27 Jan 2013

MLK on Loving Your Enemy

Pacifism, Religious 42 Comments

The commentary always gets so political on the official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday itself, but I had been reminded of this 1957 sermon on forgiveness and loving your enemy, and thought I’d quote from it now:

He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us…

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt…

Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.

Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.

So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies–or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

42 Responses to “MLK on Loving Your Enemy”

  1. Adrian Gabriel says:

    This is a wonderful sermon. The Golden Rule is the Libertarian Non-Agression Principle. Those who forgive easiest are the ones that can love the best.

    • Art Thomas says:

      Does one have to love in order not to hate?

      Here is your friend whom you love dearly killed by a drunk driver.
      How do you love someone you don’t know in the first place, who has just killed someone you love? I can see where you can eventually sympathise with this person and forgive him in order to get to a peaceful place with yourself, beyond torment and hatred and revenge. Is this love?

      Love is such a subjective term.

      • Adrian Gabriel says:

        Art, Love is subjective. As a Christian one can say that that God is Love, and indeed every person’s experience and relationship will be different with Him.

        And in regards to loving someone that committed harm to you, this is where the importance of understanding the differences of Love and it’s use in the bible. There is philia, love for your brother or neighbor. There is Eros, carnal or physical love, and there is Agape, the highest experience of Love with God. And of course Love with God is a personal experience and subjective for everyone. Yet just like the Free Market, everyone’s subjective experience with Love, brings us together and makes us relate as human beings.

        Now one may ask, how can two people in Love feel the same way for each other. Well this is where Agape cleanses and purifies Eros (carnal love) and allows us to love someone eternally. It is an experience of Agape shared. Indeed all this takes reason to attain and understand, and this is why reason is so important in one’s spiritual journey with God.

        On another note, an atheist may say he can love someone without knowing God. Well indeed he is also performing the acts of God. He is choosing to love, and in order to Love he expresses the fruits of the spirit. This atheist must use his reason to make his relationship work, in the same way a Christion uses reason to understand God/Love. Thus if one truly is rational, and knows how to Love, he will also know how to forgive. They go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly.

    • Ken B says:

      ” The Golden Rule is the Libertarian Non-Agression Principle.”

      Nonsense. You can see it’s nonsense because liberals use it to justify intervention.

      • Adrian Gabriel says:

        Ken, I never remember any Liberals using the Golden Rule to justify interventionism. And if they try to, they have utterly used it as a false tool, interpreting it incorrectly like the state used the catholic church to oppress the innocent native americans in latin america.

        • Ken B says:

          Adrian, you just cited a case of using the GR to justify intervention of a pretty serious kind!
          You really don’t hear advocates of minimum wages laws appealing to the Golden Rule, implicitly or explicitly? You don’t hear advocates of socialized medicne ask but what if you are your child needed care and you lost your job?

  2. Yosef says:

    I wonder, this post still being placed on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are we to forgive the Nazis? Can there ever be a “cancelling of a debt” when the debt is written in so much red?

    With respect to Martin Luther King, never forgive, never forget.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Can there ever be a “cancelling of a debt” when the debt is written in so much red?

      We’d better hope so, or everyone is condemned to hatred forever.

      • Yosef says:

        Bob, why is everyone condemned to hatred forever? As in, do you mean we are all condemned to hate such as the Nazis forever, or we are all condemned to be hated by someone forever? If the former, then I would disagree with the use of condemned. We are not condemned to hate such as the Nazis, we should be commanded to, as a reminder of such evil. If it is the second, I would disagree that we have all done acts worthy of eternal hatred. But what if we have? (As in, if we have, we should in turn be hated.) I for one would not deny a man his right to hate, and the properness of such hate at times.

        • Watoosh says:

          Why is hatred a necessary reminder of unspeakable evil?

          I don’t need to expend any energy on hating the Nazis to recognize that what they did was just about as evil as it gets. All I need to do is look at pictures of the Holocaust and I’m reminded of what evils people are capable of. It’s something I will tell my children about, and teach them to be ever vigilant of such events.

          By hating the Nazis, I’m dehumanizing them, forgetting that they were regular humans driven to evil by “fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding”. Their flaws were what spawned the horrors of WWII, not some monstrous demons from Mordor that can only be eradicated by equal amounts of hatred. And what’s more, the fact that they were human means the Holocaust could have happened anywhere where hatred and ignorance were allowed to grow out of bounds – not just 1930’s Jew-hating Germany.

