Third in a series of Posts on MLK.
Confidence and Purpose or Fear and Fatalism?
“We shall overcome because the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
Fear and fatalism are two of our greatest enemies. Denial and distraction are not far behind. It is hard to believe that age-old problems like race and war can be surmounted or the catastrophes of climate change avoided. Without a rhetorical strategy that can promote purpose and confidence, fear and fatalism will weaken our efforts.
King and the civil movement of the American South found their answer in the history of Africans in America and the spirit of black christianity.
There has been a persistent strain within all religious traditions that has embraced ideals of justice in the face of oppression. King’s God became the “God of Justice.” In America this “social gospel” has deep roots back to our national beginnings when the first revolutionaries proclaimed “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” In the hands of African-Americans, Christianity became a practical theology of liberation. The Black church provided the resources and organization needed to launch the movement.
Despite his unequivocal devotion to the Christian God, King suggested that people of other faiths and non-believers can still sense, “Some power in the universe that works for Justice.”
I am quite aware of the fact that there are persons who believe firmly in nonviolence who do not believe in a personal God, but I think every person…believes somehow that the universe in some form is on the side of justice….There is something in the universe that unfolds for justice and so in Montgomery we felt somehow that as we struggled we had cosmic companionship.
Now the fact that this new age is emerging reveals something basic about the universe. It tells us something about the core and heartbeat of the cosmos. It reminds us that the universe is on the side of justice. Its says to those who struggle for justice “You do not struggle alone but God struggles with you.”
King’s God of Justice was not an apocalyptic power but a cosmic companion to those struggling in this world.
Faith alone was not enough because,“The battle is in our hands.”
A voice out of Bethlehem two thousand years ago said that all men are equal. It said right would triumph. Jesus of Nazareth wrote no books; he owned no property to endow him with influence. He had no friends in the courts of the powerful. But he changed the course of mankind with only the poor and the despised. Naive and unsophisticated though we maybe, the poor and despised of the twentieth century will revolutionize this era. In our “arrogance, lawlessness and ingratitude,” we will fight for human justice, brotherhood, secure peace and abundance for all. When we have won these—in a spirit of unshakable nonviolence—then, in luminous splendor, the Christian era will truly begin.
Inspired human efforts make revolution. And, the past points the way to the future.
(O)ur goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of American is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth, we we’re here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history, the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here….For more than two centuries our forebears labored here without wages. They made cotton king, and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail.
The history of the last revolution and all the reform movements that came before are raw material for our own story. Perhaps it is our own revolutionary tradition that explains why, after all, we are still here.
Create whatever history or heritage we will, we should not fool ourselves — fear, fatalism, cynicism, denial, distraction — these are the real political problems we face. We must bring the grand narratives of history, religion, spirituality and the nature into play or they will be played against us.
Surely the earth itself is protesting against the endless drive for the maximum possible profits — should we not find cosmic companionship in that?
For King, deep purpose was not solely in the path behind but also in the path ahead: the beloved community.
Next: The Beloved Community
All quotes from, A Testament of Hope  Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution, 277, see also 111, 252, 301.  The Power of Non-violence 13-14.  Facing the Challenge of a New Age, 141.  Our God is Marching On, 229.  A Testament of Hope, 327.  Remaining Awake through A Great Revolution 277. also see, 111, 301.