• 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, 2016

I have a 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.’
Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I write, two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, there is a possibility — albeit small — that come November, we the people will elect Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as the 45th President of the United States. I find this possibility fascinating for what it says about our ongoing challenge to live out the true meaning of our creed.

The election is surfacing a lot of both fear and anger. We’re afraid of terrorists — whether ISIL or our own militant hate groups. We’re afraid for our jobs; our livelihoods. We’re angry about illegal immigrants; about a shrinking middle class amidst great disparities of wealth. We’re angry about entitlements and our ongoing culture wars. And — for the first time since the depression and World War II — we’re afraid for our future, for the American dream. Where is that more perfect union the founders bequeathed? Where are the blessings of liberty they secured for us, their posterity?

Reflecting the anger and fear, a recent Gallup poll shows that 44% of us are “very dissatisfied” with the direction of the country and another 32% said they were “somewhat dissatisfied.” That’s 76% of us who believe we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Another Gallup poll shows that party identification is at near record lows; that 42% of us are independents. Perhaps adding to both our anger and our fears, a Pew poll shows that fewer than ½ of us believe we can do much to influence government.

And, as we’re seeing in the Republican Presidential Debates, Trump and Cruz have adopted a strategy that plays to our anger, to our fears. And, in doing so, particularly when it comes to fighting ISIL and immigration, they are forcing us to ask basic questions about our values and our vision, challenging us to define ourselves as a people.

So King’s birthday is a good time to reflect, to ask what it means to live out the true meaning of our creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’


There is a human tendency, the result of 200,00 years of evolution, to hunker down when we are angry, when we are afraid, when we sense that we are under attack. During times of stress, we have evolved to focus on our family and our group. During times of stress, we humans are — by a nature that has been molded over 200,000 years of adaptation and survival — less magnanimous to others, less welcoming to the stranger in our midst, less willing to believe the Golden Rule applies to others. [1]

Which means, right now in the fearful angry America of 2016, we the people are primed to do our own hunkering down. We the people are primed to focus inwardly on our family, our community, and whatever our group’s vision of America happens to be. At this moment of history — when more than ever injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywherewe the people are primed to turn inwards and restrictive. It is at times like today that we find the greatest difficulty in living our creed.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I came-of-age politically in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights era. I grew up in an America where legally-mandated segregation was reality. In America’s South, Blacks could not vote, could not drink from “White Only” water fountains, could not eat at “White Only” lunch counters, could not swim in “White Only” pools, and could not pray in “White Only” churches. Black children were educated in segregated schools, separate although far from equal. Black men felt the need to cross the street when a white man was coming, fearing for themselves and their families. In the 1920s, the decade of King’s birth, there were nearly 500 lynchings of Blacks by Whites in America.

We had a choice in the 1950s and 60s. We could choose to allow the status quo to remain, to allow for the injustices of segregation. Or we could rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed, stand up against the voices of tyranny, and do something about it.

Martin Luther King not only taught us to stand up, Martin Luther King taught us — by the grace of his spirit — how to stand up.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

No one could be so naïve as to believe that love would win over an active terrorist. Love was too late for Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik when they shot and killed 14 of Farook’s co-workers at a holiday party in San Bernardino, just as it was too late for Dylann Roof when he walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and killed nine people.

But it’s also naïve to believe that ISIL can be defeated solely by military and police action. Isn’t it common sense that we have to offer a meaningful alternative to the men and women ISIL seeks to recruit. And doesn’t this suggest that we need to strengthen ties with our Moslem communities, just like citizens are doing throughout the country, in places like Huntsville, AL, Salt Lake City, UT, Houston, TX and St. Augustine, FL.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The time has again come when we must stand against the voices of fear and anger, the voices that would divide us, the voices that would weaken us. The time has again come when we must stand up against the voices of the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot who, in our present crisis, shrink from the true meaning of America’s creed.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Regardless of who wins the White House in November, the world will be very different 10 years from now as we evolve to meet our challenges. The weakness of the political center, the popularity of Cruz and Trump — along with Sanders on the left — suggest that we may be on the verge of a new phase of the American revolution. As in all crises, there is both danger and opportunity.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let us be sure that as America changes, we hold fast to America’s creed. Let us rededicate ourselves to rise up and live out the true meaning of America’s creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let Freedom Ring.


[1] See, for example, Robert Wright, The Evolution of God.


Copyright © 2016. 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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