The Present as Future-Past

Throughout history, creativity and curiosity led us to discoveries and developments throughout generations; theoretical and practical knowledge led us to survive as the superior species, towards uncommon conditions and unwanted circumstances; through failures and frustrations, reflecting upon great values in heroes and great evil in villains, we find new ways for successes and satisfactions.

Central to Martin Luther King’s pragmatic theology in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is civilization’s foundation of the future, which is the past itself, in light of the present.

He refers to former times to criticize the modern time: “There was a time when the church was powerful… small in number, big in commitment… they rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed… [Yet,] things are different now… The contemporary church is weak… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity.”

It becomes the church for the world, not the church for the Lord.

The choices are mutually exclusive, based on King’s Augustinian division of spirituality: the colony of Heaven for God’s glory, or the colony of the Earth for the worldly. It is because the material world exists that the spiritual world extant. No Heaven-Earth; according to the law of noncontradiction, it is either black or white.

King realizes society’s illusion of the grey middle ground—when Alabama clergymen remarks “social issues which the gospel has no real concern” as the status quo, aligning Christian ethics with American ethics—that is grounded in the bandwagon fallacy: that popular opinion dictates truisms, that legal reasoning decides truths.

With the passage above, then, not only the reader is able to discern truth and untruth, but deduces that truth is exclusive (by one infinite Mind) instead of relative (by many finite minds). The first-century martyrs may be ignorant of the man-made paradigms, but persevered based on the God-made paragon. That is why the sufferings were significant, since the “sacrificial spirit” was sustained.

This is the interconnection that King exposes, or the core of the letter: every history reflects both the ideal and the ordeal—the former to be recreated, and the latter to be prevented. We should live in the present, based on the past that was grounded upon eternal and immutable Truth, to create a future that is swayed upon temporary and changing truths.

 

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