January 2011 Archives
Every once in a while, a person comes along who completely changes the world they live in. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of those people. King was the voice of a revolution. He was an excellent leader; he was able to get people to rally behind him. When forming your opinion about a person, however, it is sometimes helpful to consider how other influential people would respond to his or her ideas.
Martin Luther King Jr. had many ideas that were distinct from popular thought. He believed that it was the church's duty to resolve injustice. He thought that a person of faith needed to look out for the rights of his fellow man. In his mind, Christians did not have the luxury to idly sit on the sidelines and see what happened. Another idea of King was that it is acceptable, even right, to break unjust laws. He thought it a greater sin to follow the unjust laws than to break them. Perhaps the most controversial idea of all was that of militant non-violence. King thought that, no matter what his opposition did to him, he should never respond with violence. King wrote of the positions on this issue: "I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency ... The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence (Letter From a Birmingham Jail)."
Jean Jacques Rousseau was a man who would have completely disagreed with some of King's thoughts. Rousseau would particularly disagree with the idea that the Church must fight injustice. Rousseau believed that true Christians are so focused on heavenly things that they don't care about earthly things. They would, therefore, not fight laws, because all injustice will resolve in heaven. Rousseau also thought that citizens of a country should be free to have whatever opinions they wanted, so long as they obeyed the laws. This thought is in stark contrast to civil disobedience. He thought that citizens should be loyal to their country above all else, in order for the country to survive. On the issue of militant non-violence, Rousseau and King would have once again disagreed. Rousseau thought that those who were not willing to fight were too easily taken advantage of. Rousseau would not have expected militant non-violence to improve a situation. Rousseau and King were clearly in disagreement on their political views (Rousseau 2-5).
David Hume was a man who questioned information extensively before accepting it as true. He would likely not believe that there was any racial discrimination past what he saw with his own eyes. He would argue that otherwise there were not enough reliable eye-witnesses. Hume would have found it ridiculous for King to believe that all Christians should react the same way on an issue. Hume stated, "When I am convinced of any principle, 'tis only an idea, which strikes more strongly upon me. When I give the preference to one set of arguments above another, I do nothing but decide from my feeling concerning the superiority of their influence." Feeling vary from person to person, so it wrong to assume that all Christians would have the obligation to agree on the issue. Hume would have agreed with King on civil disobedience. If he disagreed with a law or thought its merit improbable he would reject it and find a different alternative. Hume would not be strongly for or against militant non-violence. He would plausibly be skeptical of the merits of both violence and non-violence. Hume was, at his core, a skeptic, and that would show in his positions on ideas (Hume 238-42).
Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. had a lot in common. In addition to their names, they both started great reformations of the way things were in their time periods. With thoughts and ideas, though, similarities are less clearly cut. Luther did believe that Christians were commanded to help their neighbors in need. So he would have probably agreed with king that the church should help free their African-American brothers from oppression. It gets tricky when you get to civil disobedience, however. He wrote many times that Christians should obey the governing authorities, for their power comes from God. His actions - the reformation - seem to suggest, on the other hand, that he does believe Christians should try to reform those in power, if their laws go against the Bible. Luther would certainly agree with militant non-violence. He believed that believers should not hurt or harm their neighbor in any way. This would remain true even if they were being mistreated (Luther 346-47; 372).
The thing that influential people all seem to have in common is that they have a strong opinion about something. It makes sense, therefore, that this would remain true with their opinions of other people's ideas. It would be truly fascinating to witness a conversation between Martin Luther King Jr. and Rousseau, Hume, or Luther.
Hume, David. The Essay on Miracles. 238-42. Print.
King, Martin Luther Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail . 1963. Print.
Luther, Martin. "Small Catechism." Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 'Comp'. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Print.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right. 1762. 2-5. Print.