For a while there in the spring, I was periodically blogging about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Strength to Love. Then I stopped. I’m not entirely sure why, other than that I hit a chapter that really didn’t speak to me — and as previously admitted, I sometimes have a hard time following through on projects.
Be that as it may — that’s enough of that, then! Time to get back to it. Each post about the book can be read independently, but if you’re interested, previous installments can be found here.
Chapter ten – How should a Christian view Communism?
Chapter nine was, I’m sorry to say, just a little too Christian for me — and given that Dr. King was a pastor, and that “chapter nine” was initially a sermon, well, it takes a lot of gall for me to complain that chapter nine was too Christian, frankly.
Moreover, looking back at my notes, I find great wisdom to guide even so blatant a non-Christian such as myself — for instance:
Fatalism… is based on an appalling conception of God, for everything, whether good or evil, is considered to represent the will of God. A healthy religion rises above the idea that God wills evil…. The embracing of fatalism is as tragic and dangerous a way to meet the problem of unfulfilled dreams as are bitterness and withdrawal.
We Negroes have long dreamed of freedom, but still we are confined in an oppressive prison of segregation and discrimination…. Must we, by concluding that segregation is within the will of God, resign ourselves to oppression? Of course not, for this blasphemously attributes to God that which is of the devil. To cooperate passively with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressor. Our most fruitful course is to stand firm with courageous determination, move forward nonviolently amid obstacles and setbacks, accept disappointments, and cling to hope.
Our refusal to be stopped, our “courage to be,” our determination to go on “in spite of,” reveal the divine image within us.
Our refusal to be stopped, our courage to be, reveal the divine image within us — that is something, right there. It is our fight, our struggle to repair the world, that demonstrates God’s mark on us. Not our habits, not our sexual interests, not our willingness to read Scripture or pray — but our willingness to wrestle with imperfection and try to bring the world in line with Divine justice.
So, chapter nine wasn’t really all that bad, even for me.
But I’m supposed to be writing about chapter ten.
How is a post-Cold War semi-socialist Jew supposed to approach a chapter entitled “How should a Christian view Communism”?
As with chapter seven, I find Dr. King too glibly rejecting of non-believers (yes, I did just call Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “glib.” I’m not comfortable with this), too contemptuous of those who are not spiritual (“…humanism thrives on the grand illusion that man, unaided by any divine power, can save himself and usher in a new society…”). Plus which, there’s a whole lot of “we need to pledge ourselves anew to the cause of Christ” — and with all the will in the world, that’s kind of a problem for me, isn’t it? As a believing Jew and the wife of a deeply moral atheist, here, finally, is a place where I just can’t get on board.
But I think I have to understand that that’s just the way it is. I think that we (I) need to learn to be more comfortable with the fact that we speak differently with different audiences. As genuine as Dr. King was being with his own congregation, he would never have exhorted me to pledge myself anew to the cause of Christ — much as I can only imagine he didn’t exhort his good friend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the giants of American Jewish thought. I think also that we (I) need to learn to be more comfortable with the fact that, occasionally, those whom we admire greatly will say things with which we entirely disagree — that such is human experience.
And even so, even here, where I have jumped off the train for a station or two, I find words that I want to hold close and knit into my synapses:
Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and yet is not concerned with the economic and social conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is the kind the Marxist describes as “an opiate of the people.”
Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the-end-in-progress. Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means.
To both, I can only say: amen, amen — and endeavor to act on humanity’s spiritual duty to engage directly with the reality of human suffering, in my life, my political activism, and my Judaism.
Surely Dr. King would not argue with that.