Dr. King on the Failures of Religion


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Dr. Martin Luther King, whose Feast Day we celebrate today, had his criticism of church and religion.

He talked of a “mighty struggle” that he and the civil rights movement were engaged in and criticized the churches for hiding behind both the comfort of “stained glass windows” and dualistic philosophies that refused to engage in that struggle. Said he:

I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular. All too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.


Original black & white negative by Marion S. Trikosko. Taken August 26th, 1964, Washington D.C, United States (@libraryofcongress). Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash.

Notice that King’s disappointment with ministers who claim that the gospel is not concerned with social issues is fired by an awareness of the philosophy behind that morally lackadaisical attitude: the dualistic theology that separates body from soul and sacred from secular. To ignore the body is to ignore the body politic and the suffering in the body politic.

King rightly points out that these dualisms are “un-Biblical.”  The prophets were not “ascetic,” as Abraham Heschel makes clear–they were passionate people passionate about injustice and suffering caused by humans against humans and against the earth. 



Thich Nhat Hanh sitting next to his friend, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo taken from website of Plum Village.

This is why the world view of St. Augustine is so dangerous, he was so enamored of Neo Platonism that he downplayed injustice and favored an “introspective conscience” over societal justice. This is why he became, as Carol Quigley, an historian and professor from the Catholic University of America called a “lightning rod” for right wing movements for almost 1500 years.

This is also why a Nobel prize winning physicist said that Augustine “killed science in the West for 1000 years.”

The late Pope Benedict XVI was thoroughly Augustinian and thoroughly dualistic in his mindset.  He too has become a “lightening rod” for extreme right wing Catholics who are invested in killing thinking and theologians in the church, hell bent on preventing leadership by women and refuse to study what science has taught us about homosexuality. (To be continued)



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