent opponent and say: We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all god conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail. We will go into those jails and transform them from dungeons of shame to havens of freedom and human dignity. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Somehow go around the country and use your propaganda agents to make it appear that we are not fit culturally, morally, or otherwise for integration, and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.

But be assured that we will ride you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we will win our freedom, but we will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory.

Oh yes, love is the way. Love is the only absolute. More and more I see this. I’ve seem too much hate to want to hate myself; hate is too great a burden to bear. I’ve seen it on the faces of too many sheriffs of the South–I’ve seen hate. In the faces and even the walk of too many Klansmen of the South, I’ve seen hate. Hate distorts the personality. Hate does something to the soul that causes one to lose his objectivity. The man who hates can’t think straight; the man who hates can’t reason right; the man who hates can’t see right; the man who hates can’t walk right. And I know now that Jesus is right, that love is the way. And this is why John said, “God is love,” so that he who hates does not know God, but he who loves at that moment has the key that opens the door to the meaning of ultimate reality. So this morning there is so much that we have to offer the world.

You may think I’m an unrealistic idealist, but the ultimate reality is that charity never faileth. We can try other vehicles for change, and they may make some mild adjustments to the course, but the only way to establish peace will be to love.

Our most challenging days are ahead of us. However, the best days are there too. Even today we are challenged with loving the “unlovable” in our lives, our communities, our world. Please take up the challenge and let us love our enemies, until we have no more enemies and no more strangers.

12 Replies to “Ultimate Reality and America’s Role”

  1. What amazing and inspiring words!

    I believe that this approach is the only way to “fight” against oppression. But I’m still not convinced it’s the proper approach (response) to an attach from a deadly enemy.

    On a personal level, I agree with it wholeheartedly.

    But if I were the government leader of a community (however small or large it may be) I’m not sure I could adopt that philosophy. Part of the commitment a government leader makes is to protect his community.

    The decision to turn the other cheek is a personal one and I don’t think I could allow an enemy to kill members of my community just because I felt it was best to turn the other cheek.

    Feel free to convince me otherwise.

    But I didn’t want to take away from the words of Rev. King. He is completely inspiring.

  2. The question, then, is what is the best way to protect your community? And are you willing to sacrifice in the present for peace for generations? Does turning the other cheek in this generation end up protecting the community in the future? Does being willing to suffer and endure the evils of the present increase the likelihood of the evil changing to the point that the community will be more secure in the future? I think the answer is yes, but so often times our vision is so limited to the here and now, that we can’t even think about the great future that would be ours if we were willing to make the suffering sacrifices now. Instead we do what is expedient instead of what is right and lay the groundwork for the next battle by returning evil for evil.

  3. I see your point and agree with it to some extent. The problem is explaining that to families who just lost loved ones because of terrorist attacks that could have been prevented by eliminating/bombing their training camps and “forcing” (through the threat of war) their governments to crack down.

    How do you make that call? At least when we send soldiers into battle, they have chosen to be in harm’s way.

    Again, I agree with your concepts, but I completely see why it doesn’t happen.

  4. If a community wants to turn the other cheek, whether to a local mass murderer (Amish in Pennsylvania 10/01/2006), or a foreign attack (people of Ammon), the government should not feel obligated to do otherwise.

    Our goal should be to get the people to turn the other cheek in personal matters and require their government to do so in international matters.

  5. I see your point John and agree that is the ideal, but I still believe it’s a personal decision and cannot be extended to governmental matters.

    Several of us had a conversation (Mike will recall it) that discussed whether we would defend ourselves to the death if a mugger attacked us. Would we respond by killing him if we felt our life was threatened? I think most came to the conclusion that the x-factor was family. If our family is present, we will do everything we can to protect them. Even if that means killing the assailant.

    And I think that holds true here. We are willing to give up our own life because we know where we stand and how we believe, but are we willing to give up other’s lives? And even if we are willing, is that morally just?

    If we have the power to save someone’s life, don’t we have a moral obligation to do so even with deadly violence? Unless that individual has explicitly told us that they don’t want us to do so, we have an obligation to help them.