          I’m not an enlightened guru who knows the secrets of loving my enemies, much as I would like to be. But I’m pretty sure Hitler wouldn’t have become what he did, had he simply gotten more love as a child.

        • Ken B says:

          The conceit, to use a poetic term, was hatred as a debt. Hatred so deep and violent it is written in blood (red). If we can’t cancel those debts, but must keep repaying them …
          After all the “repayment” usually just provokes more hatred in turn, since it usually involves new victims.

        • Chase Hampton says:

          Hatred of actions should not be used as reason or excuse for hatred of actors.

  3. guest says:

    Martin Luther King was no friend of the free market.

    The Economics of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    King had no use for the price system, calling it “violence” responsible for blacks paying “higher consumer prices” than whites. “Do you know,” he asked, “that a can of beans almost always costs a few cents more in grocery chain stores located in the Negro ghetto than in a store of that same chain located in the upper-middle-class suburbs?”

    This led, said King, to black “disillusionment and bitterness. ” But why, unless – as a recent New York Times poll tells us is more and more the case – blacks believe their plight is the result of a white conspiracy?

    Walter Block has a great chapter dealing with the issue of ghetto prices:

    Defending the Undefendable (Chapter 21: The Ghetto Merchant) by Walter Block

    • Watoosh says:

      What’s that got to do with this? Do his economic and political views somehow invalidate his other moral stances?

      I really don’t understand so many libertarians think one’s opinion on laissez-faire economics is the only moral dimension that matters.

      • Stefan says:

        I agree with you that one’s opinion on the free market shouldn’t be the cornerstone of anyone’s opinion about you. But I also think MLK did not understand the relationship between poverty and monopoly power.

      • guest says:

        I really don’t understand so many libertarians think one’s opinion on laissez-faire economics is the only moral dimension that matters.

        It’s not the only one that matters, but historically it has proven to be the primary one that matters.

        Bad economic thinking has destroyed more lives, it seems, than any other philosophy.

        For example, we get angry at China for selling us cheap goods and taking “our jobs”.

        Another example is that we get angry at illegal aliens for supposedly “taking American jobs”. It’s true that they ought not have the rights of citizenship, but both parties are economically better off when they are able to underbid other workers – especially the Unionized workers.

        And here’s an interesting example in the context of a religious community:

        The Failure of Wage and Price Control in the Massachusetts Theocracy

        (Let me qualify my comment about citizenship: America is violating people’s rights by claiming a territorial monopoly, so illegal aliens aren’t illegal for crossing so-called “public land” borders. It’s only when they cross private property borders that they are trespassing. But non-citizens are not entitled to the rights of citizenship.)

        • Christopher says:

          So I assume you don’t think this conversation would be odd:

          Guest’s mom: Stop laughing at that man in the wheelchair. It’s wrong to make fun of others’ disabilities.

          Guest: What do you know about morals, mom! You don’t even understand the Laffer Curve!

          • Ken B says:

            Well, was guest old enough to understand calculus?


            • Christopher says:

              I assumed all fictional characters in my fictional story were 32 years or older.

        • guest says:

          So I assume you don’t think this conversation would be odd:

          Tom Woods made a video in which he explains, among other things, how bad economic thinking has hurt the disabled:

          (He’s talking, here, about Ron Paul’s position on the Americans With Disabilities Act)

          Thought Controllers Call Ron Paul “Extreme”


          At any rate, I am combatting, here, the tendency of people to look to Martin Luther King as some sort of hero for civil rights; which is the context in which MLK matters at all, and which is therefore the basis of appeal for the position he expressed on the issue of forgiveness.

          Here’s Tom Woods explaining Ron Paul’s position on the Civil Rights Act:

          Thought Controllers Call Ron Paul “Extreme”

          Here’s another free market perspective on the issue, which some may find more compelling:

          A black man’s view on Ron Paul being racist Part 1

          And here, Walter Williams makes the case that the greater level of poverty among the black community is DUE TO civil-rights-type legislation:

          Race and Economics

          How might one explain yesteryear’s lower black unemployment and greater labor force participation? The usual academic, civil rights or media racial discrimination explanation for black/white socio-economic differences just wouldn’t hold up.

          During the 1930s, there were a number of federal government interventions that changed the black employment picture. The first was the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which mandated minimum wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects. During the bill’s legislative debate, the racial objectives were clear.

          American Federation of Labor President William Green said, “Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates.” For decades after Davis-Bacon enactment, black workers on federally financed or assisted construction projects virtually disappeared.

