Since my surgery last week I’ve been doing a lot of listening. Mostly to “books on tape” but also to some sermons. I was loaned a set of CDs called A Knock at Midnight. It is a collection of 11 recorded sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.
These are the recordings that were transcribed for the book of the same name that I read last year. It has been great to hear the sermons this time.
In the first sermon a young King takes on the reason for the world’s fallen state. That is a shorthand for why there is crime and bad things happening around us in the world. Actually a very contemporary subject, even 50 years after the recording.
King sites those who say that the problem is lack of knowledge, or lack of understanding — a lack in what King calls our “scientific genius,” but he rightly points out that we (even in the 1950s) are more advanced in knowledge of science and philosophy than at any time in history. Yet there has been no indication of the problems nearing an end.
He rather points to a lack in our “moral genius.” King claims that there are moral laws, just as binding as the physical laws. He says that there are other laws that are just as binding as the law of gravity. No one questions that there is a law of gravity that must be obeyed. But we do question whether there is absolute right and wrong.
And yet there is. God created the world and set both physical and moral laws into governance. This seems to me to reach right to the heart of the problem. King gives two alternative to moral laws that we believe instead: that right and wrong is relative and that right and wrong is practical. Or said another way, we believe the the majority determines what is right (the everyone’s doing it morality) and that what works determines what is right (the I didn’t get caught morality).
This may seem a tangent, but I think it is bound up in this. Wednesday I listened to part of “Your Call” with Jonathon Simon as guest, who has been thinking and writing on the way America believes that the answer to most problems is to declare “War on ….” As examples there have been wars on cancer, heart disease, terror, etc. His particular interest was the “War on Crime” and it’s pillar of incarceration. Particularly here in California with our “Three Strikes” law. His premise was that incarcerating a generation of youth and young adults actually perpetuates the problem because the family’s of those people become bitter — continuing a bitter cycle. This bitterness results from long prison terms for three non-violent crimes, and because people are not getting paroled when their terms are served. There is a breach of trust with a generation.
So where does this fit with King’s sermon. It fits in at the point of violence. Violence is wrong, was wrong, and always has been wrong, no matter who is wielding it. Whether in the commissioning of a crime or the tearing apart of a family violence is wrong. The “War on Crime” mentality places all the blame on the criminal, for the crime and for tearing apart his family. But can it be this simple. If you believe that it is a war? Yes. War is us against them. If you believe that we are all God’s children? No.
There is no “them.” Only an “us.” Violence is wrong no matter who wields it. So do I have a solution. Hey this is a blog, I don’t need to have a solution. Well, seriously I don’t have one. But I do have a starting point. It comes from King. There is also a law of Love. What would happen if we started not with the premise of war but of love? There would still need to be prisons. People do commit crime that requires rehabilitation and maybe even punishment.
But if we actually cared for our brothers and sisters it would hurt us to incarcerate and would never seem to be a victory.