martin luther king and love -- 1/21/19
Today's encore selection -- from A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. edited by James M. Washington. Dr. King, as Gandhi before him, had advocated nonviolent protest -- but believed it was not enough merely to be nonviolent. For King, there was a higher standard, and that was that you must love the person who harms you. In the following excerpt, King was speaking in 1961 to white liberals from the "Fellowship of the Concerned" at their annual meeting. He knew that many among them objected to student "sit-ins" and "freedom rides" and preferred a more gradual approach -- in part because of the savage beatings being inflicted on them -- and that his task was to persuade these veteran white liberals to see the student movement as a natural outgrowth of their own work and his own teachings:
"Those who adhere to or follow this philosophy [of nonviolence] must follow a consistent principle of noninjury. They must consistently refuse to inflict injury upon another. Sometimes you will read the literature of the student movement and see that, as they are getting ready for the sit-in or stand-in, they will read something like this, 'If you are hit do not hit back, if you are cursed do not curse back.' This is the whole idea, that the individual who is engaged in a nonviolent struggle must never inflict injury upon another.
"Now this has an external aspect and it has an internal one. From the external point of view it means that the individuals involved must avoid external physical violence. So they don't have guns, they don't retaliate with physical violence. If they are hit in the process, they avoid external physical violence at every point. But it also means that they avoid internal violence of spirit. This is why the love ethic stands so high in the student movement. We have a great deal of talk about love and nonviolence in this whole thrust.
"Now when the students talk about love, certainly they are not talking about emotional bosh, they are not talking about merely a sentimental outpouring; they're talking something much deeper, and I always have to stop and try to define the meaning of love in this context. The Greek language comes to our aid in trying to deal with this. There are three words in the Greek language for love; one is the word eros. This is a beautiful type of love, it is an aesthetic love. Plato talks about it a great deal in his Dialogue, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and so in a sense we have read about it and experienced it. We've read about it in all the beauties of literature. I guess in a sense Edgar Allan Poe was talking about eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabelle Lee, with the love surrounded by the halo of eternity. In a sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he said 'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove; O'no! It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken, it is the star to every wandering bark.' (You know, I remember that because I used to quote it to this little lady when we were courting; that's eros.) The Greek language talks about philia which was another level of love. It is an intimate affection between personal friends, it is a reciprocal love. On this level you love because you are loved. It is friendship.
"Then the Greek language comes out with another word which is called the agape. Agape is more than romantic love, agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him. And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said 'love your enemies.'
"I'm very happy that he didn't say like your enemies, because it is pretty difficult to like some people. Like is sentimental, and it is pretty difficult to like someone bombing your home; it is pretty difficult to like somebody threatening your children; it is difficult to like congressmen who spend all of their time trying to defeat civil rights. But Jesus says love them, and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive, creative, good will for all men. And it is this idea, it is this whole ethic of love which is the idea standing at the basis of the student movement."