Sunday, February 4, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt four)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

On November 19, 1950, a Sunday, King traveled from Chester to attend a lecture by Mordecai Johnson, a Morehouse graduate and the president of Howard University, at Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church. Johnson, who had just returned from a trip to India, lectured on Gandhi. “His message was so profound,” King wrote years later, “that I left the meeting and bought a half dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.” The books helped King overcome some of the doubts raised from his reading of Nietzsche. Gandhi showed King that “the love ethic of Jesus … was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months.”

Using a Greek word from the New Testament that theologians often employed, King referred to that loving spirit as agape, a love that offered understanding and goodwill to all, a force that made no distinction between friends and enemies, that encouraged love of everyone because God loved everyone. Agape, he said, offered the kind of power to fuel a nonviolent movement for justice.

“When we love on the agape level,” he wrote years later, “we love men not because we like them … but because God loves them.”

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