I am with scholar Michael Eric Dyson when he says that Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech should be put on moratorium. The speech has been used (and abused) so much, it has lost its power. King has been co-opted by neocons in ways that would tempt the normally nonviolent King.
So, I will offer no King cut-and-pastes today. Today I offer only my commitment to live the values he espoused — to walk the walk.
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-=[ Self-Righteous Indignation ]=-
“An eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind.”
— “Mahatma” Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948)
Gandhi practiced ahimsa, a belief in nonviolence as a way of life. He was assassinated, but not before he was able to liberate 600 million from British dominion — without firing one shot. A teacher once told me a story that at the moment when he came face to face with his murderer, Gandhi’s first instinct was to bow to him in the spirit of forgiveness. Even when faced with his enemy — his killer — his last gesture was an act of forgiveness.
As my thoughts turned to King this morning, I thought of Gandhi’s power of example. Gandhi was a huge influence on King’s own philosophy. Both men were able to reconcile conflicting energies into sustained movements that changed the world. Both men met their demise at the hands of murderous violence.
How seemingly opposite ideologies sometimes share the same ethical/ spiritual concerns are captured brilliantly in Graham Greene’s masterpiece, The Power and the Glory. Greene captures it in what is essentially a parable. The novel revolves around a revolutionary Marxist soldier who believes that he must kill a Catholic priest., even though the priest is a harmless drunk — a “whiskey priest” — because the priest represents a corrupt institution that has been complicit in his, and his people’s, exploitation.
The priest is a fugitive from this revolutionary, making his way among the peasants he once served, sleeping in their barns and fields. The revolutionary is so thoroughly convinced of the necessity of the murder of the priest, in this exercise of revolutionary self-righteousness, that he is even willing to kill his “own people,” the peasants, as hostages in order to get at the priest.
But in the end, the drunken priest, representative of a corrupt Church, and the idealistic revolutionary, who murders in the name of self-righteousness, share the same spiritual; values. The priest says to the revolutionary just before the lieutenant empties his gun into his head, “You’re a good man.” This is not merely a pitiful gesture of moral generosity. It is a simple statement of recognition: I see what is in your heart, and it is good. Tragically, in the fallen world in which they must act, neither can do anything but work against his own deepest and most passionate beliefs. The irony being that they conspire together in their different ways to defeat a shared spiritual and ethical vision. Both the Church and the revolution are corrupt, destructive, and murderous, but the desire for loving and just human relations is nonetheless embedded deeply beneath their failed institutions.
We are at our most dangerous when we are fully convinced that our positions are absolutely morally superior. Our biggest challenge is that we are most uncomfortable with the hard questions and in our rush to be certain, we kill one another.