Bill Drake: King’s philosophy of peace, in his own words
At the heart of Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy was a world perspective and a spiritual perspective.
King saw all life as interrelated and all people as interdependent. What affects one person on some level affects everyone. If one person is enslaved, none of us are totally free. We are, he said, “involved in a single process (and) are inevitably our brother’s keeper because of this interrelated structure of reality.”
He believed human life is sacred because everyone is a child of God. If we understood this sacredness, he reasoned, “we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with … oppression, we won’t kill anybody.”
King could see that the commonality among human beings is greater than the differences between them. The commonality that he believed in related to being molded by God in a divine image, and to sharing the depth of the human experience. He saw the universality of our basic nature as transcending religion, race, and other group identities.
When he talked about whites who committed racist acts, he noted that human beings are more than their bad traits and behavior.
“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us (and in discovering this) we are less prone to hate our enemy,” he wrote. As well as seeing God’s image in everyone, he believed no one was “beyond God’s redemptive love.”
Concerning the subject of love, King often talked about the Greek concept agape. This refers to unconditional love, which he described as, “the love of God operating in the human heart.”
In his sermons, he referred to Jesus’ directive to “love your enemies.” This did not mean that you had to like them, especially when they bombed your home and committed other acts of racism. But love is greater than like, and in the effort to rid the nation of discrimination, he instructed others to never relinquish the “privilege to love.”
He associated love with true power: “Power without love is reckless and abusive. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
King taught forgiveness toward people who are racist and believed that a person’s ability to love was determined by their ability to forgive.
For him, the goal of the civil rights movement was to defeat injustice and not to defeat the individuals who acted unjustly. The struggle, as he saw it, was between justice and injustice, not between white people and Black people.
Dr. King called for a “revolution of values” in which human needs are put above material needs. This perspective related to his critique of capitalism, which he criticized as well as communism. In his book, “Strength to Love,” King observed that capitalism “often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty.”
Elaborating on this peaceful revolution in regards to communism in “Where Do We Go From Here,” King wrote, “We must with affirmative action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops …. Communism is a judgment on our failure to make democracy real.”
King’s revolution required a worldview with nations adopting a loyalty to humankind that transcended nationalism while preserving the best in individual societies.
He saw his approach of non-violent direct action as a factor in helping create this revolution of values, and in his last talks he envisioned massive demonstrations in the world’s largest cities to force countries to address injustice and economic inequity.
As well as being a great civil rights leader, King was one of the great philosophers of our time. He was a philosopher with a world perspective and a deeply spiritual perspective who understood unconditional love.
Bill Drake has studied King’s books and speeches, taught his philosophy to practitioners of his non-violent civil disobedience method, and created radio programs and published articles about him. Drake co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias and is the author of “Almost Heredity: A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide for Unlearning and Healing Prejudice.” He lives in Nevada City.
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