Dangerous Beliefs

Sometimes I wonder what America would have become had Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life not been cut short. One of ideas that sounds about right to me is this:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.” – “Why I’m Opposed to the War in Vietnam

Like it or not, our world is what we make of it. We saw this decades of carelessness resulted in toxic pollution that threatened our own well-being. We could have stepped back and said, “It’s not our responsibility to clean this up, it’s our ancestor’s fault that things got this bad in the first place.” But instead of blaming their Jericho Road for being infamous, they did something about it. They studied. They established new regulations. They got their hands dirty and cleaned up the pollution, bit by bit, area by area. Places that were once dangerous have been made safe.

Neighborhoods, too, have been similarly transformed. When we stopped looking at the news as if it were normal for it’s Jericho Road for things to be so bad and unsafe, people got together, did their homework, created alternatives, focused on education and economic opportunities. They made a difference.

Sure, there’s still a lot of work to be done, it’s easy to say “we’ve made this amount of progress, that’s good enough” … but when one part of our Jericho Road is neglected and left to it’s own devices, then all of it is still a dangerous place to be. Perhaps what was dangerous about MLK, Jr.’s teachings was that he was advocating the sort of change  that means sacrifice for the greater good. Most people who are the unsavory element on our various Jericho Roads have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. They won’t take kindly to interference or being challenged. It’s just not enough to be Good Samaritan anymore. We have to do so much more than that if we’re to make something better of our neighborhoods, cities, and countries.

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Toppling the Triple Evils of our Time

At this very moment, I feel betrayed by history; or perhaps more accurately, what narrow snapshots I have been education upon up until this point. I recently discovered the series “Home Fires” and learned that something called the Women’s Institute was largely responsible for holding down the fort, keeping the nation fed, organizing the evacuation of children and disabled adults out of the cities, and hosting them in the countryside. I knew about the big events of war, but not the little bit of everyday life in wartime.

Likewise, I just listened to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech; “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” and wondered why all I ever heard him say was his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It seems now is a good time as any to go over what he considered the triple evils of his time, poverty / economic exploitation, racism, and militarism.

“Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.”

Poverty includes and is not limited to: unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, and slums.

“Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group.”

Racism includes and is not limited to: prejudice, apartheid, ethnic conflict, anti-Semitism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against disabled groups, and stereotypes.

“A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Militarism includes and is not limited to: war, imperialism, domestic violence, rape, terrorism, human trafficking, media violence, drugs, child abuse, and violent crime.

The triple evils were not defeated in the Civil Rights era, they were challenged, they were beaten, but not destroyed. They have recovered their strength and gone on the offensive. Sadly, many of us were taught that the lessons learned in the Civil Rights era were closed, we slayed the dragon and moved on to fight other battles, not realizing it’s teeth had planted the seeds for the next battle to spring up.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a student of Mahatma Gandhi, they both saw the value of non-violence. Non-violence, however, became a tool to fight against oppression, but not a a way of life. With the oppression of segregation gone, non-violence was a tool that was put back until the shed until we had further use of it. We allowed it to grow dusty as our nation went to war, lost itself in economic woes, and rekindled the flame of racism in it’s many forms. And so it shall be our lot to battle these triple evils until we take up the banner of non-violence as our way of life and true equality for everyone – no qualifications, no differences.

Verbal Incision

I didn’t hear every word the older man said, just the last half of his tirade as it was exceedingly loud: ” … I can’t believe you’d say such a thing about him even if he is dead. You just don’t do that ever. I’m gonna go outside and tell your mom right now.”
The young woman was on the brink of tears – doing her best to hold them back. She looked miserable.
Considering the fourth of July almost here, I wish I would have said: “My great uncle fought and died for your right to say whatever you want. Don’t let some old guy use that freedom against you.” Or “You have a right to say what you feel about things and people, living or dead. Where would we be as a society if we couldn’t speak ill of Hitler and others like him?”
Perhaps the older man was a friend of the family who knew the dead man well and perhaps the young woman was aware of facts that the older man didn’t know – I wondered if there was some flaw in the dead man’s character that the older man just didn’t want to believe so he went off on the young woman. To him the dead man was a saint and the implication that he was a sinner just like everyone else was too much for him to take.
The man probably didn’t even know that his comments were verbally abusive to the young woman. He cared more for the dead man’s honor than the condition of the living young woman. He chose to defend the former by berating the latter. The thing is that dead men tell no tales. And that young woman might never again have the confidence to say what she feels. She’ll remember that time when that guy told her mom about what she said, when everybody got mad over it, and decide to just keep it in. She might never reach out for someone to talk to because the last time that happened it didn’t work out so well for her. If anyone needed to be defended, she did. If anyone needed consolation, she did. If anyone needed to know that someone had taken her side, she did.