Precious values

Daily Reading for April 4 • Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader, 1968

Sometimes, you know, it’s necessary to go backward in order to go forward. (Yes) . . . Now that’s what we’ve got to do in our world today. We’ve left a lot of precious values behind; we’ve lost a lot of precious values. And if we are to go forward, if we are to make this a better world in which to live, we’ve got to go back. We’ve got to rediscover these precious values that we’ve left behind. I want to deal with one or two of these mighty precious values that we’ve left behind, that if we’re to go forward and to make this a better world, we must rediscover.

The first is this—the first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. (Lord help us) I’m not so sure we all believe that. . . . I’m not so sure if we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you’ll suffer the consequences. (Yes) I’m not so sure if we really believe that. Now at least two things convince me that we don’t believe that, that we have strayed away from the principle that this is a moral universe. (Lord help him)

The first thing is that we have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic. . . .. Most people can’t stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it. (Amen, Yes) See, everybody’s not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right. (Yes, Lord help him) So a sort of numerical interpretation of what’s right.

But I’m here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. (Yes) Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s wrong to hate. (Yes, that’s right) It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. (Amen) It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China. (Lord help him) It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it’s wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, (That’s right) and it always will be wrong. (That’s right) . . .

Now that isn’t the only thing that convinces me that we’ve strayed away from this attitude, (Go ahead) this principle. The other thing is that we have adopted a sort of a pragmatic test for right and wrong—whatever works is right. (Yes) If it works, it’s all right. Nothing is wrong but that which does not work. If you don’t get caught, it’s right. [laughter] That’s the attitude, isn’t it? It’s all right to disobey the Ten Commandments, but just don’t disobey the eleventh, “Thou shall not get caught.” [laughter] That’s the attitude. That’s the prevailing attitude in our culture. (Come on) No matter what you do, just do it with a bit of finesse. (All right) . . . . It’s even all right to hate, but just dress your hate up in the garments of love and make it appear that you are loving when you are actually hating. Just get by! That’s the thing that’s right according to this new ethic. (Lord help him)

My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. (You’re right there) It’s destroying our nation. (Oh yes) The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. (Lord have mercy) A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they’re never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not. . . . That’s what we need in the world today: people who will stand for right and goodness. . . . It is not enough to know that two and two makes four, but we’ve got to know somehow that it’s right to be honest and just with our brothers. (Yes) It’s not enough to know all about our philosophical and mathematical disciplines, (Have mercy) but we’ve got to know the simple disciplines of being honest and loving and just with all humanity. (Oh yes) If we don’t learn it, we will destroy ourselves (That’s right) by the misuse of our own powers. (Amen)

From the sermon “Recovering Lost Values,” quoted in A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Warner Books, 1998). Copyright held by the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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