    In reality, how can you turn the other cheek towards a Hitler? Do you really think we could have won over Hitler with love?

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Dan, I think that you are stuck considering the here and now. Some may say that’s all we have, but I believe differently and I know you do too. I am talking about affecting long-standing changes. Sure, going to war against an evil like Hitler was effective in eliminating him, but it did nothing to eliminate the evil he stood for. Fascism and totalitarianism is still alive and well, though in different clothing. How long would the German people have tolerated his obvious evil if there had been no one fighting back? If there had been a people who decried his evil, but then turned the other cheek, I think that the German people would have seen how absolutely un-Christian his acts were and would have risen up in response to eliminate him.

    The efforts of the West in WWI and the Treaty of Versailles did nothing to bring peace to the world; they just laid the foundation for WWII. That’s the problem with countries resorting to force and answering evil for evil. As long as the means remain the same, the end will not be different.

    All that said, my goal is not to convince politicians and governments directly that nonviolence is the answer (they won’t listen. They exist to enforce and punish). My goal is that individuals, families, and communities will begin to practice nonviolence and non-resistance of evil in their own lives to the degree that politicians and leaders have no choice but to apply those principles. That a critical mass of humanity will recognize the failure of violence and force and demand, democratically and with civil disobedience, that its leaders practice peace. I think that it will be a natural consequence of that accumulation of the critical mass.

  7. Reluctant,

    Two things. First, why should we put the burden of persuasion on non-violence rather than violence? Shouldn’t we start with the position that says, “I assume my family would prefer me not to kill, rather than kill, unless they tell me otherwise.”? It seems much more moral to start with that ideal than to say “I will kill to ‘protect’ them unless they tell me to do otherwise.”

    As far as moral obligations go, I disagree. I have sat in on several similar conversations and have come to the conclusion that I am morally obligated not to kill.

    And I have both history and philosophy that tell me that naziism could have been (and still can be) defeated with love. Dr. King asked us to imagine what might have happened if Christians “would have worn the stigmatizing yellow arm bands by the millions,” and believed that “a unique kind of nonviolent resistance might have congeeled.” History also shows that nonviolence worked against Hitler. The problem wasn’t that it was impotent against Nazi brutality, but that it was only very rarely used against the Nazis. But again, when it was used, it worked.

    But those of us who are compelled to think and read and write about nonviolence don’t do so simply because it might be some sort of magic spell that always works, we do it because of the morality of its claim. I am interested in nonviolence because it is the morality that my religion has always asked me to practice.

  8. The other day we read Matthew 16. Particularly interesting were verses 21-23:

    21 ¶ From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
    22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
    23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

    We, like Peter, are too caught up in rights, privileges, and justice as defined by man. But if we truly let our hearts be “broken” and give in completely to God’s will, it really doesn’t matter what happens to us in this estate. What matters is whether we obey, which, in this case, means we can’t retaliate.

  9. I agree that a belief in an afterlife is needed to fully embrace nonviolence. Gandhi’s first requirement for those who would practice satyagraha (nonviolent civil-disobedience) was a belief in a living God.

  10. John,

    It seems that many secular whites played an important role in the Civil Rights movement, especially liberal Reform Jews who felt a kinship with African-Americans in their struggle against discrimination. Therefore I don’t know that a belief in an afterlife is needed to fully embrace nonviolence. I think it helps immensely, however.

  11. A further purpose in writing this post was to tie together the ideas of King’s view for the role of America and the idea of love opening the door to ultimate reality. I realize that there are constraints on one’s ability to affect change and one needs to consider this world, the weaknesses of humans, and the structures of government that exist. However, the only way America will fulfill its destiny is for its inhabitants to embrace fully the teachings of Christ. Until we love and forgive and are chaste and don’t get angry and stop judging and condemning others, we will never be able to fulfill that mandate given by God to truly and completely bless the world. Idealism is the true realism. It’s the only thing that makes lasting, real change.

  12. Mike,

    I didn’t know where to put this, but since this post is about King, I decided to put it here. We are going on a 126 mile walk to protest the border wall. If you wan’t to know more, let me know. I’ve prepared a little statement about it.


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