Some time ago I started a thread asking for the justification behind Richard Dawkins’ statement about the death of Alan Turing. Since not much justification was provided, I’m forced to conclude that it was a falsehood. Now some people say that a single outright lie is enough to discredit both a book and its author. While I understand the logic behind this, I don’t quite agree. I’m willing to extend a “we all make mistakes” attitude in cases like this. When an author goofs once, it may be an innocent mistake. When he lies constantly, we can be sure it’s not. With that in mind, I want to look at another Dawkins statement.
During a discussion on religion and morality, Dawkins say that Martin Luther King’s leadership of the civil rights movement did not arise from King’s Christian beliefs. Rather, Dawkins says that King based his philosophy of non-violent resistance on the teachings of Ghandi.
As it happens, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I can’t imagine why Dawkins fails to use his full and correct title) was kind enough to tell us what his political philosophy is based on.
He was also kind enough to tell us why he had chosen to lead the movement of resistance against segregation in Alabama.
He was also kind enough to tell us which examples of people engaging in non-violent resistance to unjust laws were a personal inspiration to him.
And he was kind enough to tell us who he credits for the use of non-violent tactics.
Now if past threads are any guide, someone will soon accuse me of taking King’s words out of context. I did not do so. Everything I’ve written accurately represents what King said. (The quotes are taken from his Letter from Birmingham Jail.) King does express admiration for other groups of protestors in history besides those biblical examples. He mentions Socrates and the Boston Tea Party. But his focus on the laws of God as expressed by Jesus Christ as the source of both his moral vision and his political tactics dominates throughout the letter. Moreover, King’s vision and beliefs remained remarkably stable throughout his life. One finds the same ideas in both his earliest and his last writings and speeches.
It’s true that King did read the works of Ghandi, did admire Ghandi, and did often quote Ghandi as a source of inspiration. But to say that King’s philosophy was “based on” the teachings of Ghandi is flat-out incorrect. King based everything he said and did on Christian principles.
(Two other facts that Dawkins omits are also worth mentioning. King first encountered the works of Ghandi while studying at Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. If he hadn’t been studying to become a Christian preacher, he might never have encountered those works at all. Second, Dawkins neglects to mention how heavily Ghandi was influenced by the Bible and by many Christian writers.)