MLK for Atheists
Rev. King was no saint, though probably more of a saint than many “saints.” No miracle-worker … just a “drum major” for justice, and justice matters to people with or without religious beliefs.
My wife Carol and I made our secular pilgrimage to the house where he grew up (Atlanta) and the family home that was nearly blown up (Montgomery).
We stood on the lofty steps of the Lincoln Memorial (D.C.) where he gave his “Dream” speech and we sat in Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta) where he preached.
We walked to the Dexter Avenue Church (Montgomery) where he served and where the Marchers from Selma gathered.
And we stood in silence at the Lorraine Motel (Memphis) where he was murdered and at the gravesite where he and Coretta are buried (Atlanta).
Martin was only one, one of many, who commit themselves to lead us forward … us …Black or White or Brown, female and male, believer or freethinker … all Americans. They lead us, bend us toward, something called Justice, to “liberty and justice for all,” and that means everyone, and all of our responsibility.
Dr. King was a faithful Christian, living the message of Jesus to serve others with compassion. He stood, walked and ultimately died, not to be raised up, but to raise us all to our higher humanity, to elevate the nation to its highest ideals.
His cause, his voice (and I heard this in the chorus of voices when called to ministry), rang out not only for people of faith but for all freethinkers and freedom seekers.
In 1957, Martin spoke to a gathering of Christian students at UC Berkeley and said something that probably surprised some in the audience:
“I am quite aware of the fact that there are persons who believe firmly in nonviolence who do not believe in a personal God, but I think every person who believes in nonviolent resistance believes somehow that the universe in some form is on the side of justice. That there is something unfolding in the universe whether one speaks of it as an unconscious process, or whether one speaks of it as some unmoved mover, or whether someone speaks of it as a personal God. There is something in the universe that unfolds for justice and so in Montgomery we felt somehow that as we struggled we had cosmic companionship. And this was one of the things that kept the people together, the belief that the universe is on the side of justice.”
He goes on to use religious language, but in words that even the most ardent atheist can hear as a call to continue the work of justice, side by side with sisters and brothers–human companions–responding to the voice of King, and the voice within.