The Personalism of Persons

J.M.E. McTaggart, in 1919, was the first to differentiate two theories of time. He identified the B-theory as the view that time does not exist, whilst the A-theory as an illusionary experience that time exists.

In my Extended Essay, “Temporality vs. Timelessness: Is God Inside or Outside of Time?” I concluded that if time is a subjective, psychological projection, then libertarian free will is negated. Knowledge, conation, and emotion, integrated as love, do not have epistemological significance. This entails that God is impersonal, since God’s timeless nature is beyond everything that we know of (i.e. within time, since we are time-bound creatures within a temporal universe), including personality.

Interestingly, Martin Luther King wrote a paper criticizing McTaggart’s unreality of personality, in 1951. He claims that he studied “Personalistic philosophy—the theory that the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality… [Personalism gave me] a philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God, and a metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality.”

It is extremely crucial to distinguish the archaic and the modern terminology of personality. In psychology, personality is the characteristics, or mental and moral qualities, of a person. In King’s ontology, personality is the “factual quality of being a person, distinct from a thing or an animal,” as the essential, abstract, intrinsic nature of a person.

Indeed, in virtually all his speeches and writings, in the context of segregation, discrimination, or martyrdom, he explicitly and repeatedly states that every man should “respect the dignity and worth of human personality,” since every man “is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.” This is one idea for humanity to attain the one ideal society.

With freedom of choice (rejecting McTaggart’s determinism) comes ethical purity or depravity. Since King’s Personalism concerns the especial significance, uniqueness, and experience of personhood, it is our cosmic responsibility to nurture the ethereal status.

Hence, when King refers to the axiom that “any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” he thus formulates the standard for equilibrium—not in hierarchy, but in individuality. Equality for the blacks and the whites, dissolved into a communitarian solution, is the majestic grandeur of personality.

This is an objective, universal, transcendental law because of who we are, in reflection to who God is, in essence: a Person of infinite dignity and worth.

The Romantic Covenant

The spirit of Moses and David: the former a prophet who preaches, and the latter a poet who pledges. Moses led the march out of slavery, under a divine passage; David wrote the psalms as a prophecy, under a divine promise.

“How long? Not long!”

Martin Luther King—as half prophet and half poet—proclaims to Selma that the Romantic revelations of the 18th century American Transcendentalists will prevail:

William Cullen Bryant’s “truth crushed to earth will rise again”; Thomas Carlyle’s “no lie can live forever”; Paul the Apostle’s “you shall reap what you sow”; James Russell Lowell’s “standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own”; and Theodore Parker’s “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

King preaches the eternality of objective truth, and the temporality of subjective lies. The first is the Truth of God’s justice, and the other the ‘truth’ of men’s injustice. King pledges that history, akin to Biblical Theology’s progressive revelations, shall fulfill Romantic revelations:

The Romantics abhor the norms of Industrial Revolution, Aristocratic Regulations, and Scientific Rationalization. Instead of conforming to the “Enlightenment Era,” they pursued knowledge above reasoning and experience. Imagination, intuition, and inspiration in individuals will unite man and Mother Nature, not man and mechanism.

Agape that leads to wisdom, peace, and justice, then, comes not from secular-political measures, but spiritual-emotional treasures. Passion in communion—not reason in legislation—is the driving force of a “we-centered” brotherhood instead of an “I-centered” neighborhood.

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph; I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one; my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

The faculty of conscience (inherent knowledge of right and wrong) is as significant as the faculty of intelligence (logical knowledge of the natural world), as we are limited in epistemic observation constrained by physical laws. It follows that we cannot draw the whole moral arc with our eyes and minds, but with our gospel hearts.

King preaches that the gospel heart in Selma pledges that the suppressed truth will become the fulfilled truth, through the Romantic spirit of Agape.

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.


The Axioms of Americans

Questions of identity remain a philosophical enigma that can never be coined within logical terms. Yet, throughout history, we aim to discover the objective meaning, value, and purpose of humankind. This pursuit of truth—in a world of plurality and diversity—defines who we are.

All nations, from the Ancients to the Moderns, have a dream for the Ideal.

Martin Luther King, in his “The American Dream”, expounds the concept of imago dei, “The idea that all men have something within them… The capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity… There are no gradations in the image of God.” This is the substratum of his belief, and why we should believe what he believes. Indeed, the beliefs we hold shape ourselves, who shape cultures, which shape civilizations.

He realizes that the Americans’ outlook demands a theological benchmark, to warrant significance to our existence, and why we ought to live accordingly to transcendental maxims instead of universal norms. The universe, filled with particles without sentience and conscience, cannot be the source to derive metaphysical axioms. It must emerge from beyond, through a “leap of faith”.

Secularization drives out meaning; spiritualization gives us meaning.

It means that all men are equal. It means that contrary to society’s ethics, but faithful to the Absolute Duty: segregation is immoral, and discrimination is irrational. Racial inequality is virtue in time, and vice in eternity. Therefore, these truths, that Luther presents, satisfy the vexed questions of why do we matter, how we should act, and what is our goal.

His explicit theology strikes the core of the subconscious: worldview, the determiner of thoughts, emotions, and actions. The Christ is in the center, circumscribing the Creation, as the Shepherd. The Anti-Christ states that the common mass has common mentality and mediocrity, referred to as “the Herd”. Rarely one attempts to systematically explicate the true identity (i.e. essence over substance) of men, which rationalizes our man-made hopes and visions. And King stresses on what our hopes and visions should be—not could be, nor what seems right or feels good.

Therefore, I believe that King triumphs in forging common ground for common men (who are divided within themselves, without common unity), through a grand reminder of the common thought of the Pre-Kantian 1776, that “all men are created equal.”