“Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, ‘When God speaks who can but prophesy?’” — Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968
“It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you . . . that’s called mental illness . . . ” — Joy Behar, 2018
A half-century ago, a politically active Baptist preacher was murdered. During his career, this doctor of systematic theology used religious language and theological reasoning to advance his arguments in favor of bringing our society closer to the ideals of his own Christian faith, and those of our founding documents. A Christian fanatic who believed that the Almighty spoke to him, he advocated the legislation of morality.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountaintop” speech was a startlingly prophetic discourse. In an allusion sure to be lost on most Millennials, King compared himself to Moses, who led the formerly enslaved Israelites to the Promised Land (the one liberal universities divest themselves from, today) but viewed it, himself, only from a nearby mountaintop, upon which he was buried.
In what became his farewell address, King also took his listeners on a quick tour through time. He gave a sort of mountaintop overview of the development of the Western conscience, and of the cultural sensibilities which had culminated in his window of opportunity:
“And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, ‘Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?’ I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the Promised Land . . . .”
This magnificent trek included the giving of the Ten Commandments—the codification of the basic morality which King would appeal to, in his plea for justice in society.
“I would move on by Greece . . . And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality . . . ”
Not only are these Dead White Men offensive to modern Leftists, with their ponderous philosophical works and, worse, sense of the comic in life, but the notion of “reality” itself can today be a contentious one.
“I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire . . . . I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man . . . .”
Imperialism, Western culture, more Dead White Men. Yet somehow King sees their achievements as an inheritance to share in, instead of something to resent. If he tried to speak on a progressive campus today, would he be shouted down?
“I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his 95 theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg . . . ”
Doubtless an expression of “privilege” by his fellow religious fanatic. Luther even condemned indulgences, the “carbon credits” of his time.
“I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there . . . . Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’”
Yes, that would have been a wise choice on King’s part. A decade or two earlier, he might have gone unheard. Yet, a few decades later in our own century, King would have had to see all of the greatness which he cited, openly and resentfully scorned.
In his own day, with common American values agreed upon by both political parties and the vast majority of Americans Right and Left, the Reverend Doctor could even appeal to the principles of those bestockinged and bewigged founders of our Republic, known to the modern Left primarily (and to the younger generation, perhaps exclusively) as slaveowners.
“But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press,” thundered King from his metaphorical mountaintop. He challenged America to live up to the ideals of those Founding Fathers.
These ideals, too, are increasingly and blatantly rejected by the modern Left. What, then, can a modern progressive hope to appeal to, in the conscience of anyone who doesn’t share his own arbitrary worldview? Unable to appeal to common principles, he has only sentimentality, bluster, or rage, which only alienate the unconverted.
King, by contrast, could truthfully relate: “And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs . . . .”
The prayers, words and songs might today be held to have violated the civil rights of the jailers and of fellow prisoners, who did not volunteer for exposure to religious speech in a public facility. In his career as a reformer, Martin Luther King, Jr. relied on Christian imagery and religious expression to provoke the Judeo-Christian conscience of his society. If that conscience has now, by the dogged efforts of the vandals of the Left, been deconstructed, to what can future reformers hope to appeal?
King’s remark is also reminiscent, of course, of the New Testament story familiar to his contemporary hearers (supporters and critics alike): in Acts 16, the missionaries Paul and Silas witness to their jailer in a similar fashion, and see a persecutor converted to a supporter through their peaceful faith-based demonstration. King’s methodology, as well as his ideology, had Biblical roots.
“In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.” So King asserted, and this gave him a status which grievance does not automatically grant; he spoke not merely as one who’d been wronged, but as someone who could speak with some authority about what was actually right. His appeal to eternal moral principles commanded respect—not because he was morally perfect, but because they were clearly moral principles.
When the Civil Rights hymn “We Shall Overcome” began to be recorded by big-name artists, and when it’s included in campus handbooks today, two verses disappeared. One verse cites faith; the other, truth (actually, cites Jesus citing the power of truth—another allusion likely lost upon Millennials). The power of faith and the centrality of truth are both uniting forces—but both have become anathema to the modern Left.
In the quiet recesses of their hearts, it would do them a world of good to reconsider those fundamental things.
The Lord will see us through, the Lord will see us through;
The Lord will see us through someday.
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The Lord will see us someday.
The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free;
The truth shall make us free someday.
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The truth shall make us free someday!