NEUTERING THE MESSAGE OF THE PROPHETS
Ron English in an article in the Gazette expresses his concern that Martin Luther King’s legacy is being confined to his “I have a Dream” speech and that his image is being manipulated to honor him only “as a pitchman for a color-blind society, … to the neglect of his consummate outrage at racial bigotry, economic injustice, and nationalistic imperialism.” Rev. English quotes a historian: “Americans insist on approaching King in a way that makes him easy to handle.” That is, avoiding reminding people of what King said or did with regard to racial bigotry, economic injustice and nationalistic imperialism.
Few want to be reminded that Americans summarily lynched thousands of blacks after vigilantes hounded them down and dragged them to the execution tree, where whites picnicked and watched the spectacle. No one wants to hear King preach on the outrageous gulf between the rich and the poor, cite statistics and depict conditions that provoke any sentient being to wail or curse. And no one wants to be reminded of the evil conspiracy of capitalism and militarism to dominate and exploit in the name of nationalism and manifest destiny.
King took Christ’s message seriously—all of it not just the promise of salvation but the exhortation to do good for evil—and he suffered the same fate as Christ, except that his crucifixion was seen and done through the cross hairs of a deadly weapon manned by a racial fanatic. But Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate and James Earl Ray and all the men of history disposed as they were have inhibited other men, except for the bravest, from doing as King and Mahatma Gandhi and Michael Servetus and Giordano Bruno, among others, did. That is, challenge the state and orthodoxy with civil disobedience on behalf of the victims of economic exploitation, racial oppression, and military adventurism. And on behalf of truth.
Thus, the inhibited, intimidated and the complacent , that is, the majority of mankind, have seen to it that the messages of the prophets have been neutered, diluted, compromised and generally neglected out of fear of the real substance of their messages. Who wants to see on his wall the message “Turn the other cheek” or the whole substance of the Sermon on the Mount to remind him of the abyss between his everyday moral guides and those guides Christ exhorted him to follow?
I have wondered aloud often these days alone and in company, why in a Christian nation are the preachers and the pious so obsessed with the goal of having before the eyes of children in schools and visitors in court houses the Ten Commandments? Why not have on the walls of schools and court houses the Beatitudes, and a compendium of the Sermon? The question is rhetorical; I know the answer. How can a society that is addicted to things, consumerist oriented, sexually aberrant, hedonistic, litigious, vindictive, militaristic, narcissistic, and worshippers of the Golden Calf—endure the sounds of Christ’s message and the sight of him on the Cross for having spoken those sounds.
I will die remembering that George W. Bush said in a debate that the philosopher that had the greatest impact on him was Jesus Christ and wondering as my life ebbs whether he had really read a word that Christ spoke or whether he used Christ for political gain. I wonder because I cannot detect a scintilla of evidence that he ever read a word or took to heart and mind the greatest message ever delivered to man. He like most people think only in terms of salvation not good works in compliance with Christ’s mandates just as Rev. English points out few pay any attention to the substance of King’s message and his life.
Tolstoy has presented to mankind a compendium of Christ’s message, which is an undiluted and un-neutered summary fit for every wall everywhere:
- Do no ill to anyone so as not to arouse anger, for evil begets evil.
- Do not desert your wife and go after other women; for desertion and change of wives causes all the world’s dissoluteness.
- Take no oath of any kind. Oaths are taken for bad purposes.
- Do not resist evil, do not condemn, do not go to law, but endure wrong, and do more than people demand. By taking revenge, we only teach others to do the same.
- Do not discriminate between countrymen and foreigners, for all children are of one God.
- Do not pray in the sight of men, for the Father’s knowledge is enough.