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"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
In the discussion of Martin Luther King's early years, James H. Cone's excellent Martin & Malcom & America includes an insight that I had never come across before regarding King's uncertainties while considering public ministry.
his exposure to modern thinking at Morehouse created many doubts in his mind about the truth-value of religion in a scientific world. The critical discourse of the secular disciplines seemed to conflict with the claims of religion... "I had doubts that religion was intellectually responsible," he recalled later.
By Cone's account, interestingly, it was not the resolution of intellectual qualms that eventually turned King to the ministry, but rather more practical ones.
In the summer of 1947, at the end of his junior year of college, Martin decided to enter the ministry. He was eighteen. A year later he was ordained... Like his father and grandfather before him and like Benjamin Mays and George Kelsey, Martin concluded that the ministry was the most appropriate vocation for fighting for the integration of Negroes into the mainstream of American society.
There are several conflicting value systems at work here, and it is peculiar to see the direction he chose and where that finally took him. Intellectual honesty is challenged by spiritual honesty, but it is finally a manner of social honesty that leads him to choose the (perhaps) unresolved spiritual.
Consider for the moment (because we do not know better) that King's difficulties with the "truth-value" of religion were never resolved, though he went on to become a great preacher whose public speaking was always couched in spiritual values and images. What is not addressed in the passage is finally the honesty of self-presentation and communication, honesty to others. When King spoke of the nonviolence of Christ, did he speak of the Son of God or a necessary symbol?
In the religious conversation that persists today, where unwavering faith is disguised as the norm, where would believers place this vision of King? Prophet or hypocrite?
One observation from my reading of Cone's study: Malcom X, for all his magnificence, seems possessed by his religion while King seems in possession of his.
Some investigation into the ideas of Leo Strauss have lately led me to be very interested in the ethics of leaders crafting certainties for the masses that they themselves cannot ultimately cling to. What is the value of a thing, even a great thing, if it is bestowed upon a people with the intention, at least for some, of keeping the bestowers in power? Today, I consider the great Christo gates and the city of New York. And the tapes recently released that shed some possible light on the President's personal faith and feelings about the Christian movements that support him.
What settles in my belly at last, or seems to settle, is the need to live amidst dual intentions and finally accept their benefits. This occurs both on the scale of a society and a person. Bad intentions lead to good things, just as the oft-said reverse is true.
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re: Honesty - 2/23/2005 09:15:27
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