• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Martin Luther King Day, 2010

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,
but comes through continuous struggle.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 I remember when I discovered my own racism. It was in a small town in northeastern Ohio, six months after my ex-wife and I adopted our son, Jonathan.

Adopting Jonathan—an African-American—was an act of faith in America, in the dream that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

Three and a half years before we adopted Jonathan, Cathy and I had sat together, tears streaming down our faces, when we heard the news that Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis. Our hearts might have been broken that night, but we kept the faith that our child, like Martin Luther King’s own four children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

And here I was in this small town in Ohio, the white father of a 9-month old African-American baby, becoming aware of my own racism. These are the important moments, when we come up against who we are.

What I saw that day was indeed racism; the racism that is buried deep in the American psyche. But it was so much more than just Black-White and White-Black racism that I saw that day. The racism I saw is only the tip of an iceberg. Beneath the water, what I saw is a fundamental element of our common human character.

Racism exists to separate us, one from another. 50,000 years ago, after we left our African homeland, our hunter-gatherer ancestors would periodically “bump into each other.” The result was often war, often resulting in the enslavement or annihilation of one side or the other. In those days it was necessary to feel stone cold hatred for your enemy, for how else could you kill him. And if you did not kill him, it would be you who would die.

In the battle to secure their own survival, our ancestors had to learn to hate those who were different from us. Racism has been in every culture ever since. Humans can no more escape the racism in our cultures than we can escape the carcinogens in the air we breathe.

King understood just how deeply racism is buried in the human soul. He reminded us that the end to racism would not come on wheels of inevitability, but would come only through continuous struggle.

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 King also understood that there was something else in our souls, something buried every bit as deep as our collective racism, a weapon powerful enough to defeat racism.

Surviving against our enemies 50,000 years ago not only required you to hate your enemy; survival also required that you love your own tribe every bit as much as you hated your enemy. It was not your survival after all that mattered; what mattered was the survival of your tribe. Others might sacrifice their life for you; you must be prepared to do the same for them. From this was born the Golden Rule, the one moral rule found in every religion on this Earth.

If fear and hatred of each other is our species’ original sin, then the Golden Rule is our salvation.

King recognized—perhaps more clearly than anyone before him—how deeply the Golden Rule is embedded in America’s creed ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

By holding a mirror to the ideals of America, King forced America to confront the question who do we mean by all men? Was all men to include all men or were there to continue to be two classes of Americans, one created more equal than the other? Just who is to be allowed to pursue the American Dream? Just who is our neighbor that we are commanded to love? Blacks? Women? Gays and Lesbians? The result is not inevitable. The struggle continues. The dream endures.

This is not just America’s struggle, America’s dream. This struggle, this dream, belongs to the world. As the world grows smaller, as we get to know each other, our 50,000 year old fear and hatred of others is bumping up against 50,000 years of the Golden Rule.

We see the tragic consequences when fear and hatred win out over the Golden Rule in places like the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar. The terrorists bent on destroying our way of life know only how to hate; they have not learned to love.

But we also see the glorious results when the peoples of free nations live in accordance with the Golden Rule, for what is government of the people, by the people and for the people but the Golden Rule applied to political power. The Blessings of Liberty are nothing but the logical outcome of the Golden Rule, just as the current recession is the inevitable outcome when avarice and greed come to trump the Golden Rule.

In December of 1964, Martin Luther King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize with words of faith that are as necessary today as they were 45 years ago.

 I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.

 I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.

 I refuse to accept the idea that the “-isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts 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 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 mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 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 still believe that We Shall Overcome!

 This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom.

 When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

We miss you more than ever, Martin. America and the world need you more than ever. Even as the tears continue to roll down our cheeks, we keep faith with your memory. For your faith, Martin, is our North Star.

Let freedom ring.


Copyright © 2010. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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