Martin Luther King, on the better angels of our nature

     Martin Luther King Jr., during a speech in an undated photo. (AP Photo)

    Martin Luther King Jr., during a speech in an undated photo. (AP Photo)

    Martin Luther King….It’s his world and we only live in it – at least for today. So the least we can do is take two minutes to hear what he had to say.

    He wanted America to be better, to fulfill its promise, but, just as importantly, he wanted us to bend toward justice by tapping the better angels of our nature. Violence was anathema to his vision; love was its principle fuel. Perhaps that sounds woefully naive, given the brutish realities of 2015, but the Sunday sermon I am excerpting below – delivered at an Alabama Baptist church in 1957, during the nadir of racist segregation – still shines as an appeal to what’s best in us. A challenge to our species:

    If somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the…beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed, because nobody had any sense on the highway of history. Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.

    There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted.

    There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case. For the person who hates, you can stand up and see a person and that person can be beautiful, and you will call them ugly. For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does. You can’t see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater….

    And oh this morning, I think of the fact that our world is in transition now. Our whole world is facing a revolution. Our nation is facing a revolution…History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people oppressors. And there are three ways that individuals who are oppressed can deal with their oppression. One of them is to rise up against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding hatred. But oh this isn’t the way. For the danger and the weakness of this method is its futility. Violence creates many more social problems than it solves. And I’ve said, in so many instances, that as the Negro, in particular, and colored peoples all over the world struggle for freedom, if they succumb to the temptation of using violence in their struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Violence isn’t the way….

    We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love….Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes, to work out this controlling force of love, this controlling power that can solve every problem that we confront in all areas. Oh, we talk about politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic civilization. Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve the crisis and solve these problems – the international problems, the problems of atomic energy, the problems of nuclear energy, and yes, even the race problem – let us join together in a great fellowship of love…

    Amen.

     

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