Before I launch into the morning cyber-papers, let me share a glimpse of what I will be looking for on this holiday. The writing team that works with Chuck Colson has some interesting quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the BreakPoint radio script that came out today. The quotes come from the famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" text, the part in which a circle of ministers challenged the civil rights leader to explain his belief that Christians have a right to disobey some civil laws.
King went further and said that Christians had a moral duty to disobey unjust laws. This leads to the logical question: How does one know when a law is unjust?
A just law, King wrote, "squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law ... is out of harmony with the moral law." Then King quoted Saint Augustine: "An unjust law is no law at all." He quoted Thomas Aquinas: "An unjust law is a human law not rooted in eternal or natural law."
This is the great issue today in the public square: Is the law rooted in truth? Is it transcendent, immutable, and morally binding? Or is it, as liberal interpreters argue, simply whatever courts say it is? Do we discover the law, or do we create it?
Many think of King as a liberal firebrand, waging war on traditional values. Nothing could be further from the truth. King was a great conservative on this central issue, and he stood on the shoulders of Augustine and Aquinas, striving to restore our heritage of justice rooted in the law of God.
This is, of course, a variation on the "Culture Wars" thesis of sociologist James Davison Hunter at the University of Virginia, who stated that our culture is divided into two groups: The "progressives" who believe that truth is personal, experiential and evolving and the "orthodox" who believe there is such a thing as eternal, absolute truth. Click here for more info on that.
All of this, on a personal note, reminds me of that famous issue of Sojourners in November of 1980 that made a progressive case for opposition to abortion. It was the Jesse Jackson essay that really hit home for me at the time, arguing that abortion could be used as a form of institutionalized racism. Jackson even wrote an article that was published by National Right to Life that ended with this statement:
What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of person, and what kind of society, will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?
Colson and his team are convinced that King, if he had lived, would have asked similar questions about abortion and would have kept asking them -- right up through last week's U.S. Senate hearings for Judge Samuel Alito.
Perhaps. However, I am sure of one thing. I have trouble seeing MLK having much to do with the pseudo-libertarians -- moral on one side, economic on the other -- who dominate our political life today.
Now it is time to go see if any of this makes it into the newspapers today, of all days. Help me look for those quotes from Birmingham. It's the kind of language that, today, will make people sweat on the left and the right. If you find anything interesting, let us know.