Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Martin Luther King Jr. – Quotes on Peace and War

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Martin Luther King Jr. – Quotes on Peace and War

Quotes are organized into thematic sections titled Urgency, Vision, Love of Enemies, Nonviolence, and Psychology and Culture.

Most of the quotes come from these speeches:

Paul’s Letter to American Christians (November 1956)
Loving Your Enemies (November 1957)
I Have a Dream (August 1963)
Nobel Lecture (December 1964)
Beyond Vietnam (April 1967)
A Christmas Sermon on Peace (December 1967)
The Drum Major Instinct (February 1968)
Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution (March 1968)

Urgency

In his own Nobel Prize speech, president Obama expressed the view that we’re stuck with war and there’s nothing we can do about it. Contrast that with the statements of Martin Luther King, who believed that destiny is ours to choose.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy…. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, 28 August 1963, steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, 28 August 1963, steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

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 idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 10 December 1964, Oslo

So man’s proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

Here also we have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But unless we abdicate our humanity altogether and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we have ourselves created, it is as imperative and urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to racial injustice.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

At Oslo I suggested that the philosophy and strategy of non-violence become immediately a subject for study and serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, including relations between nations. This was not, I believe, an unrealistic suggestion. World peace through non-violent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Non-violence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.

Racial injustice around the world. Poverty. War. When man solves these three great problems he will have squared his moral progress with his scientific progress. And more importantly, he will have learned the practical art of living in harmony.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Dreams Of Brighter Tomorrows”, Ebony, March 1965, p. 35.

A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

The time is always ripe to do right.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.

As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world—and nothing’s wrong with that—this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.

We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Vision

Vision is not the same as wishful thinking or sentimental fantasy. Vision is the ability to see truths etched in the human heart and soul.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, 28 August 1963, steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, 28 August 1963, steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

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.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 10 December 1964, Oslo

So we must fix our vision not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a “peace race”. If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. [Sustained applause]
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Love of Enemies

As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”, 4 November 1956, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”, 4 November 1956, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”, 4 November 1956, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn’t playing; because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words,
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Isn’t it true that through our Western powers we have perpetuated colonialism and imperialism? And all of these things must be taken under consideration as we look at Russia. We must face the fact that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent from Asia and Africa is at bottom a revolt against the imperialism and colonialism perpetuated by Western civilization all these many years. The success of communism in the world today is due to the failure of democracy to live up to the noble ideals and principles inherent in its system.

And this is what Jesus means when he said: “How is it that you can see the mote in your brother’s eye and not see the beam in your own eye?” [Matthew 7:3]  Or to put it in Moffatt’s translation: “How is it that you see the splinter in your brother’s eye and fail to see the plank in your own eye?”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and every time you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

So somehow the isness of our present nature is out of harmony with the eternal oughtness that forever confronts us. And this simply means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals.
–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of….  No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it…. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape. And agape is more than eros; agape is more than philia; agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemy.” This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Now for the few moments left, let us move from the practical how to the theoretical why. It’s not only necessary to know how to go about loving your enemies, but also to go down into the question of why we should love our enemies. I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

I would rather die than hate you.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in Strength to Love (1958)

Nonviolence

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, 28 August 1963, steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 10 December 1964, Oslo

I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”, 24 December 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”, 24 December 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

You can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”, 24 December 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Psychology and Culture

Martin Luther King Jr., fifty years ago, recognized that America and modern culture generally was on a downhill slide. He warned of greater perils ahead unless the trend was reversed. Not only have things, as predicted, deteriorated, but now no public leader will confront the issue of a government and society gone mad. But insanity is an illness, and illnesses can be healed. A renewal of values is still possible. This must begin with individuals.

You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”, 4 November 1956, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

You have made tremendous strides in the area of scientific and technological development. But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about “improved means to an unimproved end.” How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”, 4 November 1956, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” [Romans 12:2] Or, as I said to the Phillipian Christians, “Ye are a colony of heaven.” [Philippians 3:20; For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. NKJV] This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God’s will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.

I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”, 4 November 1956, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life. There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.” [Metamorphoses 7:20; “I see and approve better things, but follow worse”.] There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions [Phaedrus 246a ff.]. There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Goethe, “There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.” There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Apostle Paul, “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.” [Romans 7:15b; For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.].

So somehow the isness of our present nature is out of harmony with the eternal oughtness that forever confronts us. And this simply means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

… that you want to be integrated with yourself, and the way to be integrated with yourself is be sure that you meet every situation of life with an abounding love. Never hate…
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 17 November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau [Walden, 1854]: “Improved means to an unimproved end”. This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual “lag” must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace. There is a fascinating little story that is preserved for us in Greek literature about Ulysses and the Sirens. The Sirens had the ability to sing so sweetly that sailors could not resist steering toward their island. Many ships were lured upon the rocks, and men forgot home, duty, and honor as they flung themselves into the sea to be embraced by arms that drew them down to death. Ulysses, determined not to be lured by the Sirens, first decided to tie himself tightly to the mast of his boat, and his crew stuffed their ears with wax. But finally he and his crew learned a better way to save themselves: they took on board the beautiful singer Orpheus whose melodies were sweeter than the music of the Sirens. When Orpheus sang, who bothered to listen to the Sirens?
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of Saint John (1 John 4:7-8, 12).

Let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone
that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His
love is perfected in us.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964, Oslo

The Nobel Peace Prize has given me even deeper personal faith that man will indeed soon rise to the occasion and give new direction to an age drifting rapidly to its doom.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Dreams Of Brighter Tomorrows”, Ebony, March 1965, p. 35.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

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 [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

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.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”, 24 December 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”, 24 December 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. (Make it plain) And that’s where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct [Glory to God], he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up [Amen].
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

Now the other problem is, when you don’t harness the drum major instinct—this uncontrolled aspect of it—is that it leads to snobbish exclusivism.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam…. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. (Amen) The God that I worship has a way of saying, “Don’t play with me.” (Yes) He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, “Don’t play with me, Israel. Don’t play with me, Babylon. (Yes) Be still and know that I’m God. And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.” (Yes) And that can happen to America. (Yes) Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

“Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”, 4 February 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Written by John Uebersax

December 31, 2009 at 11:02 pm

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