When we talk about the work of exemplary men and women, we usually focus on their achievements and pay little attention to their theological convictions–as if, somehow, their actions could be divorced from their beliefs. There’s no doubt, though, that the ceaseless labors of many prophetic people are tied to their strong religious convictions, convictions that are not peripheral, but central to their work.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrates this point. We are well informed about what he accomplished and the world he helped change, but how many of us can explain the theological grounding of his visionary leadership? In the passage below, we discover that, in his struggle for righteousness, King believed in, and relied on, the sustaining and loving power of a personal God:
“…in the past years the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category which I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experience of every day life… In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power. To say God is personal is not to make him an object among other objects or attribute to him the finiteness and limitations of human personality; it is to take what is finest and noblest in our consciousness and affirm its perfect existence in him. It is certainly true that human personality is limited, but personality as such involves no necessary limitations. It simply means self-consciousness and self-direction. So in the truest sense of the word, God is a living God. In him there is feeling and will, responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart: thus God both evokes and answers prayers.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” in I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, ed. James Melvin Washington, 54-62 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1986), 61.
Robin Edgar said:
Are you sure you are not being a tad tabloidish with that title Naked Theologian?
Josh Davis said:
Thanks for posting this. I’ve got a recording of one of Dr. King’s speeches and it gives me chills every time I listen to it. Truly one of the most eloquent speakers and profound thinkers this country has ever produced.
Which is why it’s more than just a little sad to realize that Dr. King would not find himself very welcome among many UUs. He talks about God, not just believing in God, but having experience of God. I know more than a few UUs who would write him off on that count alone. It seems to me that all too often UUs will reject a person simply on the basis of their faith and on its not aligning with theirs, or rather, not aligning with their lack of faith (in my experience of inland-northwest UUism; I hear it’s different back east).
The title of your post is good too. We need to remember, to be exposed, to the faith of those whose lives and actions we hold up as praiseworthy. I don’t know a single UU who would question what Dr. King did with his life, but I know plenty who would call him kooky for holding an “irrational” belief in God. As you rightly point out, the two are not separable; we can’t accept the validity of his works while denying the validity of his faith, a faith with gave birth to those works. We may not share the beliefs or the experiences of Dr. King, or of the members of the dogmatic faiths in general, but that does not mean that we have a right to deny or belittle those beliefs and experiences.
We seem, often, to be only too ready to identify ourselves as UUs by what we are not, by how we differ from the more “mainstream” faith traditions. I would hope that in the future we could focus more on that which we share in common with all: a commitment of justice and peace, and a methodology of Love. In this way, we might expand the “Beloved Community” to embrace all our sisthren and brethren, regardless of what they, or we, believe, without regard for our differing metaphysical vocabularies.
Robin Edgar said:
“It seems to me that all too often UUs will reject a person simply on the basis of their faith and on its not aligning with theirs, or rather, not aligning with their lack of faith (in my experience of inland-northwest UUism; I hear it’s different back east).”
Now, now. . .
Don’t go questioning the fervently chosen faith of some atheist U*Us Josh. The “fundamentalist atheist” Humanist U*Us I have the misfortune to know have considerable faith in the non-existence of God, so much so that some of them who happen to be ordained U*U ministers can even preach Sunday sermons from their Wayward Pulpits authoritatively declaring that God is a “non-existent being” and that any and all belief in God “seems primitive”. I would say that such devout atheists have as much faith as other religious fundamentalists who are convinced that *their* version of the “truth” is the “One True Faith”. 🙂
Robin Edgar said:
Oh and it is not *that* different “back East” Josh.
Certainly not in Quebec and other parts of Eastern Canada such as Bouctouche New Brunswick. . .