          The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 broadened the number of workers covered by minimum wages, with negative consequences for black employment across a much wider range of industries. Good intentions motivate most Americans in their support for minimum wage laws, but for compassionate public policy, one should examine the laws’ effect.

          • Christopher says:

            Tom Woods made a video in which he explains, among other things, how bad economic thinking has hurt the disabled:

            Let me guess: Bad economic thinking led children to distrust their parents when they told them not to make fun of the disabled?

            • guest says:

              Let me guess: Bad economic thinking led children to distrust their parents when they told them not to make fun of the disabled?

              Imagine the amount of work there’d be for the disabled, if government didn’t get in the way of children’s lemonade stands:

              Defending the Undefendable (Chapter 32: The Employer of Child Labor) by Walter Block

  4. Ken B says:

    Bob: Since we’re on a Sunday thread, did you ask your friend about John having the last supper and crucifixion on a different day (relative to passover) than the other gospels? Jn 19:14 is pretty clear on this.

    This is nothing new btw. Christians discussed this before the Bible was formed. Origen discussed it.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Yes I did ask him, and his answer troubled me…

      • Ken B says:

        Well I don’t want to press you if it’s uncomfortable (not yet at least, give your time to ponder) , but I am interested in the topic. You do after all make a lot of arguments based on the reliability and consistency of the accounts.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Ken B., right, I understand the ramifications, which is why his response troubled me. I’m not sure yet how to respond, but, I’m glad you brought it up.

          • Ken B says:

            OK, I’ll give you some time to think. I’m not trying to create or exploit emotional responses, but I think its very pertinent to the kind of argument you’ve made here, so it’s fair game.

            I think though the time is ripe for OLG taunting now!

            • Bob Murphy says:

              That’s fine. You can also add that I’m not debating Scott Sumner right now either. Really am busy.

              • Andrew Jackson says:

                I’m assuming that you two are much closer to a deal to debate than you were say a few months ago. It seems more likely than the Krugman debate to me.

              • Joseph Fetz says:

                Well, it’s better to be busy than to be twiddling your thumbs. Glad to see your real gig is paying off.

              • Ken B says:

                I won’t taunt you about Sumner Bob, as I expect you can hold your own. The game won’t end “Bob Murphy no score”. But with the OLG debate that’s pretty much how it looks. Krugman-Landsburg-B 1, Bob Murphy no score.

            • guest says:

              I don’t know if this information will be helpful, but this link makes claims about the use of different calendars (Pharaseean and Sadduceean calendars) accounting for the apparent discrepancies.

              It has a time-scale graph of what he says is going on:

              Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?

              It may be worth a look. I have no idea how credible the site is.

              • Ken B says:

                No, that just makes more difficulties in fact. For instance there is no evidence for it. Next it causes other conflicts, since the Sabbath follows immediately in the synoptic accounts.
                Vermes has a discussion of just this red herring in The Passion.

                The synoptics and John just differ on this. The really interesting part is that on this part of the story John seems more credible and plausible. The synoptic passion narrative is pretty close to impossible, but it all works if you stick to John. This is interesting because John is later, and shows clearlsigns of theological elaboration. On most topics the synoptics look more reliable.

          • Ken B says:

            A pertinent debate, Ehrman vw Craig on these issues. Craig makes an argument much like Bob’s, Ehrman one much like mine. They are each better at it than Bob and I though! Very long (2+ hours) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhT4IENSwac

  5. Ken B says:

    Only on FA could a Martin Luther King speech against hatred, on a Sunday, be controversial!

    Bob, you sure know how to stir them up …

    • Silas Barta says:

      Imagine what it would be like if the sermon had stuff like “You must love your enemy as much as you love yourself …”

      Uh oh!

      (I bet Gene_Callahan and the self-ownership nit-pickers would be deafeningly silent about any possible incoherence in the concept self-love …)

      • Ken B says:

        I don’t think I agree Silas. If there is one topic Gene knows inside out it’s self-love.

  6. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, what’s political about Martin Luther King day?

  7. Silas Barta says:

    I’m curious what the reaction was at the time among MLK supporters. Was this a sharp departure from what MLK had emphasized before? When I read stuff like this, I can imagine at least some people thinking “Wait, I have to *love* Bull Connor? S***, I didn’t sign up for this!”

    (Replace Bull Connor with appropriate contemporary figure if that’s an anachronism.)

    • Ken B says:

      I’m pretty sure “turn the other cheek” wasn’t seen as a startling innovation in Christianity, circa 1957.

      • Silas Barta says:

        Eh, insistence from a credible leader that you actually take it seriously *was* uncommon though.

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