Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1958 article in “The Gospel Messenger” periodical wrote,
“Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” There is something in the universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
In this rapidly emerging world of alt-facts, alt-truth, fake news, fake claims about real news, it can seem like Truth with a capital “T” is a bygone certainty. I would conjecture that our truth has always been relative, but our emotional insecurities perpetually try to make it absolute. It is only by the speed and open access to project one’s perception of truth in social media that our awareness of how relative truth is, is becoming apparent. This doesn’t mean I believe that there is no absolute truth, but that my perception of what is absolute is always relative.
For those of us whose perception of truth is that “the moral arc of the universe is bent towards justice”, it is important with the speed of news headlines to remember it is also long.
In this current climate of hate, divisiveness, name calling, warring, and denying abuses, it is easy to become discouraged and hopeless. As much as Katy Perry’s song encourages us to “let (our) colors burst”, I think the image of being a firework is equally fitting in the human propensity to burn out too quickly when the night falls upon us. July 4th has come and gone. What if instead of being a firework, we were a bonfire? What if we could light the night for longer than a flash of “oh, oh, oh?”
This quote that Dr. King made popular originates from Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist who called for the abolition of slavery. In 1853 a sermon titled “Of Justice and the Conscience” included the figurative language about the arc of the moral universe:
“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. 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.
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”
Although love and justice are often hard to find in the headlines and trolling of social media these days, I hold fast to a hope that indeed my relative truth about the moral universe, including the morality of our humanity, indeed bends towards justice, and that indeed an absolute Truth will rise from the fumbling of our relative truths. Come Spirit of Truth come.