• 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, 2014

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 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
Letters from a Birmingham Jail

Rita and I read these words again last September in London, etched on a glass panel above the entrance to the library of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Etched on this same glass panel are also written “The first duty of man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth” and “Justice is truth in action.”

Sometimes it’s easy to find truth, to know what justice requires. The truth in Birmingham Alabama in 1963 when Martin Luther King wrote those words while a prisoner in the Birmingham city jail was easy.  Fifty-one years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, Blacks could not drink from public water fountains, could not sit at “whites only” lunch counters, could not attend the University of Alabama, could not vote, and could not peacefully demonstrate for their freedom. This was not justice.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to find truth, to know what justice requires. Sometimes it’s hard. And — truth be told — we are wired to make it hard on ourselves.

Take for example the recent brouhaha over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. Robertson, you may recall, said in an interview in GQ that he believed homosexuality to be a sin and that he never saw the mistreatment of any black person growing up in Louisiana before the civil rights era.

The left, as expected, took Robertson to task for being homophobic and incredibly naïve about race relations in Louisiana in the 1950s. The right, also as expected, accused the left of denying Robertson his right to free speech, his right to his own opinion – good, bad, foolish or wise — arguing as they regularly do that political correctness is driving honest differences of opinion out of the public square.

A&E – the TV network that broadcasts Duck Dynasty – played its part, first “caving to the left” by dropping Robertson from the show and then “caving to the right” by bringing him back.

So where is truth? Where is Justice? Would it be just to take Phil Robertson off the air? Or is justice better served by leaving him on the air? [1]


 If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.
The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.
Sent ts’an, c. 700 C. E.

Two hundred thousand years of evolution — from our origins in Africa to our spread across the planet — have designed into us certain traits. Each of us feels connected to whatever “group” we happen to belong to. We also feel separate from – disconnected from – other groups.

All of us come into the world prewired to prefer whatever group we belong to over other groups. The preference isn’t conscious; we don’t rationally consider our own group and come to the objective determination that it’s best. We feel our group is the best and then construct ‘arguments’ proving we are the best. Basically, we delude ourselves into believing that our group is best.

You can test your own racial preferences on the website YourMorals.org[2] It’s a 5-10 minute test that’s been taken by thousands of people and it’s able to tell you the extent to which you prefer Europeans over African Americans or vice versa. I recently took the test and — yes — I have a preference for one race over another. All of us do.

What this means – whichever race one prefers – is that we all notice race – we pay attention to race – we profile people based on their race. We do it pre-consciously … but we do it.

But then, how can it be otherwise? It’s inevitable.

Imagine you’re living 185,000 years ago, somewhere in Africa. One morning you see the tribe who lives across the river swimming over to your side. Do you wave a welcome to them? Do you say to your wife: “Mabel. Look who’s coming across the river. Why don’t you make some of your nice ostrich omelets for our guests?” If you do, thwack!!! You’re dead and Mabel’s DNA – if it survives at all – only does so in combination with the people who just killed you.

The fact that you and I are here means that our ancestors paid attention. They knew who was in their group and who wasn’t. If others came along who weren’t in the group and who were perceived to be a threat, then our ancestors had no trouble killing them. Our presence here today means our ancestors won these battles.

These are our roots. Racial — and other group — preferences are built into who we are. We spend a lot of time denying that we have these racial preferences, pretending to be race neutral in our post-racial Obama age. But it’s not true. We are very race conscious.

So rather than deny it, let’s admit it. Let’s acknowledge that we are race conscious and that our own evolution blinds us to this truth. When we do, we turn it into a strength.

Acknowledging the truth of our own racial preferences allows us to appreciate how difficult it is for us to accept King’s truth that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. True as these words are, we just aren’t wired to believe them. We have to work at it.

Magic happens when we work at accepting this, When I stop feeling the need to defend my gut-level instinct that Phil Robertson is dangerously wrong; when I allow myself to acknowledge that he and I are woven together in a single garment of destiny, that’s when I come to appreciate the deep truth that whatever affects Phil’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of his happiness affects my own right to life, liberty and the pursuit of my happiness … And conversely; whatever affects my rights affects his. It’s no longer about my side ‘winning’ or his side ‘winning;’ now it’s about finding ways to live together in peace, harmony and justice, each exercising our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Martin Luther King articulated this deep moral truth — not just for his own people in their struggle for justice — but for all people who feel they don’t belong, who feel that this is someone else’s world, that they just get to live here.

We are — all of us — caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Blacks and Whites. Straights and Gays. Bible-quoting duck hunters and atheist vegans. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly.

This can’t just be my world. Nor can it just be your world. The experiment in self-government that is America, the meaning of We the People and E Pluribus Unum, the promise of the Blessings of Liberty require that we make it our world, our destiny.

Let Freedom Ring.


Copyright © 2014. 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.





[1] I encourage you to take a look at Michael Sandel’s Harvard course entitled Justice. http://www.justiceharvard.org/.

[2] YourMorals.org is a collaboration among social psychologists who study morality and politics. Jonathan Haidt’s recent book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” explores this emerging field. I highly recommend Haidt’s TED talk on the same topic:  The moral roots of liberals and conservatives.

Get these essays sent to you by email:


  1. Well said. I’d write more but you have my brain pondering.

    Jim K forwarded this to me. Glad he did.

  2. On reflection, Pat Robertson is doing a relaly effective job of driving sane and rational people away from God. Perhaps the words of Shepherd Book (from the Firefly episode Our Mrs. Reynolds ) apply to Pat Robertson: God has a special place reserved for him. Matthew 23:13 and also comes to mind.

Speak Your Mind