Archives For Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m re-printing my tribute from 2012, which I think still resonates as one way we as Pagans can acknowledge this great activist and religious leader. I would also recommend John Beckett’s post on King’s paper regarding Mystery Religions.

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when we celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. King, who helped wage several successful challenges to the racist and segregationist policies of America during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s. King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and  shortly before his assassination in 1968 he began to broaden his scope of activism, working for an “economic bill of rights” to address the underlying causes of poverty. Throughout his career, King espoused the principles of nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring change.

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.“Letter From Birmingham Jail”

I want to make a special point of honoring King on this day, as a Pagan, because I think too many of us conceive of him as only a Christian hero. A great voice for social justice, but someone who is operating outside our religious context. In reality, King’s methods of nonviolence and civil disobedience were deeply influenced by thinkers outside of his faith, and he was quick to give credit to those voices. The two most obvious were leading transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau, whose teachings, according to King, “came alive in our civil rights movement,” and Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, pioneer of satyagraha. In 1959 King made a month-long pilgrimage to India where he met with disciples and confidants of Gandhi, and ended up using many of Gandhi’s methods as a model in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social-contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau. the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”

Even in King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” he twice mentions Socrates as a practitioner of civil disobedience to be honored and emulated.

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. […] To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.”

The ethos of King: nonviolence, social justice, and civil disobedience in the face of injustice, is not isolated to Christianity. These values can be found in most cultures and faiths throughout history. The first recorded labor strike happened in ancient Egypt, and in 494 BCE plebeians effected a shutdown of Rome to guarantee more economic and political rights. These tools are picked up again and again in different contexts and situations, and continue to find new life in today’s protest movements. While King was an ardent Christian, he was also a man who saw beyond the boundaries of his own faith, who acknowledged the wisdom and knowledge that can come from other cultures and philosophies. In this, as in many other things, we should emulate the great man. King was not afraid to enrich himself with the wisdom of others, and always strove for  justice, two qualities that any Pagan should be proud to embrace.

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when we celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. King, who helped wage several successful challenges to the racist and segregationist policies of America during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s. King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and  shortly before his assassination in 1968 he began to broaden his scope of activism, working for an “economic bill of rights” to address the underlying causes of poverty. Throughout his career, King espoused the principles of nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring change.

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.“Letter From Birmingham Jail”

I want to make a special point of honoring King on this day, as a Pagan, because I think too many of us conceive of him as only a Christian hero. A great voice for social justice, but someone who is operating outside our religious context. In reality, King’s methods of nonviolence and civil disobedience were deeply influenced by thinkers outside of his faith, and he was quick to give credit to those voices. The two most obvious were leading transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau, whose teachings, according to King, “came alive in our civil rights movement,” and Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, pioneer of satyagraha. In 1959 King made a month-long pilgrimage to India where he met with disciples and confidants of Gandhi, and ended up using many of Gandhi’s methods as a model in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social-contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau. the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”

Even in King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” he twice mentions Socrates as a practitioner of civil disobedience to be honored and emulated.

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. […] To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.”

The ethos of King: nonviolence, social justice, and civil disobedience in the face of injustice, is not isolated to Christianity. These values can be found in most cultures and faiths throughout history. The first recorded labor strike happened in ancient Egypt, and in 494 BCE plebeians effected a shutdown of Rome to guarantee more economic and political rights. These tools are picked up again and again in different contexts and situations, and continue to find new life in today’s protest movements. While King was an ardent Christian, he was also a man who saw beyond the boundaries of his own faith, who acknowledged the wisdom and knowledge that can come from other cultures and philosophies. In this, as in many other things, we should emulate the great man. King was not afraid to enrich himself with the wisdom of others, and always strove for  justice, two qualities that any Pagan should be proud to embrace.

In Fullest Honor

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 17, 2011 — 18 Comments

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the nation celebrates the birthday* of peacemaker activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr..

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

A short excerpt from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood….I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Americans United wants to remind you of another dream King had, the dream of religious freedom.

“In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.”

They close with what King thought the true role of religious institutions in America were for.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

May all of King’s dreams for America, and the world, be fulfilled.

* Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is on January 15th, but the Federal holiday is observed on the third Monday of January.

Top Story: Reuters is reporting that several Haitian Vodou priests are upset over the creation of anonymous mass graves, saying that it is a desecration which removes all dignity from death. Among those protesting was Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who met with Haitian President Rene Preval over the matter.

“It is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion,” Haiti’s main voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir, said in a meeting with Preval. Local radio is broadcasting messages for Haitians to put bodies recovered from under the rubble of collapsed buildings on the street for collection by garbage and other trucks. “The conditions in which bodies are being buried is not respecting the dignity of these people,” Beauvoir, who was educated at City College of New York and the Sorbonne in Paris, said in the Preval meeting this weekend.

Which brings us to the question of whether these anonymous mass graves are indeed a necessity. The Haitian Red Cross President Michaelle Amedee Gedeon says that disease risk is minimal, while the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that anonymous mass graves are bad procedure that can worsen the tragedy.

