Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Even More True 40 Years Later

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Riverside Church, NYC April 4, 1967
From his speech:
In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. ... I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. ... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
...and said in Oslo, when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize...

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.

This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.

"And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid."

I still believe that we shall overcome.


Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks for the post, Jeff.

It's amazing to me--as someone who grew up in the 80s amid the civic cult of MLK--how much his memory has been sanitized.

We're taught as children about the struggles for civil rights and against segregation and institutionalized racism, but the connections between these evils and militarism and materialism are lost.

I guess it's like the Lord himself accuses--we adorn the tombs of the prophets that our fathers assassinated.

Liam said...

I can't add much to what Charles says, except that I am always awed by the beauty and power of MLK's words.

Jeff said...

Hi Friar and Liam,

Thanks for commenting. What a way with words he had, didn't he? You know, cynics about him try to hang a plagiarism rap against him, but if he was a plagiarist, he sure as heck knew what was worth plagiarizing!

As William has pointed out on his blog, MLK was much more than just a civil rights pioneer and advocate for African-Americans. He was that, to be sure, but he was also so much more.

I'll tell you what bothers me... I doubt that he ever would have wanted to have a "holiday" made in his honor, but the way that this holiday is "celebrated" today is a scandal and a disgrace (at least in the working world). African-Americans take the day off in a gesture of respect and nobody else even acknowledges it. It is the very last thing he would have wanted to see and is the very antithesis of everything he stood for. The repudiation is so stark, it leaves you shaking your head.

cowboyangel said...

Jeff, thanks for posting this.

Have you ever had a chance to listen to King's speeches? If not, you should get a CD. He's even more amazing delivering live these very well written works.

Ah... I get so sad. It seems like we're so, so far from Martin's conception of what Jesus meant for humanity. Instead of agape love, mercy and redemption, so many of our religious voices now seem to preach isolation and exclusion.

I prefer Martin's vision.

Jeff said...


Yes, you're right. I've seen film and heard audio of him speaking many times. Amazing preacher... I've heard some people say that his father was even better.

His vision and leadership are certainly missed today, as we suffer from a dearth of real leaders.