Martin Luther King’s advice on avoiding violence – a reprise

The following post was written about nine years ago, but still resonates today.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.


25 thoughts on “Martin Luther King’s advice on avoiding violence – a reprise

  1. You quote the finest Keith. People whose words are ignored because they run counter to the wishes of some of today’s movers and shakers. Those people who have shown that the discord they want is to enable them to rule in a way that clashes with the great thinkers and peacemakers of the past, in a way that runs counter to your own constitution. In a way that the last 4 years has given you a taste of, by fear and by lies.
    There are politicians who want their share of the power to bed gained by this form of rule so they are prepared to refuse to call guilty at the trial of an obvious sinner whose lies have already created more lies and great division in the country between those who saw him as he was and these who believed and followed blindly, instead of looking to unite the two sides they call for unity whilst working against it and looking to blame the other side. It appears the only way to bring the sides together is to destroy the religious leaders who are fomenting this disharmony and smash the belief of those who follow in blind faith.

    • David, we must shine spotlights on the dividers to call them out. One of the biggest dividers in the US passed away yesterday. I am sorry anyway passes, but his career should not serve as an exemplar. Keith

  2. A perfect post for the times, my friend. We would do well to remember the words of Dr. King … he was among the wisest of men in our time. Today it seems that the first thing people think of when they are displeased by another is to solve the dispute by violent means. This must stop, else we will destroy everything that was once good about this nation, and will destroy ourselves in the process.

  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Our friend Keith has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking post for the day, for the times we are living through. He quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the wisest men of our times. Thank you, Keith, for this perfect post!

  4. As the atheist in the crowd, the opposite to violence is not peace, but REFUSAL TO BE VIOLENT.
    The opposite to bad worship is no worship at all.
    The problem with treating others as you want to be treated is people who don’t care how they are treated.
    I realize most of you are religious, and I do not want to interfere with what you believe. But sometimes it is necessary to remove religion from the discussion, and approach it from a purely human vision. Religion causes as much violence as it tries to prevent. No matter what religion someone practises, they all have one thing in common–excluding themselves from certain groups while excluding others from their groups. I’M not saying there arrn’t believers who try to be inclusive, but they are a mighty small minority. Every religious group has someone to beat upon. Right now Evangelicals are the main whipping boys, Yesterday it was Jews and Muslims, and non-heterosexual people. As soon as you throw belief into an equation, you set up boundaries that exclude someone.
    The time is coming to keep your religious views to yourself, and worship in private. I do not advocate censorship, but I do think unadulterated respect is what will bring about a true human race, and let it then move on to respect for all living beings. That is how to unite.

    • Thanks for your opinions. You are right too many have died over religious differences. And, I write often of my distaste for bigotry from the pulpit and exclusion. But, on the flip side, I have seen some wonderful things done by devout people who are trying to help people. Many wonderful human service agencies today were started by people of faith. Are they perfect? No. Are atheists perfect? No. Whether people are religious or not, we just need to treat people better than we tend to have done. Violence is not the answer, full stop.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. They are appreciated. Keith

      • Hope I didn’t try to make atheists seem perfect, we definitely are not. (But neither are we atheists in a group sense. Atheists are all different, every one of us. There is no such thing as a group atheist mind, as many believers seem to think.)
        But yes, there are a lot of good things that come out of religions, I am not afraid to acknowledge that, though some come with ulterior motives, such as the Salvation Army provides shelter and meals to homeless people, but at least in the past, if not today, you had to sit through a sermon before supper was served, and the walls were covered with religious tracts you could not be out of sight of until the lights were turned off. Also, even if you were a married couple, men and women were not allowed to share a sleeping space, or even the same building. Those were the things that made me stay away from their shelters unless I was truly desperate. Just saying.
        There are good and bad people everywhere you go, no matter how someone might want to categorize them. And, as is human nature, it is the bad ones who get all the press. The good ones just live quietly doing good things (Jill’s Good People posts notwithstanding. She seldom mentions if good people have religious affiliations or not, as is best for everyone, I think.)

      • All good points. Gandhi once said it best when he noted he liked Christianity, it was just Christians he has a problem with. We are an imperfect lot, all of us, which was my point. Piety does not sand over imperfection.

  5. Salutary words Keith.
    There is the Human Paradox (or is it Hypocrisy?) which runs as follows:
    “I have Rights
    You have Responsibilities
    They are Dangerous”
    At the risk of running foul of Thomas Jefferson Europe was awash with blood because ‘Any Excuse Will Do’. Religion happened to be one reason. If you consider, say ‘The French Wars of Religion’ 1562 to 1598 obstinately between Catholic and Huguenots you will find nobles switching sides as suited them and mercenaries just hanging around going to the highest bidder; then the principal champion of The Huguenots, Henry switching religions to be king; apparently saying ‘Paris is worth a Mass’
    If you consider the 18th Centuries it’s littered with ‘The War of the….Succession’ (our guy is going to be king…oh no he an’t!).
    In the latter 18th, then the 19th & 20th centuries there were numerous mass killings of theists by regimes looking to free ‘The People’ from Religion, and of course mass killings of people who were ‘freeing’ people from Religion the wrong way.
    And there is the problem whatever belief or political system we have invented there is always some capacity somewhere to persecute those who do not buy into it, and in consequence the reactive capacity by those who feel they are being persecuted, to, well to do some persecuting of their own (only they call it freedom fighting).
    Being it physical or verbal at some stage there is always a kick-back by someone, somewhere.
    Martin Luther King and Gandhi to name but two did their best and are often quoted but the violence still goes on.
    And sadly, I have to admit I’ll be one who will try and justify it, or explain all in skewed sincerity why it happened and was bound to (Comes of reading a surfeit of Military History)

    • Roger, the pursuit of power and money. Just to throw in a little more spice, Catholic priests used to be allowed to marry. My thesis is it went away, so the church could have full ownership of the wealth of the priest. I may be wrong, but it fits. Keith

      • That’s the thing with History Keith. There are so many ways to view it. Such as who was writing what the reader sees, when and in what context.
        Mr grandson has a degree in History, now currently heading for his Master’s degree. He had to study some aspects of Latin so he could read original texts.

      • Roger, well said. Here in the US, there was a concerted effort by southern historians to downplay the slavery reason and replace if with a states’ rights reason for the Civil War. Keith

      • Missed this one earlier on (WP and I are having one of our set-toos).
        How very true Keith.
        There is this mistaken and oft used statement ‘History is Written by the Victors’ ….quite incorrect, the defeated have a great capacity for creating ‘romantic’ or ‘tragic’ legends which they and their descendants turn in ‘facts’

      • Roger, too your point, my brother-in-law does Civil War reenactments and they have a tougher time fielding Union troops. His thesis is they want to win the battles this time. Keith

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