“The belief that bodies pose a serious health threat often leads authorities to take misguided action, such as mass burials, which can add to the burden of suffering already experienced by survivors,” the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said. “The worst part of this is that these actions are taken without respecting the processes of identifying and preserving bodies, something that not only goes against cultural norms and religious beliefs but also has social, psychological, emotional, economic and legal consequences that add to the suffering directly caused by the disaster,” said PAHO … ICRC officials, who recommended only shallow ditches to cover the dead, said: “People need to be able to identify their relatives. It is important to at least take photographs of those being buried and to note any unique physical markings, like teeth and scars.” They cited the Asian tsunami of 2004 in which people were swiftly buried in mass graves or cremated. “We don’t want to repeat those mistakes,” the Red Cross said. But here in Port-au-Prince, fresh fatal errors are committed daily.

Despite the protests and the advice of various health organizations, some 50,000 dead are already lying in pits surrounding Port-au-Prince. Whether this policy will change with the influx of aid and volunteers remains to be seen. There is little to no Haitian government infrastructure left to guide aid efforts, and some may see the mass graves as a more efficient (and psychologically tolerable) solution in the short term.

In Other News: Over at Psychology Today, noted addiction psychologist Stanton Peele weighs in on Mass. Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s involvement in the Fells Acre ritual abuse case.

“Whenever you mock the trials of witches in Salem, consider having an unrepentant witch hunter in the United States Senate.  Coakley is heavily backed by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy’s widow, and President Obama. So witch hunting can be a path to success. Perhaps these worthies are correct in supporting her – they are political people. But I couldn’t vote for Coakley (although I certainly don’t support Coakley’s opponent). Even if Coakley survives this election, however, her campaign has marked her as damaged political goods – something her behavior re “ritual child abuse” should have done, but failed to.”

The Overlawyered blog rounds up more blog and editorial commentary on Coakley relating to the Fells Acre case. Meanwhile, moderate conservative Andrew Sullivan seems to be leading the “Coakley is bad but Brown would be worse” charge at his blog (as are the Democratic partisan blogs, naturally). Though even he wonders if the “perfect storm” of resistance to Coakley can be turned aside. As I said before, I don’t envy the choices presented to Massachusetts voters.

Former Pagan author AJ Drew has apparently converted to Catholicism, and is in the midst of an ugly custody battle with his wife, who he is accusing of ongoing domestic (and possibly sexual) abuse. Here’s the relevant quote concerning his current religious status.

“I think it is fairly clear that religious discrimination can be added to sexual discrimination. In court, as if this were the 16th century, I have been accused of being a Witch. This either because several years ago I wrote some New Age titles or because today I am a practicing Catholic. I can not be sure why they are so concerned with my religious preferences, but the supervisor demanded that I tell her my religious preferences in court while she was testifying against my sanity. It was as if she felt all Catholics or members of other religions to which she does not subscribe are insane.”

As to the issues of abuse, and the custody of his children, I have no idea what the situation truly is. Nor do I feel inclined to venture a guess. Custody cases, especially ones where abuse is alleged, can be quagmires of competing narratives and claims, the results often pleasing no-one. You can read AJ Drew’s side of the story here, and here. Readers can follow up on them, or not, as they wish. As for further coverage here, it’s clear that a connection to the wider Pagan community is no longer desired by Drew (now going by Andrew Schlomann), so barring extraordinary circumstances, I’ll respect those wishes.

Turning briefly to Romanian politics, it seems that Social Democratic Party leader Mircea Geoana and his wife Mihaela Geoana have accused Romanian President Traian Basescu’s (of the Democratic Liberal Party) team on national television of using mystical attacks to win the recent elections.

“National paper Romania libera writes an op-ed on Monday headlined “Voodoo politics”, while TV news channels focused on debates on the “Violet flame mania”, referring to renewed accusations of mystical attacks by President Traian Basescu’s team against Mircea Geoana, his rival in the second round of presidential elections in December 2009. Romanian news agency Mediafax reported that last weekend Mircea Geoana said on Antena 3 news channel that he did not feel drained of energy during the last televised debate of the presidential elections. But while claiming these were childish excuses, he said Basescu was using the support of people with paranormal abilities who were present at the debate. Then, on Saturday, his wife Mihaela Geoana said Mircea Geoana was the target of malicious energy attacks during that debate, which would explain why he was “paralyzed” during parts of the discussion.”

Luckily, it doesn’t look like many are taking them very seriously, even fellow party members are mocking them. You can read more about the “violet flame conspiracy”, here, and here.

In a final note, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The government thinks you should make this day a day of service, while others are reflecting on King’s legacy in the era of Obama. As for Americans United, they want to remind you of another dream King had, the dream of religious freedom.

“In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.”

They close with what King thought the true role of religious institutions in America were for.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

May all of King’s dreams for America, and the world, be fulfilled.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

In Fullest Honor

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 19, 2009 — Leave a comment

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the nation celebrates the birthday* of peacemaker activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr..

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”Martin Luther King Jr.

A short excerpt from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood….I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

* Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is on January 15th, but the Federal holiday is observed on the third Monday of January.

In Fullest Honor

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 21, 2008 — 2 Comments

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the nation celebrates the birthday* of peacemaker activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr..

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”Martin Luther King Jr.

A short excerpt from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood….I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Regular blogging will resume on Tuesday, January 22nd.

* Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is on January 15th, but the Federal holiday is observed on the third Monday of January.