[+/-] What would MLK say if he were a nonbeliever?
Yesterday I reread the text of Martin Luther King, Jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and realized that it has application toward today's public debates over religion. My edits are [like this]:
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 [religious] moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the [Atheist's] great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the [Christian fundamentalist] or the [Islamic fanatic], but the [religious] 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 [writing and suing for enforcement of your rights]"; 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 [nonbeliever] 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.
I had hoped that the [religious] moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the [religious] moderate would understand that the present tension [between believers and nonbelievers] is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the [nonbeliever] passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent [writing and free speech] are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
Richard Dawkins has made the case that religious moderates make the world safe for fundamentalists, by promoting faith as a virtue and by enforcing an overly pious respect for religion.
If you doubt the comparison, consider that:
- Where once blacks were prohibited from holding public office, atheists still are.
- Where once blacks were considered second class citizens, atheists still are.
- Where employment discrimination against blacks once was the norm, it is still common to discriminate against nonbelievers.
- Hate crimes are committed against nonbelivers, not just against ethnic minorities.