Thursday, January 5, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Scholar; Non-Violent Resistance

I only have a cursory knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr.  To rectify that, I am reading Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Stephen B. Oates.

MLK was a scholar.  He seemed to advance to each level of education earlier than most, and as a young man he devoured various philosophers, examining them, comparing them, weighing them.  He had a capacious mind and investigated the various philosophies and theologies of the likes of Niebuhr, Tillich, Marx, Hegel, and Nietzsche.  One of his professors "rated him one of the best five or six graduate students he had taught in his thirty-one years at Boston University" (47).  He received from Jesus the ethic of love.  Thoreau gave him the way of passive resistance.  Gandhi showed him the power of love as a social force.  Niebuhr, with his emphasis on the reality of sin and evil, checked his initial belief in the inherent goodness of man.  Hegel helped him not to over-emphasize man's corruption.

MLK's method was not passivity.  It was passive resistance.  It was nonviolent, but it was resistance.  As the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama continued, MLK taught that their method was not a "do-nothing" method.  "It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil" (78).  He recognized the cost, that violence would come into play; he just wanted to make sure that violence was not on the resistors side of the equation.  "Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood" (79).

His were bigger goals than just rights for blacks; he sought to build brotherhood between blacks and whites.  "Our use of passive resistance in Montgomery is not based on resistance to get rights for ourselves, but to achieve friendship with the men who are denying us our rights, and change them through friendship and a bond of Christian understanding before God" (115-6).  This ethos surely flows from the NT, as well as from Gandhi, for MLK saw that "Gandhi's goal was not to defeat the British in India, but to redeem them through love, so as to avoid a legacy of bitterness" (32).

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